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.

Trace the scars life has left you. It will remind you that at one point, you fought for something. You believed.

“You are the only person who gets to decide if you are happy or not—do not put your happiness into the hands of other people. Do not make it contingent on their acceptance of you or their feelings for you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone dislikes you or if someone doesn’t want to be with you. All that matters is that you are happy with the person you are becoming. All that matters is that you like yourself, that you are proud of what you are putting out into the world. You are in charge of your joy, of your worth. You get to be your own validation. Please don’t ever forget that.” — Bianca Sparacino

Excerpted from The Strength In Our Scars by Bianca Sparacino.

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  • IMTWENTY

    I kind of want to go to New Orleans now.

  • Lo

    You should look further into Storyland. It has an interesting history. It’s really kind of fucked up that they decided to make it into a kids area.

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/06/tits-tears-and-frozen-daiquiris-a-not-so-touristy-guide-to-new-orleans/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

  • Simon

    That was the most poorly written pretentious piece of garbage I’ve ever seen on this website. Now I’m left with a big headache. NOLA is an amazing place but the account the author has given is so superficial and petty that I’m stunned it’s on thought catalog. So many great cultural experiences were left out but we were blessed with 3 paragraphs about The Country Club, a place notorious for being a sleazy bar with a pool frequented by local degenerates and tourists with a couple screws loose. NOLA is a great place to experience southern culture and some serious parties. Too bad the author was too busy freaking out about people walking around in open-toed sandals.

    We’re all dumber for reading this article. Apologies to the city of New Orleans.

  • http://twitter.com/tr_sk_ys tres keys (@tr_sk_ys)

    RYAN. YOU WENT TO NEW ORLEANS AND LOVED IT. NO WORDS.

  • M

    Next time (because you know there will be one) spend more time Uptown!

    • beev

      Or don’t.

  • http://twitter.com/JackCazir Jàck Cazir (@JackCazir)

    Best po’boys in town is at Domilise’s — it’s some 50 year old back shed off tchoupitoulas, complete with bullet holes in the doors.

    Always choose Frenchman St over Bourbon St. (Mimi’s in the Marigny is great, you nailed that.)

    The best ‘touristy’ spot is “Pat O’Briens” — home of the Hurricane + dueling pianos, with a nice courtyard, too. Grab an obnoxiously expensive + high-proof Hand Grenade at Tropic Isle then take a seat at Patty-Os; that’s the best (only) way to do Bourbon St. If you must.

    If you are a college-aged kid just looking to get laid just go to the Boot. You can get mono from the *tables* there.

    Stroll the entire length of Magazine St. It’s filled with brilliant ex-pats who were famous pastry chefs, designers, artists, WHATEVER back where they came from, but ended up in NOLA and never went back. That humble looking hut houses a four-star pastry chef; the average level of proficiency-to-pretension there is out of this world — it’s like an inverse Williamsburg.

    Most of the violent crime in NOLA is gang related, which means unless you are actively involved in criminal enterprise you will be very safe. There are, however, certain poorly-lit streets that tourists and undergrads will stumble down, without fail, drunk out of their mind every weekend. There are literally Criminal Checkpoints here now: cars of dudes with pistols who will sit next to the sidewalk and just ask you to throw your wallet in as you go by. If this happens to you, just throw the wallet. But it’s unlikely to happen to you unless you’re super drunk on that dark shortcut road on a Friday.

    That’s kind of a theme, actually: most violent crime in NOLA is not random (ie the scary kind). My good friend was waiting at a bus stop and a car of dude rolled up, got out, and shot the guys standing on each side of her in the head, immediately killed them, then got back in the car and drove off. That story is horrific but illustrates an important point: they WENT OUT OF THEIR WAY not to harm this 100-pound blonde girl in between the intended victims. Unless someone is out to get you — the random, faceless tourist who is only in town for a couple days — you’ll be fine. If you never get blackout on the tourist-filled Bourbon St, your odds of being in any danger ever plummet.

    As for the racism thing: it’s as firmly entrenched as anywhere in the Deep South, though there is an awesome form of amnesty in the city itself. The suburbs can be…contentious (hate crimes weren’t uncommon in the lawless areas outside the city post-Katrina), but, for the most part, people assume that you (in Ryan’s case, a white male) probably wouldn’t be living/staying in a city which is, demographically speaking, hugely non-white if you were some sort of horrible racist. On a practical level, it means nightlife spots where being the only [whatever race]-person in the room — which, speaking from experience, can get kind of touch-and-go in cities like Memphis, Atlanta, or Mobile — doesn’t cause anyone to bat an eye like they would elsewhere.

    Honestly, I could go on about NOLA all day. It’s one of my favorite places on earth, and, despite all its misfortune and bad press, is still one of the nicest places you could ever hope to visit.

    Hope you don’t mind my tagging-on there, Ryan.

    Glad you liked it.

