1. Where to Stay
The Ritz-Carlton on Canal Street in the French Quarter is a steal; rooms are as low as $209 a night through the end of the year. For an even better value, book the Reconnect package (from $194) and get breakfast for two and a $25 credit that can be used at the 25,000-square-foot spa.
If the Ritz is booked, try the Iberville Suites, located in the same former department store. Though the two hotels share many facilities—like the spa, gym, restaurant, bar, and lounge—the Iberville Suites is cheaper. Rooms in November start at $149 a night.
The International House is in a turn-of-the century Beaux-Arts building but opened in 1998 and was renovated just last summer. Located in the central business district, the hotel has 115 large rooms (300 square feet) and two giant penthouses. For the remainder of 2008, get three nights for the price of two (from $159).
2. Where to Eat
Local celebrity chef and James Beard award winner John Besh opened his fourth restaurant, Lüke, in May 2007. Lüke’s own beer master brews three quaffs to pair with the pâté of Louisiana rabbit and duck livers; house-made sausages; and cassoulet.
Hurricane Katrina delayed Cochon’s opening in the warehouse district for about six months, but that didn’t stop chef Donald Link from winning a Beard award in 2007 for Best Chef in the South. Pork specialties like ham hocks and the Cajun delicacy andouille have won him a devoted following. Call at least two weeks ahead of time for a weekend table, or take your chances on getting seated at the bar.
For a great restaurant uptown, try local institution Gautreau’s. It opened 25 years ago, but current chef Sue Zemanick has reinvigorated the menu. For her efforts, Food & Wine named her one of the ten best new chefs in the country this year. Her modern French and traditional Louisiana style produces dishes like buttermilk fried artichokes with arugula and lemon-tarragon vinaigrette and crispy duck breast with torpedo onions, roasted peaches, wild rice, and natural jus.
3. What to Do
The New Orleans Opera Association will stage its final opera (Don Giovanni) in mid-November at Tulane University’s McAlister Auditorium, a temporary home after Katrina. (Tickets start at $30.) On January 17, Plácido Domingo will welcome the opera back to the rehabilitated Mahalia Jackson Theatre (from $45), and subsequent winter performances include Carmen and La Traviata.
Prospect.1, the largest international contemporary-art biennial in the United States, opens for a free, eleven-week run on November 1. Dan Cameron, formerly of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, curated the biennial, which features 81 artists showing in 100,000 square feet of exhibition space throughout the city. Highlights include Mark Bradford’s ark, constructed from salvaged wood; tapestries by New Orleans native Shawne Major’s; and urban photography by South Africa’s Zwelethu Mthethwa.
The Museum of the American Cocktail reopened last July inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum after a Katrina-related displacement. In addition to exhibits on absinthe and celebrity bartenders, mixologists are performing demonstrations throughout the fall. On December 8, Tony Abou-Ganim, who used to run all the bars at the Bellagio Hotel and has been both a competitor and a judge on Iron Chef, will prepare classic holiday drinks.
4. Insider’s Tip
Drink your lunch at Ralph Brennan’s Bacco, where martinis are ten cents during the midday meal. No limit!
5. Oddball Day
No southern meal would be complete without a dash of Tabasco. Make a pilgrimage to Avery Island, home of the ubiquitous hot pepper sauce, about a two-hour scenic drive west of New Orleans along the coast and through marshland. Tour the factory and bottling plant, and stock up on hot-sauce supplies. Walk or drive through Jungle Gardens, the former estate of Tabasco’s founding family that is now 250 acres of wildlife preserve loaded with alligators and dripping with Spanish moss. On the way home, slurp a dozen oysters for $6.75 at Shucks in the nearby Cajun town of Abbeville.
Consult this live-music calendar to see who’s playing while you’re in town.
New Orleans Menu tracks restaurants by neighborhood and makes recommendations.
Plan your trip in February to coincide with the happy madness of Mardi Gras.
The annual Jazz & Heritage Festival is one of the largest American music gatherings in the country.
The annual Tales of the Cocktail festival brings mixologists, bartenders, and chefs to the city every summer.
Plan a day of gallery hopping with this online directory.