CREATIVE HUBS: NEW ORLEANS
The city of New Orleans (otherwise known as NOLA) dances to the beat of its own drum. The streets are packed with musicians, dive bars and cross-cultural street food like jambalaya, beignets and po’boys filled with fried oysters. It’s famous, of course, for Mardi Gras, the two weeks of revelry, costumes and carnival processions that lead up to Ash Wednesday; but there’s a playful, party-loving spirit here all year round. They don’t call it the Big Easy for nothing.
It’s relatively easy to get by on a budget in NOLA, which is surely one of the reasons it consistently tops lists of the best creative cities in the US. There’s been a notable exodus from places like San Fran and New York to southern settlements in recent years – and New Orleans is a happy beneficiary (Solange famously made the jump back in 2013). A number of initiatives have been set up to support budding creatives here: Court 13 Arts is a non-profit that supports filmmaking rooted in themes of social inclusion, environmental issue and education; while New Orleans Airlift is an artist-run programme that aims to foster opportunities through education.
Many first-timers barely venture beyond the French quarter, with its wrought-iron balconies, colourful townhouses and interior courtyards. But this is shortsighted. Treme is the United States’ oldest black neighbourhood, and is famous for its jazz bars and street food. Marigny and the Bywater, meanwhile, have cultivated something of a Williamsburg feel, likely thanks to their mix of bohemian cafes.
A natural disaster with effects as devastating as Hurricane Katrina can hardly be said to have a silver lining. The 2005 tragedy did, however, force New Orleans to reset and restructure. The drive to kickstart NOLA after Hurricane Katrina has inspired a new wave of entrepreneurs and artists, all invested in their surroundings as much as they are their own ventures. Today, New Orleans is fortified by the proud spark of a city that feels well and truly rejuvenated.
WHERE TO STAY
Located in the Warehouse District, this outlet of Ace has everything you’d expect from the brand – that’s a dark and sombre palette, a youthful energy, and a great live music programme. There’s a hint of southern charm here, too, mind. The hotel restaurant has a distinctly French bistro feel, and the hotel even hosts the occasional swing dance class. Yes.
This Design Hotel’s name was inspired by the wandering ways of the Beat Generation. With eclectic artwork and street food trucks serving world cuisines, it remains something of a melting pot today. The 1950s motel sign sets a retro tone for the design here – expect lots of mid-century furnishings, palm tree murals, and a pool lined with scallop-edged umbrellas.
This romantic French Quarter establishment is made up of 33 rooms spread across three historic townhouses. It’s all lacework balconies, pink brickwork, and green shutters on the outside; the inside is filled with oriental rugs, antique artwork, and canopied four-poster beds.
WHAT TO SEE
Located just east of the French Quarter, the neighbourhoods of Marigny and Bywater are the pulse of NOLA’s creative crowd today. R Bar is a must-stop in Marigny, while the Bywater is best for trendy brunch stops like Elizabeth’s and the wine bar, Bacchanal.
NOLA’s second biggest annual party (after Mardi Gras, of course) is the 10-day jazz festival, comprised of thousands of musical acts, street food, and an international crafts fair. This year’s line-up includes Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith and Aretha Franklin.
Take the St. Charles streetcar to Uptown and visit NOLA’s Garden District. Historic mansions and lavish gardens prevail in this tree-lined part of the city, which has a quiet majesty about it. Come for taste of old-world Louisiana and a break from the hustle and bustle.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Widely recognised as the best restaurant in the French Quarter, Sylvain is located in a former carriage house and is an elegant dinner choice. The appetisers steal the show here – think fried eggplant with burrata, Gulf fish crudo and southern antipasti. Be sure to ask for a courtyard seat.
This street in the neighbourhood of Marigny is the equivalent of the French Quarter’s famous Bourbon Street – but with fewer tourists. It’s lined with live music bars, including Blue Nile, which hosts funk, blues, soul and brass shows.
This French Quarter eatery finds itself on almost every visitor’s checklist. And with good reason, too: Cafe Du Monde is the place to come for a beignet – the sugary, donut-like pastry native to NOLA. You can expect a sizeable queue outside their 400-seat cafe, but by god, is it worth it…