Tits, Tears, And Frozen Daiquiris: A (Not So) Touristy Guide To New Orleans

Girls Gone Mild

The first person I meet in New Orleans is mentally ill. I’m almost sure of it. She’s a cab driver who picks me up at the airport and instead of saying hello to me, she just starts mumbling to herself, bursting into psychotic laughter every few moments or so. Unfortunately, I can’t make out what she’s actually saying, so I just sit back and pray she’s not going to go all Aileen Wuornos on me. Twenty minutes later, as we’re pulling up to my hotel, she stops the conversation she’s having with herself and turns to me and asks, “Have you ever been to New Orleans?”

I tell her no and she starts laughing like a maniacal devil.

“Okay, sweetheart, here’s the deal. New Orleans is a great city but it can be rough. Don’t ever ask someone off the street for directions and don’t EVER go West of Bourbon, okay? Use your common sense and have a good trip!”

And with that terrifying preface, she lets me out of the cab and zooms away.

As it turns out,  I never felt unsafe during my five day stay in New Orleans. In fact, the only time I was truly frightened was when I saw a drunk middle-aged tourist couple stumbling from Bourbon in the middle of the afternoon, looking like legitimate extras from The Walking Dead. Other than that, I found the city to be nothing but a delight.

Barring a random trip I took 13 years ago to Fort Worth, Texas to attend a friend’s Bat Mitzvah, I had never actually been to the South before, so when two of my best friends and I were looking for a place to go on vacation this summer, New Orleans seemed to be just as exotic as Europe or the Caribbean. (And cheaper too!) The three of us settled on going there and booked the trip which, by the way, seemed to puzzle everyone I knew. When I told people that I was going to New Orleans, the conversation would usually go as follows:

  • Concerned Friend: So are you going to New Orleans for work?
  • Me: No.
  • Concerned Friend: Do you know someone who lives there?
  • Me: No.
  • Concerned Friend: So you’re just going for, like, fun?
  • Me: Yes.

(UTTER SILENCE)

Seriously, does ANYONE go on vacations anymore? I know they can be a lot of money but if you save up, split the hotel and are smart about spending, it’s totally feasible. I really don’t get why everyone was so shocked. Yes, my scarlet letter is “V” for vacation. Let me bow my head in shame now.

Actually, scratch that. I have no shame about going on this trip because New Orleans was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Between all the drinking and eating I did, I’m not sure how relaxing it really was but it doesn’t matter. If I wanted a relaxing vacation, I’d go to my mom’s house in Eureka, California, and sleep 16 hours a day. If you’re making the trek to New Orleans, however, you have no choice but to live it up. It’s a vibrant city with an energy that surpasses even New York’s. Seriously, it makes that place look like a boring born-again Christian.

Since I’m an obsessive researcher when it comes to traveling, I thought I would share with you a list of the fun places I went, in case you ever feel like experiencing the Big Easy yourself. Keep in mind, however, that I’m still a tourist so, no, I don’t know about that DELICIOUS restaurant that requires a password and is basically a hut by the Bayou. (I want to though!)

Where to eat

The Big (I am) Easy

If you’re someone who has issues with food, New Orleans isn’t the place for you. When traveling here, you have to just accept that you’re going to unleash your inner Kirstie Alley and gain weight. I basically sat my body down before I went and was like, “Hey babe, I know it’s summer and you have to be naked and all, but I’m going to be really rude to you for the next five days. Like I’m going to clog your arteries with beignets and po’ boys and you’re just gonna have to deal with it, mmmkay?” My body pretended to be pissed about it but I knew he was secretly doing back flips. Yes, the food is heavy and after eating creamy pastas, sandwiches, and bread pudding for five days straight, you’re going to feel like dying. But you know what? It’s worth it. If you’re going to get fat, you might as well do it here. The food is that good.

One of my favorite places I went to was a restaurant called Elizabeth’s. It’s a hole-in-the-wall joint in the Bywater neighborhood and it’s most known for its duck waffles and prailene bacon. I ordered the latter along with a BLT because the waitress told me it was amazing and made with a ‘different kind of fat” than ordinary bacon. Um, sold! I love sampling a variety of different fats! Her recommendation did not disappoint. The bacon was unlike anything I had ever tasted and it had this tart and flavorful dressing on the arugula that made me lose my sh-t.

A few blocks away from Elizabeth’s, there’s a stellar barbecue place called The Joint that you MUST check out. The meat dissolves in your mouth and their sauce is spectacular. I loved this place as much as Elizabeth’s, if not more so, since the barbecue in New York is such an LOL. I’ve tried so hard to find adequate NYC barbecue but instead all I find is bland overpriced comfort food. If anyone knows of any good BBQ in the city, let a girl know, okay? I’m desperado for some quality ribs.

