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This isn't what you'd expect of a tavern. It's a converted Uptown house that's all New Orleans outside, sleek and modern inside. The cocktails are well-regarded tipples featuring of-the-moment spirits like cachaça as well as infusions like vodka mellowed with oolong tea. The small plates menu is a standout, not an afterthought, with the sometimes hearty bites providing a welcome counterpoint to all that delicious booze.
This bar on the thriving St. Claude corridor doesn't look like much. It's dark and a little crumbly, but there's usually some kind of performance (and some well-priced booze) that will take your attention off the rough edges and fix it onto the unexpected bit of art you can't believe you're experiencing in this place. From experimental theater to 20-piece-band-sing-alongs to poets reading their work while dressed as hookers, there's AllWays something to see here (see what I did there?).
Now the Hyatt French Quarter Hotel, this luxury spot stands where the D.H. Holmes department store once took up residence. Readers may know it as the place where A Confederacy of Dunces opens; the clock under which Ignatius Reilly meets his mother is still there in front of the hotel on the Canal Street side, and under it a life-size bronze statue of Reilly. The Hyatt branches off the quieter end of Bourbon, so it's centrally-located but not too raucous.
Close to the French Quarter but far enough off the beaten path not to be touristy, Buffa's is an unassuming spot that serves a great burger well into the wee hours. Poets from the Goldmine's recently-deceased reading series were known to stop by, but Buffa's still hosts open mics and readings of its own, including LadyFest's annual New Orleans manifestation. You'll be even more likely to find live music any night of the week.
Crescent City Books is a bookstore for those who love the thrill of the chase: digging through stacks and bins to find that elusive treasure. It feels dusty and a little secret, which fits right into the French Quarter environs. There's a second floor with more books as well as a small space for readings, given mostly by local writers. In addition to the used and sometimes rare volumes, there's a nice selection of pages and prints for decorating a book lover's home.
Located in a shopping center that was once an ice rink, across from a cemetery and just down the street from Commander's Palace, it's hard to get more New Orleans than the Garden District Book Shop. It's a little small and a little cluttered, but the charm makes up for it. This shop seems to draw the biggest names for signings that take place at least weekly. They recently welcomed Anne Rice and hosted a pajama party with Chuck Palahniuk at at Tipitina's.
One of the Grand Dames of creole cuisine, Antoine's is a place you go for the history as much as the food, which is standard fancy fish-and-oyster fare. You'll probably draw some negative attention if you're not dressed for dinner, so gents, wear a tie. What sets it apart from other, similar institutions are its spectacular private dining rooms and the fact that author Frances Parkinson Keyes immortalized it in her most successful murder mystery, Dinner at Antoine’s.
The courtyard of this hotel, complete with heated saltwater pool, makes it feel like a mansion you wished you lived in. It's slightly less auspicious inside, for it isn't new and the rooms aren't quite spacious. It's big on atmosphere, though, and allegedly haunted. The hotel's Orleans Ballroom was built in 1817 and held balls at which wealthy Frenchmen selected their mistresses, a tradition that appeared in Anne Rice's Feast of All Saints. Now, the same ballroom is available for weddings and meetings.
A double-literary landmark, this charming bookstore takes up residence in the Pirate's Alley house where William Faulkner once rented a room. Specializing in new and used books (some first editions) with an emphasis on the eponymous author as well as Tennessee Williams and Walker Percy, this shop is a pleasant place to come chat with a knowledgeable (and usually adorably old) bookseller when you need a break from the bustle of Jackson Square.
Oh, the brunch at Stanley! When a good friend left town, one more Stanley! brunch was a final order of business. The more affordable counterpart to the jaw-dropping Stella!, this half of Tennessee Williams' screaming pair features personalized variations on the classic eggs Benedict, which are the tallest I've ever seen. It's bustling (with a long wait) on weekends but quiet during the week, and not at all a tourist trap despite its prime Jackson Square real estate.
A, "clean, well-lighted place," Octavia Books is tucked away on a lovely residential street Uptown, near the river. This independently-owned bookstore has a healthy New Orleans "local interest" section, as well as a very particularly categorized cataloging system that may send you seeking a (friendly and knowledgeable) associate for help. Octavia hosts readings and signings almost daily featuring local as well as nationally-recognized writers, and probably a nice bottle of wine.
Once situated farther Uptown, this casual-nice creole spot moved down Magazine to the Garden District. It's named for John Kennedy Toole's protagonist Ignatius Reilly, and his unforgettable image graces one of the walls. The food is nicely prepared classic creole, with excellent red beans and rice and fried green tomatoes. The po-boys are good, though a bit overpriced and under-stuffed.
The French Quarter is packed with antique and vintage stores of all stripes, and M.S. Rau is the most spectacular. They're known the country (and maybe the world) over, and sometimes just walking by is enough to leave you slack-jawed at the beauty displayed in their windows. From diamonds and pearls to historic objects to works of art, it's like a museum that allows you to take things home - for a price.
Acme has life-changing chargrilled oysters. I took my mother for some on her first-ever visit to New Orleans. She did not stop talking about them for the year between her visits, and when she returned, her greatest delight was introducing them to my father as if she had invented them herself. That's how possessive you get about these oysters. It may be less glamorous, but if you have a car and don't feel like standing in line, there's another location in the suburbs where the food is just as good and the wait comparatively painless.