Culture / Travel

Texas Travel Files — How To Spend 72 Hours in New Orleans’ Historic French Quarter

Using the Ritz-Carlton as a Luxurious Base, the Best of the City is Just a Streetcar Away

BY // 01.04.22

After having to cancel two trips to the Big Easy in the past two years, I was finally able to make take the quick hour-plus flight for my first New Orleans trip in December. The city is always spirited, but it was especially nice to visit when the French Quarter is completely decked out with holiday decor.

The one caveat: I was only able to be there for three days. It turns out, that’s more than enough time to explore New Orleans’ historic haunts and iconic dining destinations—with a few hidden gems thrown in too.

Using the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans as our luxurious base, we made the most out of our 72 hours in New Orleans.

 

The Ritz Carlton New Orleans
The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans decks out their lobby for the holidays. (Photo by Megan Ziots)

The French Quarter at Christmas

Located on the southwest corner of the French Quarter, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans was the perfect home base for our three days in the city. The hotel has been housed within the historic former Maison Blanche department store (a Beaux-Arts-style icon) since the 1980s, with a lobby opulently decked out for the holidays — there was a constant bustle of people coming in to admire the decor. We could easily walk anywhere in the historic French Quarter but opted to catch a streetcar on Canal to get to the Garden District.

Apart from the incredible lobby and outdoor terrace, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans features an on-site, farm-to-table restaurant, M Bistro, and the Davenport Lounge. (It must be said, the latter served up beignets that were much better than what we found at Café Du Monde.) You can enjoy live jazz music from the Ritz’s resident jazz musician, trumpeter Jeremy Davenport, in the lounge on weekend nights or make a Saturday reservation for afternoon tea.

SHOP

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  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1
  • Christopher Martin Gallery October 1

Lastly, if you’re looking to go all out for a weekend, wedding, or an extended stay, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans is debuting The Residence suite this January. Formerly a private home for 20 years, this two-bedroom, 3,200-square-foot penthouse has been recently remodeled with a spacious outdoor terrace, four fireplaces, and a full kitchen. We were lucky to get a sneak peek — it’s absolutely jaw-dropping.

 

Luke New Orleans
Head to French restaurant Luke for Creole-inspired fare in New Orleans. (Courtesy)

Where To Eat

Editor’s note: most restaurants and bars in New Orleans are currently requiring proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 PCR test. 

A must-visit in New Orleans, Napoleon House is just a short walk from the Ritz. The 200-year-old landmark got its name after the building’s first occupant, Nicholas Girod, offered his residence to Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile. Napoleon never did actually take him up on it, but the name remained.

Napoleon House is known for its Pimm’s Cup and Muffuletta. Try both. The shrimp remoulade stuffed avocado and jambalaya are also delicious.

For French and German fare, I highly recommend a trip to Luke. The Creole-inspired brasserie is located in the Central Business District, which is still walkable from the French Quarter. Chef Erick Loos leads the kitchen that crafts a raw bar and comforting entrees. A must-try starter is the crispy Brussels sprouts with Espellete honey, fresh cheese, and toasted almonds. For mains, we opted for the pork schnitzel and truffle glaze roasted chicken. Both were warm and flavorful with savory flavors, contrasting the sweetness of the Brussels sprouts perfectly.

 

Irenes New Orleans
Irene’s is known for its Creole twist on Italian food in New Orleans. (Courtesy of Irene’s)

Another place we stopped for dinner one evening was Irene’s, a Creole-inspired Italian restaurant in the French Quarter. Opened by Sicily-born Irene DiPietro in 1992, this is a go-to for Italian fare in New Orleans. The interior, divided into several different dining rooms, makes it feel as if you’re in someone’s home. Order the meatballs marinara and ricotta spinach ravioli to start. Other popular items include the Duck St. Philip, the Meunière Amandine, and the tiramisu for dessert.

During our trip, locals and regular visitors alike were constantly telling us to go to Mother’s. So one morning, we set out to the down-home Southern fare establishment that has been open since 1938. Closer to the riverfront, this restaurant is an iconic spot for breakfast. Served all day, the breakfast menu includes sausage, cheese grits, biscuits, omelets, pancakes, and more. The biscuits, served with berry jam, had to be the highlight. It’s what the New Orleans institution is known for after all, along with their baked ham.

Café Fleur De Lis is another breakfast spot that deserves a mention. Just down the street from Irene’s, the unassuming destination offers tons of delicious Southern seafood bites. Order the seafood Benedict with crab and crawfish cakes or the avocado omelet.

 

Carousel Bar New Orleans
Carousel Bar is a must-visit drinking spot in New Orleans. (Courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

Where to Drink

Of course, one must go to Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans’ French Quarter. And if you’re willing to be a little patient, try to snag a spot at the spot’s namesake carousel. Bartenders are literally trapped inside the amusement ride and have to jump over the bar (with precise timing) to get in and out. It’s a sight to see. Sipping on French 007s and Penicillins on this moving contraption was my favorite part of the trip.

Sadly, our timing didn’t line up with Pat O’Brien’s current schedule (it’s closed on Monday and Tuesday), but this is still the place to get a Hurricane on Bourbon Street.

 

French Truck Coffee New Orleans
French Truck Coffee is a cool spot to grab an espresso drink in New Orleans. (Courtesy)

Where to Get Coffee

As a former barista, I always try to hit a couple of coffee shops on a trip. This time, we went for a popular New Orleans chain as well as an independent shop in the Warehouse District. French Truck Coffee has spots all around the city and offers a solid cappuccino. Jonathan Riethmaier’s Mammoth Espresso has a minimalist interior and fantastic flat whites.

 

New Orleans
Exploring the cemeteries in New Orleans is a must. (Courtesy of Visit New Orleans).

What To Do

Explore the Garden District/Magazine Street

The Garden District is home to historic mansions and Lafayette Cemetery (where American Horror Story: Coven was filmed). Unfortunately, the cemetery is currently closed, but we still got a view from the outside. You can also walk down Magazine Street and visit shops, restaurants, and bars. The iconic Commander’s Place Restaurant is also in the neighborhood.

Book a Cemetery Tour

New Orleans is well-known for its distinct and historic cemeteries. Since the deceased are buried above the ground due to the high water table in the area, there are many unique tombs to explore (both during the day and at night). Several companies offer guided tours, but we used Get Your Guide, which we really enjoyed. The two-hour experience was filled with so much information about the city’s history, which our amazing guide, Toast (yes, that’s his real name), made both educational and entertaining. We walked through Greenwood, Holt, and Cypress Grove cemeteries to name a few. Lastly, we saw the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, which is where the remaining unidentified bodies from the disaster are buried and honored.

Lush balcony gardens line the streets of New Orleans.

I look forward to returning to the land of beignets in a post-Covid world. Here’s hoping that’s sooner than we think.

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