On Friday, October 20, my friend and I got into New Orleans two days before our cruise. We had spent the last ten hours singing along to Hamilton, Ed Sheeran, and Eminem (an eclectic playlist if there ever was one) and where exhausted. Dinner was the first thing on our minds as we pulled in to the parking lot of our Holiday Inn Express. We had made it through the day on a steady diet of burnt coffee, gummy bears, and rye chips. While I think this can easily be defined as the travel snack of champions, we were definitely hungry and our fellow cruise going group were in a similar boat, so we decided to go straight to Bullard Seafood and Grill, a diner 300 feet from our hotel.
The diner’s exterior was standard for a mom and pop shop but when you walked inside the restaurant you could tell it had a rough history. There was obvious construction going on inside, which took up a decent chunk of the restaurant’s dining room space. The main counter with its buffet style layout was easy to access and that’s all that really mattered as our stomachs growled at the smell of the restaurant’s culturally diverse menu of Chinese, Creole, and American dishes. The line was a piece of organized chaos as our party of ten tried to figure out the local joint we has stumbled upon. Thankfully, a frequenter of the restaurant started talking to me as I stood back and stared blankly at the menu.
“The gumbo’s really good here. You should get that,” she said.
After taking a cooking class in high school where we spent a week cooking New Orleans cuisine, I’ve wanted to try real honest-to-goodness gumbo. I took the local’s word for it even though the vat of gumbo was stationed next to a tray of egg rolls and had a slight green-ish tint to it. Buying that gumbo was the best decision I’ve made in weeks; maybe even years. The heat in the stew was just enough to tickle the back of your throat, while the combination of shrimp, ham, and andouille sausage made it a meat-lover’s paradise. I also paired my gumbo with a shrimp po’boy that would put any sandwich I’ve ever made myself to shame. I would go back to that hole-in-the-wall in a heartbeat.
We later found out that when Katrina hit in 2005, our hotel and the surrounding locations were covered in 15 feet of water. The rebuilding of NOLA can be seen throughout every part of the city and it really explains the reconstruction going on inside Bullard Seafood and Grill. My middle school memory of the hurricane is distant, but seeing the long-lasting effects of the storm firsthand was humbling.
I quickly learned that New Orleans is an upbeat city filled with a happy-go-lucky attitude towards life. Walking down the streets of NOLA would put a smile on even the grumpiest traveler’s face. One of our Lyft drivers put it best when he said, “We don’t care if you’re black, white, or green. