A "Perfect" Night in the French Quarter

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Once the Mardi Gras hordes have dispersed, it will be possible once again to do New Orleans in style! Here are our suggestions for the ultimate night's romp

Having a good night out in the Big Easy is, in fact, easy. But the perfect night? The French Quarter is so densely packed with historic and atmospheric venues for food, drink and music that settling for the first open doorway is sacrilege. After extensive research, we've assembled an itinerary which, barring interference from Mother Nature or Lady Luck, is as close to a perfect night as one can come in the French Quarter. It features a little of everything the Quarter is known for: drinks, dinner at an old-time Creole restaurant, top-drawer live music, po' boys, and a stop at America's most famous coffee shop.

A night in the French Quarter doesn't really end until noon the next day, even if you break it up with some sleep. So, we have mapped out your perfect morning after, as well, assuming the following:

  • It isn't Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest Although these are good reasons to be in the Quarter, the perfect night doesn't entail fighting through teeming masses of morons loaded beyond all capacity for reason.
  • You are capable of pacing yourself.  Pat O'Brien's, the first stop on the itinerary, is your acid test. It will be very tempting to go off the rails with one too many potent and sugary Hurricanes (for some, in fact, one is too many). Don't succumb. The ideal night starts at 4pm and goes until you feel it should end. Stay out all night if you'd like. But, if you can't make it out of bed for breakfast, it probably wasn't so "perfect."
  • So, here is the recipe for a night to end all nights in the Vieux Carre:

    4pm: Pat O'Brien's 718 Saint Peter St., 504/588-2744  

    Start the evening off with the famed tipple--the Hurricane ($6). Although the drink menu runs several pages, stick with the rum punch that turned Pat O'Brien's into a French Quarter institution. It is sweet and deceptively easy to drink, but at 24 ounces, you should stick to one and one only. There are actually three bars within the Pat O'Brien's complex, but for your first visit, stay out of the piano and locals bar, and head to the bar in the garden.  If you make friends with the right waiter, you may be selected to light the flaming fountain in the center of the courtyard.

    6pm:  Sunset at Café Du Monde 813 Decatur St., 504/581-2914

    Café Du Monde is so pleasurable, and so cheap, that more than one visit over the course of your New Orleans stay would not be unusual in the least. Its frothy chicory-infused café au lait is only $1.50, and an order of three fritter-like beignets runs $1.50, as well.  Keep in mind, however, that every tourist in town wants to visit the famous cafe between nine and eleven in the morning, and again between three and five in the afternoon--its busier hours. So, plan to arrive for your last caffeine shot of the day after the rush, and enjoy watching dusk fall over Jackson Square.  

    7pm: Dinner at Tujagues 823 Decatur St. (at Madison St.), 504/525-8676

    It won'' be your best meal during your stay, but it will be the best bang for your buck. It's unlikely the atmosphere has changed much since the place opened in 1856, only the advent of electricity making a difference. Five courses run $30-35 prix fixe, and there is no a la carte option. Choose from the three or four options the kitchen has prepared that evening. The courses are a walk through the Quarter'' Creole past, with shrimp remoulade, brisket with Creole sauce, and bread pudding. If none suit your fancy, there is an off-the-menu dish, Chicken La Bonne Femme, which will provide you with enough garlic to keep the famed voodoo priestess Marie Leveau away for the duration of your stay.

    9pm: Jazz at Preservation Hall 726 St. Peter St., 504/522-2841

    Since 1961, Dixieland Jazz has continued to thrive at Preservation Hall. A rotating cast of musicians, one more talented than the last, plays from 8pm until midnight every day. Each set lasts about a half hour, but your $5 will let you stay for as many sets as you'd 'ike. Requests will run you $5 and up (despite what the sign says), and they must be traditional Dixieland numbers.

    10:30pm: Live Zydeco at Old Opera House60 1 Bourbon St (at Toulouse St.), 504/522-3265

    If New Orleans is the closest you can make it to the heart of Zydeco (Lafayette, LA), you shouldn'' miss an opportunity to catch some squeezebox and rub-board in the Big Easy. The Old Opera House isn'' the best place in town to see live Zydeco (that would be the Mid City Lanes Rock & Bowl), but it is the best Zydeco on Bourbon St., especially Monday through Wednesday when Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers own the stage. Dwayne was named the "Hottest Accordion in America" by the American Accordionists Association, and his band is hotter than a good gumbo.  

    11:30pm: A Stop in Lafitte's Blacksmith 941 Bourbon St. (at Dumaine St.), 504/523-0066

    Local legend has it that this was no smithy, but was instead a front for the Lafitte brother'' privateering and slave smuggling racket. Regardless of whether or not there was a pirate in its past, the building--the oldest freestanding structure in the French Quarter--a big draw for artists and photographers. Aside from the somewhat jarring presence of a TV and ATM near the bar, the lighting is solely candlelight. There is a piano in the back which attracts the drunkest revelers.  

    Wee hours of the morning: Po' Boy at Verti Marte 1201 Royal St., 504/525-4767  

    On your way back to your room, stop at the Verti Marte and get yourself a Po' Boy. A local favorite is the "Royal: ($7.50), which has cold cuts, shrimp, cheese, and warm brown gravy. Lettuce is extra. Choose wisely (with the help of the counter-people) and you are in for a late-night treat. If you can'' make it to the store, they deliver in the Quarter 24 hours a day.

    The Morning AfterRoyal Pharmacy 1101 Royal St., 504/523-5402  

    If you did't' successfully pace yourself and need an elixir, stop in this old soda shop for your medication of choice. Although the soda counter is no longer functional, it looks as if it could jump back to life at any moment. With the right eyes, you can still see the ghosts of soda jerks turning out malted milk.

    Clover Grill 900 Bourbon St., 504/523-0904  

    Let the pikers wait in the too-too bright sun at Café Du Monde! Wander over to the Clover Grill for your medically-mandated greasy breakfast and caffeine. This little greasy spoon does a fine breakfast, or, if you prefer, a hubcap burger. This is not a burger the size of a tire (down boy!), but instead it's a cooking method --frying the burger under a hubcap keeps the juices in.

    Coffee at Café Du Monde 813 Decatur St., 504/581-2914

    Betcha thought this was going to end with beignets and coffee! Right you are! Wait until the morning rush dwindles, and you are feeling more human, put on your darkest shades and while away the rest of the morning getting your sugar and caffeine fixes at the most famous coffee shop in the USA.

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