Arrive at 3:50 p.m.
Because you booked a flight on Human Rights Campaign sponsor airline, American Airlines. Yes, there is a connection through Dallas, but there are no direct flights to NOLA. You could drive it, but plan on about eight hours, depending on how kind the Houston travel patterns are to you and your entourage. Skip renting a car because cabs are plentiful (parking where you are going isn’t) and it is really a bummer to have a rental towed … or stolen!
Direct your cab driver to “the corner of Williams and Vets.” You are about to enjoy your first New Orleans cocktail from the comfort of the back seat of your cab. Yes, people, drive-through daiquiris – the stuff of legend. They are sugary sweet and deceptively potent. Because you remember that this trip is a marathon and not a sprint, you wisely order a small, just enough for the 20-minute ride into town. www.fat-tuesday.com
Drop your luggage in your room, grab some bottled water and put it on your bedside table now. You are going to want that later, trust me. You have to rehydrate before you dehydrate. As this is your “big girl” night, throw on a nice outfit and hit some of the “classier” places in town. But don’t spend too much time primping because Friday night is Happy (Happy) Hour at Phillips Bar in Uptown, and you can join some locals for $3 martinis until 8 p.m. no tourists here, as Phillips is a locals bar that is sophisticated and laid-back, all at the same time. www.phillipsbar.com
Next stop, Swirl located near the New Orleans fairgrounds, a site that you should be familiar with, as it is home to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage fest, or Jazz fest. www.swirlinthecity.com or www.swirlandsavor.blogspot.com. Owners Beth and Kerry have turned this wine store in to a Friday night destination with excellent tastings, and featured cheeses and meats from local New Orleans purveyors. They are incredibly knowledgeable and their wines are very modestly priced. Also, they will appeal to the sporty side of you, as their Team Swirl cycling team was the top fundraising team for Louisiana Multiple Sclerosis 150.
Getting snackish, you survey the crowd for your mood. Are you feeling nostalgic after all the martinis? Go see family favorite Commander’s Palace. Even the website boasts that it is “family-run,” and now you can giggle knowingly at the double entendre. But you already knew this after watching “Top Chef” when they visited Commander’s last season and Ti Martin walked into the frame. Smart, sassy and a foodie powerhouse, Ti has quite a restaurant and cocktail following. Now running Commander’s, Ti is the co-proprietor of this New Orleans institution that has been around since the 1880s.
Since you were smart enough to call ahead for reservations, you are seated quickly and immediately peruse the cocktail menu. Ladies, cocktails are back! Do yourself a favor, if just for tonight, and don’t order the usual. Venture out of your vodka tonic. My favorite is the Tequila Mockingbird, named by hometown boy and actor Byan Batt. Batt, of “Mad Men” fame, also owns a local store, Hazelnut, with his partner, Tom. Yes, keeping it all in the family. as for the dishes, just pick the one that catches your eye, as you truly can’t go wrong here. if they are good enough for the James Beard Foundation, they will be delightful to you and yours!
If you are more in the mood for great food in a more casual environment, stop in Meaux Bar (www.meauxbar.com), which Michael Kors describes as a “hip neighborhood spot.” Fans of Austin restaurant Justine’s will find the menu familiar with its French-inspired duck confit, steak tartare with raw egg and the classic steak frites. Partners James and Matthew divide the duties of front of house (James) and kitchen (Matthew). Meauxbar’s name and inspiration comes from Matthew’s French-speaking great-grandparents, who raised their family in the rural Cajun community of Meaux, La.
For those of you still wanting more (and I can’t see how), you can head to Mimi’s in the Marigny, where they are serving tapas until 4 a.m., and drinks well in to the night. It’s New Orleans, ladies. The fun doesn’t stop because the bars don’t close. www.mimisinthemarigny.com
Get some retail therapy and support local businesses. Jean Therapy carries a diverse range of jeans and hometown T-shirt designs. My favorite? The Crescent Commandments’ ”Honor ya mamma an dem.” With three locations throughout town, you are always near a new outfit you can take out later.
If you want to keep money local and make a statement, then head to Jax Brewery and help save NOLA! Started by New Orleans natives after Hurricane Katrina, this company, which funds eight separate agencies, has its retail location in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter. Unique gifts, gift certificates and information on the groups being represented are the cornerstone of this nonprofit retail environment. www.savenolanow.com
Once you have your “save NOLA” gear, you can zip down to Blink, an affordable boutique with chic clothing for all occasions. Plus, the girls who work here are super sweet and helpful.