    • Nicki

      @Jack, thank you for this. I agree with all of your sentiments here. I love my city, and avoid the touristy Quarter as much as I can, but it is just like any other big city. Be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Don’t get blackout and wander around the streets. You wouldn’t do that in Chicago, don’t do it here. Don’t instigate fights, which is Never a good idea and certainly don’t undermine the police. All that being said, it is one of the best cities on earth and is hard to describe to those who have never visited or spent their time solely in the French Quarter (which is only 8×8 blocks of a large city and is not representative). One of the best things about this place is if you can find a local, ask where to go or what to do. The suggestions will never let you down.

  • BROBA

    Glad you had a good experience in the south Ryan!!! Next come to the east coast, think you’d love Chapel Hill (tho it’s way more laid back than NO) or Charleston.

  • Iavora Vlaytcheva

    Look up Quintron and Miss Pussycat if you’re in NOLA- find a show they’re playing, commit to the evening, regret nothing. Dope.

    • Jenny

      omg Quintron+Miss Pussycat. I saw them on Halloween one year and it was A-MAZING.

  • Ya Momma's House

    This. I am born and raised in New Orleans and this is dead on. Please keep traveling and writing about the places you visit Ryan.

  • Brittney

    Ryan, you went to New Orleans?!?! Also, I can’t believe you went to two of my favorite places, The Joint and the Country Club. Both of which are in my neighborhood. Wish we could have hung out.

  • mousepad

    so not-so-casual racism is not okay, but throwing around “tranny” and guessing whether people are “mentally ill” is okay? chill.

    • mousepad

      bourbon also runs east-west. you can’t “go west” of it.

  • Nolalover

    I don’t know where you think you were but you definitely weren’t in Nola if you were having a sno cone. They’re called snow balls and theyre a new Orleans tradition. You couldn’t even bother to get the name right? It’s printed on ever snow ball stand (and there’s one every couple of blocks)

    • Aj

      Really?…..

      • Sarah

        People in New Orleans get so defensive if you call their snow balls “snow cones”…

    • Nicki

      I totally thought that when reading this!

  • mallory

    I was just there over the weekend too!!! One of my all time favorite places!!!! We share the same sentiments about pretty much everything!

  • Jenny

    I live in New Orleans, and it’s nice to see somebody who didn’t just hang around downtown, but actually went to City Park and the like. Mimi’s is a great place to dance, regardless of what anybody says. All of my friends and I joke that you can always tell who the tourists are by the ponchos (when it’s raining) or the thousand-yard, open mouthed stares (when it’s not). Watch out for the cockroaches though! THEY FLY

  • http://twitter.com/sassy_poof Brady (@sassy_poof)

    New Orleans is very near and dear to my heart, I am so glad you enjoyed your visit. When people ask me what it’s like, I always say “There’s nowhere else in the world like it” and I see you got that impression as well.

  • http://twitter.com/Bealtaine6 chloe cass (@Bealtaine6)

    Would someone mind explaining NOLA to me?Also beignets sound delish!

    • ALLIE

      NOLA: New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Aj

    Ryan I went there last winter and agree to the Cafe Beignet over Cafe DuMond. So much better! I love Nola, its one of the few truly unique cities in the country.

  • Aj

    Oh, and I love alligators as well!

  • Nojackla

    My dear boy, I’m so glad you enjoyed my city and, trust me, you found a few of the best things about New Orleans. I did want to mention that your boy “Monster” was, in all likelihood, a…hmmm…how shall I put this? A gentleman whose “talents” could be procured for the price of a few bumps and a dime bag. Le Roundup is a notorious meeting place for such fellows. Either that, or he enjoys the company of women with “a little something extra”.

  • gwen

    same experience i had when i went to New Orleans. Surprisingly, I fell in love with that city as well!

  • http://twitter.com/alisonwisneski alisonwisneski (@alisonwisneski)

    Used to live in NOLA…have to agree with you on some points, not on others.

    Eff yeah, Mimi’s! I used to get silly drunk after work and stare at the cute hipster girls on the corner. I didn’t hate it.

    Commander’s Palace…aw.

    You went to Oz? I like it. Daring move.

    You are a delight 100% of the time.

  • http://expertlypolishedthoughts.tumblr.com Ryan McKernan

    I just, I love you, Ryan.

  • https://twitter.com/andrew_duke Andrew Duke

    NOLA is an amazing place. Granted, I moved here from middle-of-nowhere Kansas, so my expectations aren’t that high, but I’ve simply fallen in love with this city. Your depiction was incredibly accurate (seriously though, the Country Club can be fun–on a week night, with a bunch of lesbians, when you’re drunk). The fun part is figuring out which parts of the city change when you actually live here (very few of them)…it’s exhausting, but you learn to love it.

  • Madeline

    Great piece, Ryan. You could totally be like, the hipster Bourdain. I’ll be bookmarking this.

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