Over the holidays, a friend from high school messaged me on Facebook. She was in New Orleans and looking for travel advice, specifically, where to go for after-dinner drinks and to enjoy the city’s music. She and her husband had been to Bourbon Street but . . . uh, well, it wasn’t quite what they had in mind.
Now, New Orleans remains one of my favorite American cities, so I was glad to comply to the best of my admittedly limited ability. Here’s what I suggested:
See Bourbon Street . . . and then walk briskly the other way
Okay, I’m not gonna tell you not to go at all. Bourbon Street is one of the city’s claims to fame (for better or worse) and it is a sight to see, but it’s also pretty disgusting and, for a discerning adult of certain tastes and sensibilities, it’s bars seem singularly unappealing.
So, by all means, walk along Bourbon Street, take in the colorful street performers, drunken revelers, and listless dancers gyrating in the entrances to the bewildering variety of strip clubs . . . and, once you’ve had your fill (fifteen minutes, maybe twenty), escape the spectacle knowing that having seen it is enough.
Stroll along Royal Street
Ah, Royal Street. Just a block over from Bourbon Street but worlds apart. Somehow, it manages to be quiet and raucous in equal measure. Quiet maybe because of its historic architecture and a certain refined and elegant quality reinforced by its many art galleries.
Raucous because the real draw on Royal are the street musicians and buskers that crowd its every corner, transforming the street into an unstructured and high-energy music festival.
Now, think of your average street musician and tear that image to shreds, ’cause the buskers of NOLA are anything but average. The talent and enthusiasm on display here blows many stage acts in any other city way out of the water.
Talk to the locals
This rule holds for any city, but doubly so for a city like NOLA, with its variety of choices for drinks overshadowed by a single (in)famous street or area. The people of New Orleans are fiercely (and rightly) proud of their city, and once they realize you aren’t there to simply get drunk on and vomit all over Bourbon Street, they will gladly send you to their own favorite areas and watering holes.
Head to Fishermen’s Street
The length of this charming street is lined with bars, each one advertising live music acts. Check out the marquees and posters, sure, but honestly, all you have to do is listen. Music wafts out from every doorway. Pick the tune and style you like, walk right in, pick a seat, and enjoy.
My experience doing this was almost surreal in its New Orleans-iness: the act was a duo that included a blind guitarist, his milky eyes downcast as he strummed and plucked at the strings. It doesn’t get much better than that.
My friend had a blast, finding a cozy spot to enjoy drinks and tunes on Fishermen’s, as I knew she would. The lesson is: when it comes to drinking and entertainment, New Orleans is so much more than Bourbon Street.