New Orleans has a lot of fancy restaurants that enforce a strict dress code. The South loves an excuse to wear a suit, even if it is 105 degrees out, so if you’re in the mood to play dress-up, I suggest going to The Commander’s Palace, which is essentially a culinary institution. If you make reservations, specify that you’d like to be seated in the garden because apparently that’s where all the real locals are seated. I guess they just sit all the obvious tourists in one room with no lights and are like, “See ya!”  I went for their Sunday jazz brunch and ordered the pork belly and eggs, which tasted like a VIP party in my mouth, and finished it off with some yummy bread pudding. Besides having fantastic food, the people watching here is beyond. Everyone is so old and fancy and probably have names like Muffy and Chartwald. It’s very aspirational.

If you have a sweet tooth, go get a sno cone at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. They are so refreshing. Now I know what you’re probably thinking: “How good can a sno cone possibly be? Where’s the artistry in ice and syrup?!” But trust me, they shave their ice in the most perfect way and since I went to NOLA when the humidity was insane, the coldness and accompanying brain freeze was crucial to my survival.

If you want to get a beignet, I suggest avoiding the most famous tourist place, Cafe Du Monde, in the French Quarter and walking a few blocks over to Cafe Beignet. They taste better. (On the real though, am I the only one who’s not obsessed with beignets? It’s just powdered sugar and fried dough. Like, no.)

Where To Drink

Call me 696-969-6969

So if you’re not aware, New Orleans has some crazy drinking laws. Like you’re allowed to go to a drive-thru and order a cocktail to go! And you can walk around with booze in a plastic cup and it’s NBD. Although I’m not too fond of the idea of drinking and walking, I decided to get some Jungle Juice in a to-go cup for the novelty. I only took a few sips though because it seriously tasted like regret and a hangover. How anyone can drink more than one of those things is beyond me.

My reaction to Bourbon St…

Bourbon Street is like Las Vegas on acid, which is to say that it’s disgusting and terrifying, but I really think everyone should experience it at least once. I skipped the frat boy meltdown area and made a beeline for the gay section, which starts at Bourbon and St. Ann. I went to this club called Oz that I’m pretty sure gave me an STD just by breathing in the air, but it was still super fun. You can watch a go-go dancer rub his dick all over someone’s face for five dollars while dancing to Kelly Rowland. I was into it. A couple blocks off Bourbon, there’s a tranny country western bar called Le Roundup that I legitimately fell in love with. It was like Brokeback Mountain but with the occasional vagina thrown in there for fun and it feels very… authentic. On the night I went, my friends and I befriended this hot shirtless guy named Monster who I was 99.9% sure was gay. I mean, he’s at a tranny bar with no shirt on. What part of that scenario says, “I eat pussy”? I was wrong though because when my girlfriends left to go play pool, Monster told me that he had a crush on one of my friends but was too shy to make a move. Oh, and then he told me that the reason why he’s called Monster is because his penis is bigger than a can of Monster energy drinks. Um, okay. I was depressed. Monster was hot, had a huge dick, and, more importantly, was the only person talking to me in the bar and he was STRAIGHT?! Stop. Like can you not take off your shirt and hang out at a gay bar then? It’s false advertising, y’all!

If you want to get out of the French Quarter and hang out somewhere that feels less touristy, head to Frenchmen Street. They have a bunch of restaurants and bars with awesome live music. I hung out at a mellow place called 13 and some other bars that I can’t recall because I was so wasted. But I remember a lot of them having such good jazz playing for free, so how can you not fall in love? A few blocks away, there’s a bar called Mimi’s that’s fun as well. It’s sort of hipster central, which you can pretend to be annoyed about but then secretly breathe a sigh of relief and feel at home. Trust me, when you’re looking at polos and open-toed sandals all day, you’ll feel better when you see something as lame and hideous as a fedora.

Where to go when you don’t feel like eating or drinking

Baby Alligator Swamp Thingy!

Believe it or not, there are things to do in New Orleans that don’t involve eating or drinking. One activity I would recommend is going on a Honey Island Swamp tour so you can see the alligators hanging out in their natural habitat. I was especially excited to do this because ever since I can remember, I’ve been OBSESSED with alligators. In the sixth grade, we had an assignment to create our dream house and you wanna know where I decided to build mine? In the Everglades so I could be close to the alligators. I’m not kidding. So going on this tour was like having a long life dream be realized. I even got to hold a baby alligator! The best part of it though was when we went to Indian Village — a place where people literally build their houses on the swamp and require a boat to get to their car. Seeing my dream house being reflected back at me wasn’t as chic as I imagined though. In my version, the houses were made out of all glass and designed by Jonathan Adler. In real life, however, they were nothing more than glorified shacks that looked as if they could crumble at any moment. Oh well. When a dream becomes a nightmare!

Once you’re done playing with the alligators, you should go on a walking ghost tour. Since it was founded, New Orleans has experienced a lot of famines and fires and, as a result, there’s a lot of pissed off dead people still hanging around. Some of the hauntings are truly terrifying. During one particularly scary retelling of a story, a dog barked on the street and I almost screamed. Who actually gets scared on a walking ghost tour? Me.

