The Secret Hotels of New Orleans

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In the Big Easy, a little peace and quiet is not too much to ask

You might not go to bed until dawn, but do it at the most inviting inns in this perennial party town.

Finding affordable rooms in New Orleans between January and early May is as hard as finding clean politicians here: They exist, but, boy, are they hidden. The Sugar Bowl/Mardi Gras/St. Pat's/French Quarter Fest/Jazz Fest megaseason all but guarantees a constant influx of bons vivants who snarf up every hotel, motel, and B&B cubbyhole around. It is not unheard-of for basic digs at, say, the Hilton to go for north of $300. But if you book early at one of the spots below (which we priced on a high-season weekend outside of the super- expensive festival periods), you may be able to have your King Cake and eat it, too.

The McKendrick-Breaux House is really two houses, both beautifully restored 1865 Greek Revivals in the Lower Garden District, connected by a shady courtyard. The nine rooms bear extravagant touches, like floor-to-ceiling silk dupioni drapes and fresh flowers, and each has a spacious bathroom--most are resplendent with pedestal sinks, claw-foot bathtubs, and luxuriously thick robes with slippers.

An incarnation of the city's grand (yet sometimes seedy) past, The Columns Hotel is a Garden District mansion that played a brothel in the 1978 Brooke Shields movie Pretty Baby. Some of the 20 rooms have seen better days--tatty wallpaper, threadbare drapes, slightly banged-up furniture. But they're clean, and when you consider the hotel's ornate mahogany bar, its expansive porch, and the sounds of live jazz in the ballroom, the shabbiness just feels right. And the potential is enormous.

Well situated Uptown on one of the Carnival parade routes, Beau Sejour has six rooms in a 100-year-old Italianate home set high on an avenue canopied by live oaks. The ground-floor suite is the best option, but two of the upstairs rooms have balconies overlooking the street. If the weather is warm enough--which it often is, even in February--guests take a dip in the small pool or hold cookouts around the gas grill.

The 137-room Hotel Le Cirque stands 10 stories tall on Lee Circle, near the streetcar stop, and around the corner from the city's Warehouse Arts district. The rooms are small, mod-looking affairs done in an eye-lulling range of neutrals. In all, it's a pretty slick spot considering the price, and guests get free access to a nearby gym.

The brand-new Renaissance Arts Hotel, smack in the Warehouse Arts district, has gussied itself up with original works everywhere. There's a gallery off the lobby and a sculpture garden on the second floor. Even the rooms are decked in local art and bold linens. It's a gimmick that works. All that creativity fills the hotel with a certain energy and makes staying here fun.

Parked on the streetcar line in the Central Business District and near the French Quarter, the Hotel Monaco--a renovated former Masonic temple from 1926--doesn't rest on the laurels of its location. It's also historic and colorful. The lobby and rooms are aflame in hot hues and contrasting prints, and its trendy restaurant, Cobalt, hosts live jazz on the weekends.

Le Richelieu probably peaked in 1975 when Paul and Linda McCartney spent two months holed up on its top floor, which overlooks the street on the downriver end of the Quarter. The 86 rooms are a bit dark and none too stylish. But affordable beds in the Vieux Carré are rare, and if you request a spot on the second floor, which has 12- to 14-foot ceilings and a fabulous balcony, you won't be sorry.

Just up the road lies Hotel Provincial, a series of buildings built in the mid-1800s. Because of sporadic development, each of the 93 rooms sports a different layout and is filled with antiques that have seen better days. Nonetheless, the hotel's prime location, ample parking, and two pools make it a sweet spot to hang your mask during high season.

In the Faubourg Marigny, just downriver of the Quarter, the six-room B&W Courtyards is run by two chatty and opinionated dudes who are only too happy to tell you all the coolest places to eat, drink, and dance. Rooms range in size and style--everything from tiger stripes to Balinese--and most of them open onto one of three fountained courtyards.

Summer meltdown in the Big Easy

In August--when it feels like you're walking around town with a hot, wet blanket wrapped around your head--even the prices at the snazziest hotels begin to droop. Book as late as you can.

The grand-mere of posh Crescent City hotels, the Windsor Court (300 Gravier St., 888/596-0955, windsorcourthotel.com/) rents mostly suites. In deep summer, an 800-square-foot unit that normally costs $700 goes for $240. The Soniat House (1133 Chartres St., 800/544-8808, soniathouse.com/), on the quiet, lower end of the French Quarter, has 33 rooms with gleaming antiques and art. The cheapest goes for $250 in season, but come the dog days, just a single Ben Franklin will get you in. A couple of weeks before Mardi Gras, you'll pay $450 for a room at the W Hotel French Quarter (316 Chartres St., 888/625-5144, whotels.com/), but a few weeks before Labor Day, you can set the A/C to 60 and jump into its pillow-top beds for half that. Meanwhile, at the Ritz-Carlton (921 Canal St., 800/241-3333, ritzcarlton.com/), a $415 room can be had for just $129. Take the money you save and spend it at the spa.

  • McKendrick-Breaux House 1474 Magazine St., 888/570-1700, mckendrick-breaux.com, $135
  • The Columns Hotel 3811 St. Charles Ave., 800/445-9308, thecolumns.com, $110
  • Beau Sejour 1930 Napoleon Ave., 888/897-9398, beausejourbandb.com, $130
  • Hotel Le Cirque 936 St. Charles Ave., 800/684-9525, neworleansfinehotels.com, $119
  • Renaissance Arts Hotel 700 Tchoupitoulas St., 800/468-3571, renaissancehotels.com/, $159
  • Hotel Monaco 333 St. Charles Ave., 866/685-8359, monaco-neworleans.com, $144
  • Le Richelieu 1234 Chartres St., 800/535-9653, lerichelieuhotel.com, $140
  • Hotel Provincial 1024 Chartres St., 800/535-7922, hotelprovincial.com, $149
  • B&W Courtyards 2425 Chartres St., 800/585-5731, bandwcourtyards.com, $129
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