And after being inspired by his cocktail last night, stop in to see Bryan Batt and his partner at Hazelnut. They have many unique gifts to give and keep. Stock up on the classic New Orleans toile featuring beautifully drawn vignettes of New Orleans icons such as St. Louis Cathedral, St. Charles street cars and the historic Vieux Carré (the French Quarter’s more formal name). www.hazelnutneworleans.com, www.jeantherapy.com
Authentic northern Italian dishes are served up at the Italian Barrel by a lesbian chef-owner. The bruschetta is perfectly toasted and topped with super fresh toppings, the perfect amount of parmesan and fresh basil. And who doesn’t love a basket of piping-hot bread with beautiful oil and vinegar for dipping? Super fresh pasta and wonderful tiramisu top off a perfect meal. Enjoy your romantic candlelit meal, but don’t load up on the garlic because next, we dance! (504) 569-0198 430 Barracks st.
After a stroll down Frenchman street to see where locals like to go, head on over to the Rubyfruit Jungle. Yes, named after the famous Rita Mae Brown primer, the eponymous lesbian bar Rubyfruit, closed since 1994, is a relocated, re-opened New Orleans legend. 1135 Decatur St.
In the chaos and the humanity that is the French Quarter, this is the only “lesbian” bar. If you want to dance and hang out with the boys and the girls, head a few blocks into the Quarter to the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann. Bourbon Street is world-renowned for its saloons, nightlife and non-family-friendly bars. But a magical transformation happens at the corner of St. Ann. It is a cross street of Bourbon that locals affectionately call the “Lavender Line.” As on our local Sixth Street, tourists and conventioneers bar hop and crawl down Bourbon Street. The exception in New Orleans is that you can take it with you … your drink, that is! It is quite entertaining to watch these bar strollers hit the “Lavender Line,” where the street comes alive and washed in rainbow flags and balconies full of revelers. Three bars are on this corner. The Bourbon Pub is the place to watch videos downstairs and dance upstairs. In fact, Zagat recently rated this bar as “ground zero for gay-nightlife.” Save the downstairs for tomorrow, if you can. www. bourbonpub.com
Across the street is another popular dance club, Oz (www.ozneworleans.com), but my favorite at this corner is Napoleon’s Itch (www. napoleonsitch.com). There is no dance floor here, but there is also no smoking, which, after living in Austin for a few years, is something I have come to appreciate in a bar. “The itch,” as some locals call it, is an ideal place to grab a seat, a cocktail and watch the faces of the tourists as they wander across the Lavender Line.
Enjoy a bit of a sleep-in. You have earned it. If you are up earlyish, stroll the French Quarter or hop on a streetcar to enjoy a very easy and inexpensive tour of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street. These are two grand thoroughfares steeped in history and, like the French Quarter, best viewed in the morning to truly get the essence that this is a city of neighborhoods and shops, in addition to one of the world’s best party destinations.
For brunch, you have many options and, as always, we keep it local. As you have already discovered the French Quarter, you head into a decidedly non-tourist part of town, the Bywater. Just east of the city, you hop a cab to the corner of Gallier and Chartres to Elizabeth’s, a local eatery that is so close to the Mississippi river that their parking lot is the levee. www.elizabeths-restaurant.com. When you arrive, you head inside the restaurant to get your name on the list, grab your beverage of choice from the bar and then head outside to hike up the levee. Standing atop the levee, you come to realize why this city had so many problems with flooding after Hurricane Katrina. Standing atop the levee, you quickly realize that the Mississippi River level is higher than the ground where your restaurant is located. Levees and pumping stations are vital to the survival of this city, as many areas are below sea level and continue to sink. Inspired by the tenacity that this city must have to survive despite these shortcomings, you realize your table is ready and head back inside for brunch. Because you do know life is short, you order some praline bacon and a seafood- stuffed mirliton. Equal parts sweet and savory, Elizabeth’s invented praline bacon and you will notice that just about every table will have a plateful to share. And though the name may sound funny, mirliton is simply a Cajun/Creole name for chayote, the fruit from Mexico that is part of the gourd family and basically bland in flavor, though it’s quickly enhanced by the tasty seafood stuffing. Come hungry and leave your diets at the door, as Elizabeth’s is all about big food and big flavors.
Head back to the hotel, check out and make some last-minute stops to these must-see attractions and unique shops:
Tea Dance – Back at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon, the doors to the bars are flown open and the party spills out into the street. And, in honor of the 35th anniversary of Tea Dance, the playlist has gone retro, bringing back the classic dance music of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
Magazine Street District – If you are a fan of doing the SoCo stroll, head down to the Magazine Street District (www.magazinestreet.com), where you will find a bevy of local shops, bars, restaurants running from the Warehouse District all the way down to Whole Foods Market anchoring the end of the line, literally, in the renovated Arabella station, previously a bus and streetcar barn.
French Market – America’s oldest city market is located along the river beginning with the world famous Café Du Monde (open 24/7 www.cafedumonde.com) and ending with community flea market. Enjoy local produce, art, collectibles and more. www.frenchmarket.org
Wheels up on American Airlines. After an hour layover, you are back in Austin at 8:30 p.m., which will give you enough time to unwind, unpack, post some photos and reflect on a super fun weekend!
Places To Stay:
www.blockkellerhouse.com – owners Bryan Block and Jeff Keller