ACES 2012 | New Orleans

Where to eat, what to drink, what to hear

Food and nightlife tips from an ACES’ New Orleans insider. For more suggestions, download the free iPad app from The Times-Picayune, Ultimate Insider’s Guide to New Orleans.

Where to eat:

This section could be pages and pages of restaurants; in fact, it might be easier to tell you what eating establishments to avoid because they cater almost exclusively to tourists who can’t tell etoufee from jambalaya.

But with the French Quarter Festival happening throughout the Quarter and along the riverfront April 12-15, you’d be nuts to choose a restaurant instead of festival fare. Many of the great restaurants in town have festival booths selling everything from hot sausage po-boys to fried green tomatoes to red beans and rice to fried oysters, and, well, you get the idea.

Leave the hotel at lunch, veer right to the riverfront or left into the Quarter, enjoy your meal and the music. The beer’s cold.

If you are determined to actually sit down inside an air-conditioned restaurant to eat and are looking for places within walking distance of the ACES conference hotel (as Steven Wright says: Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time) here are a few favorites:

Domenica: John Besh (alert: very famous New Orleans chef) opened this casual Italian place last year in the Roosevelt Hotel, 123 Baronne St., which is one block off Canal Street opposite the French Quarter.

Café Amelie: The most beautiful courtyard in the French Quarter, 912 Royal St., is a charming place for lunch or dinner. And the menu usually offers a great andouille gumbo.

Stanley: On Jackson Square, this café offers anything but the standard café fare. Try the omelet sandwich. Or the Big Stanley burger. Top it off with a snowball from the tiny walk-in next-door.

Sylvain, 625 Chartres St., is at heart a French bistro. It’s a bar. It’s a restaurant. It’s a courtyard. It also can get quite loud. That’s your cue to retreat to the courtyard in the back.

Camellia Grill, 540 Chartres St., is an institution in this city. The original, Uptown at the riverbend, was covered with imploring sticky notes when locals feared it wouldn’t reopen after Katrina. It did, and it also expanded to the Quarter. Lucky for you. Order a chili-cheese omelet and a chocolate freeze.

Felipe’s, 301 N. Peters St. Now, you may be wondering, why is a Mexican restaurant on this list? It’s that good.

What to drink:

OK, this is less a section of WHAT to drink as it is WHERE to drink. If you are insistent on getting a “world-famous Hurricane” at Pat O’Brien’s, you need to know that there are three distinct bars at Pat O’s (four, counting the storefront booth that fronts Bourbon Street). Pat’O’Brien’s is at 718 St. Peter St., between Royal and Bourbon streets. The front bar, on the left as you walk in, is the “locals” bar. Drinks are cheapest here, but then, so is the ambience. The piano bar, on the right, is a kick at night, and very crowded. Drinks are a little more expensive there. Straight back from the entrance is the courtyard bar, with the famous flaming fountain. You’ll pay top dollar for drinks here. It’s a lovely courtyard, one of the finest in the city. And if you do order a Hurricane, be prepared for a very sweet drink (lots of different kinds of rum, for starters) and by all means, pay extra to keep the glass.

The French 75 bar at 815 Bienville St. is part of the venerable Arnaud’s Restaurant. Think: Paris. And if you order a French 75, you’ll put a smile on the bartender’s face.

The Napoleon House, 500 Chartres St., is simple yet elegant. Yes, the ACES 2012 Saturday wrap-up party is there, so you’ll see it then if you have a ticket, but if you get the chance, stop in before our crowd descends. It’s a very no-nonsense place, presided over by the bust of Napoleon behind the bar as well as the famously taciturn wait staff. But it’s full of romance, that old place.

Sylvain, 625 Chartres St., just down the street from the Napoleon House, is a fairly new place, in the bistro style. A long bar dominates the dining room, and it can get quite loud at night (the music volume is always turned up way too high for some reason) but there’s a charming tiny courtyard in the rear, boasting what might be the oldest wall in the city.

The Carousel Bar, in the Hotel Monteleone at 214 Royal St., is an actual carousel. Climb onto a seat and watch the world spin as you drink. Actually, the revolution is fairly slow (unless you’ve already been to Pat O’s) but the fun insider tip is to watch the bartender shift change. They have to jump up onto the bar to get inside for their bartending duties. Also: If Marvin is pouring, ask him for his famous Pisco sour.

One thing to remember about drinking in New Orleans: Many bars will serve your choice in a plastic cup because YOU CAN WALK RIGHT OUT ONTO THE STREET WITH IT. Yes, we have an open container law. No, it’s not enforced in the French Quarter.

What to hear

Music. Jazz. You have lucked out, because the French Quarter Festival offers more than 800 local musicians on more than 20 stages from Thursday to Sunday, with everything from jazz to funk to Cajun to big band. The fest tends to shut down around 7 p.m., so after that …

Fritzel’s, 733 Bourbon St., is an old-style European pub with old-style jazz masters. Take a seat on one of the benches, order a German brew, and enjoy. Chances are you’ll see Japanese tourists. They seem to seek out the best of the genre.

Palm Court Café, 1204 Decatur St., is a white-tablecloth restaurant serving jazz as a main course. It’s almost always full, so reservations are a necessity. This is old-school New Orleans jazz at its finest.

Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse, in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon St., is a fairly new addition to the jazz scene, and a welcome one. Mayfield is a consummate professional and his club is deep, dark and lovely.

Preservation Hall, 726 St. Peter St., is where it all started. The place looks like a dive (well, it kind of is) and don’t expect a cushioned seat. But you’ll be blown away by whatever musicians happen to be on the roster that night. Oh, and it’s just music. No drinks, no food.

And remember: If you haven’t already, be sure to download the free app for your iPad from The Times-Picayune and The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to New Orleans, which includes a chapter on Jazz Fest, which is coming up the end of the month.

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