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Culture / Travel

A DJ’s Underground Guide to New Orleans

The Hidden Doors, Great Restaurants and Underrated Hotels You Need to Know

BY Steffi Burns

The harmonic combination of the music, the architecture, the lush garden boxes billowing from the balconies, the food, the exuberant joy of living, the people…

New Orleans, founded in 1718, has been enchanting people with her magic touch for nearly 300 years, and the love affair continues to beat strong. The city overflows with joie de vivre, a French phrase to describe the joy of living. Considering I am obsessed with all things French, and New Orleans has a district appropriately called the French Quarter, I am surprised I have not spent more time in this little nook of Europe just an hour’s flight away.

I love to research, so when I discovered that New Orleans also celebrates their local food paired with wines (along with the myriad other annual festivals: Mardi Gras, Jazz Festival, French Quarter Festival, Southern Decadence), I immediately enrolled in the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience to share the French rosé wine, Impatience, with the bon vivants of NOLA.

A handful of friends who grew up in New Orleans gave me a list of hotels they recommend — Omni Royal Orleans, Hotel Monteleone, Hotel Le Marais, Henry Howard Hotel and the recently opened Ace Hotel. One evening while researching I stumbled upon the Soniat House, a 31-room boutique hotel in the heart of the French Quarter. It exudes grace, classic and refined luxury, European charm and Southern hospitality. I could hardly wait to check in.

Balcony gardens on the streets of New Orleans
Balcony gardens on the streets of New Orleans

After the taxi dropped me off, I noticed a simple doorbell beside the large double doors guarding the entrance. The doors immediately reminded me of the apartment I lived in one summer while studying fashion design in Florence. (Each pair of doors provided a gateway to something magical on the inside, whether it be a staircase, courtyard or the interior of a private home.) The doors of Soniat House open onto a lush courtyard with hints of magnolia and the dew of the summer day. Was I in Italy or France? It certainly did not feel like America.

Guest reception occurs just off the drawing room that houses the Honor bar, filled with champagnes, scotch, whiskey, tequila and sparkling waters — serve yourself and write your name on a little ticket selecting the libation of your choice. I poured myself a cold glass of champagne and ordered a round of freshly made buttermilk biscuits … Southern hospitality at its best.

One of the most wonderful ways to discover a new city or neighborhood is by foot. While everyone else is asleep, I rise with the sun and walk the streets for exercise and to delight in the unfiltered beauty. The architecture is so romantic, and I adore the hanging baskets from the balconies overflowing with flowers, ferns and the most lush greenery a balcony could hold. I strolled down Royal Street all the way to Canal Street and then walked back up Bourbon Street.

New Orleans is filled with too many wonderful restaurants to name them all — Gautreau’s, Restaurant August, Galatoire’s, Bayona, Brennan’s and R’evolution all came highly recommended from friends and the Soniat House concierge. However, I had my heart set on Irene’s Cuisine after I asked a friend where to go and it was the only place she suggested. I arrived solo, thinking I could perch at the bar, only to discover there is no bar and the wait for a table for one was 45 minutes. I decided to patiently wait while enjoying the pianist in the lounge, and when I was escorted to my table at last, I was surprised and delighted to find the table of 10 next to me filled with people I know from Texas.

Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone
Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone

One cannot leave NOLA without having a drink at the Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone. It moves ever so slightly just like an actual merry-go-round, and round you go making new friends, enjoying a cocktail or glass of bubbles and watching the day or night pass by. Pat O’Brien’s Piano Bar is also a local favorite, as is the entire Frenchmen Street, known as the musical street.

Nearly every establishment offers the delight of live music; after all, New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz. Enjoy the rhythm and blues, and mingle and jingle with the harmony of the music and the people, the very essence of this magical city.

Steffi Burns is a DJ and Impatience Rosé wine ambassador. She is inspired by the secret gems, local flavors and unique beats that make travel and adventure worthy of a postcard. Find her on Instagram @steffiiburns.

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