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New Orleans' Other Happening Place: Frenchmen Street
By Stuart Wasserman
While everyone should walk down Bourbon Street at least once, there is a new entertainment avenue in New Orleans that is also worth a visit. It is a bit more reserved and certainly more intimate, yet sometimes it jumps. It's called Frenchmen Street, and it is located on the edge of the French Quarter just across Esplanade Avenue. Residents refer to it as the locals' Bourbon Street because it is a great place to sample the best of the New Orleans music scene.
Frenchmen Street is known for its small music clubs — the Hookah Cafe, Snug Harbor, DBA, Cafe Brazil, the Apple Barrel and The Spotted Cat. These are small clubs where even shy people might find it easy to strike up a conversation with a total stranger.
I did just that one night at the Spotted Cat, where the people I met happened to be from my current hometown in Oregon. We sat almost at arm's reach from a group called the Jazz Vipers, a group of musicians who were playing classics from the 1920s, '30 and '40s jazz and blues music era — the likes of Billie Holiday, Benny Carter and Count Basie.
Many of the clubs charge no cover; others have entrance fees as low as $5 per person. Drink up, there is good beer and wine here. Frenchmen Street can make for a good night of entertainment away from the hawkers on Bourbon Street and the folks about ready to tip over.
For my first few nights in New Orleans I stayed in The Monteleone, a classic French Quarter hotel located on Royal Street. I like to walk, and the distance from the Monteleone to Frenchmen Street was about a mile — a straight line down Decatur Street past the majestic St. Louis Cathedral. I asked two police officers one night about walking down Bourbon Street to Frenchmen Street but they advised against that route. "Decatur is a better pedestrian choice," one said.
I also like the piano lounge behind the Monteleone's 60-year-old Carousel Bar. Many famous writers such as William Faulkner, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams lifted a glass here while they penned notes on napkins.
Many beloved New Orleans institutions like the Monteleone and restaurants like Mr. B's and the Commander's Palace have undergone multimillion-dollar renovations since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005.
There are many Mardi Gras parades occurring almost daily beginning about three weeks before Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday — the last day of Mardi Gras before Lent. One of the first of these parades each year is the Krewe du Vieux Carre, which in 2010 takes place on Jan. 30. The Krewe du Vieux is one of just a handful of parades that winds its way through the storied French Quarter because it is a non-mechanized parade — all floats are pulled the way they were in the old days, either by horse, donkey or human power. The Krewe du Vieux parade is satirical and ribald — some might say raunchy. This is definitely an adult parade, and parental judgment must play a role.
At Mardi Gras parades the participants throw mementos to the onlookers along the street.
I found rows and rows of sequined shoes lining the floors and draping the mantel at the Ashton B&B on Esplanade Avenue. I asked Karma, who runs the B&B along with her husband Patrick, about the sequined shoes. Karma works as a nurse at one of the city's hospitals and is also a leader of an all-woman krewe known as the Krewe of Muses, which will celebrates its 10th anniversary as a Krewe with its upcoming 2010 parade. For weeks Karma and the other women of the krewe scour all the thrift stores for women's dress shoes and then spend additional days decorating them in a very glittery fashion.
Diane George, a retired teacher originally from Shreveport, La., and a veteran of many Mardi Gras parades, calls them the best throws of Mardi Gras.
"I just caught one of shoes dropped from the hand of a muse. I will treasure this," she said.
Early February is great time to be in New Orleans because the crush of tourists hasn't arrived yet. Restaurants are busy but not overly crowded, and one would be remiss to miss eating at least once at one of the restaurants in this area.
Enjoy Gallatoires on Bourbon Street or Tujague's on Decatur Street for the old-time flavor of New Orleans in the French Quarter. Two English woman friends of mine liked the Acme Oyster House for the food and economical pricing. For lunch I enjoyed Mr. B's across from the Hotel Monteleone. I'm not a food critic, but I believe this spot has the best pecan pie in town.
The restaurant scene is spreading into the central industrial area just across from Canal Street and extending down toward the Mississippi River and the convention center. Restaurants getting attention for scrumptious food and good service include August, Herbsaint and Cochon.
A Louisiana friend told me that she believes that Mardi Gras should be a national holiday, and she predicts it will be within 100 years. Based on the way Mardi Gras is celebrated in cities and towns across the country, I believe she might be right.
IF YOU GO
Monteleone Hotel, www.hotelmonteleone.com
Ashton's B&B, www.ashtonsbb.com
Krewe du Vieux Carre, Saturday, Jan. 30, French Quarter, 6:30 p.m.
Krewe of Muses, Thursday, Feb. 11, Uptown, 6:15 p.m.
For a complete Mardi Gras parade schedule, visit www.mardigrasparadeschedule.com/2010-Mardi-Gras-Parade-Schedule/
For more on Frenchmen Street, visit www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/nightlife/frenchmensstreet.html.
Stuart Wasserman is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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