If you go to NOLA during the summer like I did, it’s going to be hotter than a picture of Ryan Gosling on the internet, so I suggest going to this INSANE place called the Country Club and going for a swim. I actually sort of hated it there but let me explain it to you first. It’s a restaurant in the Bywater with a pool slash bar in the back, and if you pay like ten bucks, they’ll give you a towel and let you use their pool which, by the way, is CLOTHING OPTIONAL. My friends and I went because it got good reviews on Yelp and also because I just couldn’t believe there was just a nude pool in the middle of New Orleans. LA doesn’t even have that.

When we arrived, I was immediately disappointed to find the space rundown and sleazy. Bad techno remixes were blasting from the speakers while men with cock rings laid on the broken lounge chairs. (Literally broken. I fell through mine.) When I went swimming in the pool, I spied at least three dudes who appeared to be tweaking on meth. They were talking to themselves and basically twitching. Meanwhile, in the jacuzzi, some wasted chick was caught giving some dude a blowjob. I didn’t see it myself but I did hear the person who caught them screaming at the girl, “You’re disgusting! WTF? What’s wrong with you?” It was weird. I tried to ignore the West Hollywood influences though and just soaked in the pool for a bit. Eventually, I struck up a conversation with a drunk sorority girl who had her tits out. She was entertaining to talk to but dumb as a pile of rocks. She kept complaining about her boobs looking like a triangle and shoved them in my face so I could examine them. Look, I know you feel comfortable doing this because I’m gay but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it. Step off.

In the end, Country Club left a sour taste in my mouth and not because I let someone come in it. But if you’re into getting wasted, listening to Katy Perry remixes, and having sex in the bushes, Country Club might be the perfect place for you.

If you want to wash away the sin and have a nature moment, you should go to City Park, which is a gigantic space in the middle of New Orleans with lakes, a museum, botanical gardens, and even an amusement park. My friends and I stumbled upon this crazy place called Storyland that’s basically just statues of Disney characters and epic slides. There’s also an amazing sculpture garden as well.

Typical 20 Something

Last but not least, if you’re on that spiritual tip, you should go see a PSYCHIC. There’s a ton of them in New Orleans and for a big chunk of change, they’ll do a reading for you. My psychic was full of #HUMBLEBRAGs for me. He said that the next three years of my life would be amazing for my career and that I would be coming in to some money! He told me some other stuff though that was pretty obvious. Like, he said that he could tell that I had a lot of feelings. Um, duhhhhh. Gold star for you, psychic. Go to the head of your weird psychic class. I have nothing BUT feelings. I AM A FEELING. What else are you going to tell me? That I’m gay?

While I walked away from my psychic generally feeling content, my best friend had a totally different experience. Her psychic told her that she would never be rich and that she needs to get her crap together career-wise. Oh yeah, and that her long-term relationship is going to end. Depressed and demoralized, my friend drank heavily that night and ended up sobbing back at our hotel. Can you believe that? Her psychic made her cry! So I guess be prepared to get a reading you might not like. Otherwise, you might be texting your boyfriend at 4 a.m. drunk and telling him that your psychic said that you two were over.

Where to shop

This is the one area where I feel like my friends and I failed. Between all of the eating, drinking, crying and ghost tours, we only had time to hit up Magazine Street in the Uptown district. It was pretty cool, I guess. It reminded me of the Fillmore District in San Francisco or the West Village, which is to say that it was very “Rich Mom Who Needs A New Skin Cream.”

Where to stay

I stayed at the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter for two reasons. 1. There was a rooftop pool. and 2. There’s the Carousel Bar, which is literally a bar that moves around like a carousel. At first, I didn’t understand how such a place existed. If a bar was moving in circles, wouldn’t people be vomiting? But IRL, it moves very, very slowly so you don’t get sick or dizzy. Can you imagine though if it malfunctioned and started moving super fast? People would be screaming, trying to jump off, and puking everywhere!

Where to be racist

EVERYWHERE! JK but not really. Not-so-casual racism is a thing here. It’s delivered in such a matter-of-fact way though that you don’t even realize it’s happening until you’re like, “Wait a second….” One night, we were at dinner, and my friend asked our waiter, who was this adorable gay guy, about what The Ninth Ward was like and our waiter said, “Oh, I don’t go there. There’s a lot of crime.” My friend asked, “What kind of crime?” and our waiter responded, “Oh, it’s just the blacks. The African-Americans are shooting each other and stuff.” My jaw dropped. He said it in a way that indicated no malice, which made it even more disturbing. It was just acceptable to say that the crime comes solely from the African-American community. That was the one thing that blew my mind. I’ve obviously heard about the South still being very much “separate but equal” but I’ve never experienced it myself. I mean, our tour guide for the ghost tour described someone as being a mulatto. WTF?

Despite the undertones (or, rather, overtones) of racism, I really fell in love with New Orleans hard. It’s such an interesting mix of cultures. You have religious zealots co-existing with the heathens and everyone’s down to hang. If you haven’t had the chance to visit, I really hope you go at some point because it truly is an amazing freak on a leash. I’ve honestly never been anywhere like it. A local told me something about the city that stuck with me. He said, “If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you’re dead.”TC mark

Images – Ryan O’Connell and co

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

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