New Orleans



"We have something called New Orleans time," said Liz between chews of smoked sausage. "You arrange a meeting for, like, 3pm - but you turn up at ten past. Or half past. The meeting still happens and nobody minds too much." 

Perhaps Liz had a lousy work ethic, but it fitted the character of the city. New Orleans is a homely, down-to-earth place to be; laid back, spirited and welcoming. There's no particular rush to do anything in particular - even in the Central Business District, workers with someplace to go won't mow down fellow pedestrians to get there. Manhattan, it ain't.

I'd sourced suggestions for my two day itinerary in the city from Twitter, which is how I'd found my lunch buddies Liz and Katy. I'd asked to go some place I could enjoy a mouthful of authentic Louisana cuisine, away from the main tourist drags, so they suggested Coop's Place on Decatur Street in the city's famed French Quarter. I'd resisted initially; my initial impression of the neighbourhood had formed the previous evening while picking a path through the drunken crowds on Bourbon Street. My ears had been assaulted by distorted karaoke and house bands, and I'd given the strip bars and neon-soaked takeaways a wide berth.

"Once you're away from Bourbon Street, there are plenty of streets in the French Quarter where the locals hang out," explained Liz, pointing out that Decatur Street north of Ursulines Avenue is one of the more popular among New Orleanians. That's where you'll find Coop's Place, a beat-up joint described by Zagat as "where the not-so-elite meet to eat". The Cajun chicken and jambalaya supreme was plentiful and moreish, and the smell of other diner's meals goaded me to order seconds.  

Coops is next door to Molly's at the Market, a low key bar full of both characters and character. It was the recommendation of another NOLA local on Twitter, Daimon, and I spent a couple of hours gulping local brews and tickling the chin of the owner, Mister Wu. In fact Mister Wu was a cat that nonchalantly draped himself over tables. "He pretty much has the run of the place," said the barmaid. "He'll let you know if you're in his seat."

One word I never thought I’d use to describe a city is ‘sweet’. Not as in ‘brilliant!’ but as in intimate, charming, cherished. Walking through the quieter streets of the French Quarter, no other word best sums up the contented, colourful architecture. There’s a heartbeat to the streets, jazz flowing from restaurants and bars, from buskers and bands. You’ll smell incredible nosh everywhere, and far from being a tourist trap, much of the neighbourhood is perfectly pleasant and unspoilt, especially as you head north.

Following another suggestion I walked to the eastern terminus of Canal Street, and boarded the car ferry to Algeirs Point on the West Bank. The ferry is free to pedestrians and you're greeted by the statue of Louise Armstrong as you head downhill into the neighbourhood; you quickly become aware that street level is well below that of the swollen Mississippi river. The ferries run every half hour until midnight and you're rewarded with views across the city centre's modest skyline on your return trip.

There are stacks of music venues in the city, but one recommended time and time again by locals is The Maple Leaf in Carrollton. If you're in town on a Tuesday then the Rebirth Brass Band are likely to be on the bill; catch a streetcar from Downtown to see this act, acclaimed by both the city and its visitors. If you prefer cocktails with your music, the carousel bar at Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street was propped up by Hemmingway back in the day, and you'll gently pirouette around the room as you're joined by slack-tied work colleagues and curious passers-by.

The Big Easy is a destination that deserves at least three or four nights on your itinerary. Like Vegas, it's a place where Americans holiday to let off steam. Drinking in the streets is legal and bars have closing times that are notoriously difficult to pin down: "The beer trucks rattle down the road around six," said Liz over lunch, "and some bars will still be open. I have friends who have literally disappeared for two days straight in this city. It's real easy to do that here."

Unlike Vegas, however, there's no sense of style-over-substance or a city showing off. What you see is very much what you get in New Orleans. Everyone is welcome, everyone's a friend. Sweet.



"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.