Nola becomes more accessible to Brits today with the start of the first direct flight from Europe – with British Airways from London – in 30 years. Here 10 locals reveal the places that occupy a special place in their heart
Bar/restaurant off the beaten track
One of my favourite drinking spots in New Orleans has got to be Lakeview Harbor. It’s well outside of the usual tourist area – though not really that close to the lake (Lake Pontchartrain). It is more of a locals’ spot, not trendy by any means. Its daily two-for-one happy-hour drinks make it a great place to catch up with friends after work, and its burgers (from $10.50) are on a par with some of the best in the city. Lakeview’s signature drink is the Typhoon and trust me, it will definitely put you in a good mood.
Great live music
The Maple Leaf bar is where I first set foot on American soil in the 1980s (I grew up in Kent, in the UK). I was welcomed warmly into the bosom of a dysfunctional family of alcoholics, junkies, rednecks and hippies, Cajuns and Creoles, brilliant minds and half-wits. I’m glad to say that today, 37 years later, not much has changed and even though the laundry machines have gone and James Booker might not play piano on Tuesdays, and Earl King and Rocking Dopsie have left the stage, you can still hear great music in this neighbourhood bar and drink in the daytime with the locals.
Vital vinyl store
Euclid Records is such a New Orleanian experience. Everyone there from the patrons to the guy behind the counter are fiercely passionate about the music in this city. It isn’t one of those pretentious shops where they will only speak above you. You can overhear (and join in conversation) about bounce, New Orleans soul and R&B, trad jazz, and everything else musical happening here. Go upstairs and rummage through the 45s for a couple of hours or hang out and see an in-store show. Its selection is great and you’ll find more records than you can possibly drag home.
Park with a story to tell
Few areas in New Orleans fill me with as much nostalgia and joy as the Storyland Park. Having grown up in the city, the collection of statues themed around nursery rhymes and children’s stories is a wonderful place to idle away an afternoon with my nieces and nephews. It points back to the city’s suburban history and its transformation after Katrina. Whether it’s walking through the boot of the shoe that the Little Ol’ Woman lives in or looking into the fish tank inside the giant whale’s mouth from Pinocchio, I love spending a spring day here with the people I love, remembering my own childhood.
Classic French Quarter hotel
There are a lot of wonderful old hotels in New Orleans, but I’ve always been a particular fan of the Soniat House. It’s a lovely historic building in a quiet corner of the French Quarter, surrounded by some of the oldest buildings in the city and adjacent to the 18th-century Ursulines Convent. The hotel’s rooms are furnished with 19th-century antiques, from the era that really influenced the style of the French Quarter. The staff are friendly and their long tenures speak of the integrity of the ownership. Another great thing is that they also tailor your in-room bar to your preferred cocktails.
Restaurant with a north African twist
My favourite Uptown (an area on the east bank of the Mississippi) restaurant is Jamila’s. It’s the perfect place for date night with my husband Rory. It’s tucked away on Maple Street, a little removed from the college bars and is family owned. Moncef is the host and his wife Jamila the chef. They blend Tunisian and Mediterranean cuisine, with our favourite dishes being the mussels ($7.95 starter) and the lamb tajine ($19.95). Moncef is so personable and warm that half the appeal is going to see him – you feel like you’ve been welcomed into someone’s home.
I love breakfast food. If there’s anything better in life than a buttery croissant with eggs and cheese on it, I’m not sure I deserve it. Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar has all the trappings of a greasy spoon, but with diet-conscious options. I almost always order a breakfast croissant with eggs, bacon and the truly decadent grits. If I’m recovering from a disaster of a night, I’ll drown my shame in biscuits and gravy (a popular southern dish). The cafe encourages customers to bring their own booze and it’s easier to bring a bottle of sparkling wine than it is to figure out how to split the bill for rounds of endless mimosas.
Seminal Cajun dishes
When people ask me where to eat in New Orleans, K-Paul’s is always at the top of my list. The food isn’t gimmicky – it is balanced, seasonal, and fresh. The blackened redfish is a seminal dish in US cuisine. The dark, spicy chicken and sausage gumbo is a Cajun revelation in a Creole city – and don’t conflate the two. Chef Paul Prudhomme (who died in 2015) was a native of the small Louisiana city of Opelousas, and founded the restaurant with his wife Kay in 1979. The flavours of Cajun country shine through in his interpretations. Just try not to fill up on the house-made bread basket. In a city where it seems like a new restaurant opens daily, K-Paul’s is still among the best.
Stroll, culture, boats and bikes
Just as Bourbon Street blossomed into an adult playground over the past half-century, City Park has emerged as a playground, period. New Orleans Museum of Art features an array of children’s programming, but when kids want to get outdoors, they flock to the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park (complete with little Ladybug roller coaster). Just across the parking lot sits the recently added City Putt golf course and beyond the museum of art, at the southern end, a vast green space where visitors will come across Morning Call (for beignets and café au lait). Boat and bike rentals abound and the Louisiana Children’s Museum(currently on Julia St) plans to relocate there in 2018.
Feel like dancing?
I thoroughly enjoy Poor Boys as one of the best dance venues in the city. The nights it throws are diverse and energetic, and it books a wide variety of bands and DJs. The dance floor is really spacious for New Orleans, and the place reminds me of those classic older discos in the early 1980s, especially with the characteristic raised DJ booth. The bar owners are great at promoting local bands and DJs and have created a space that’s fun and safe for a diverse crowd.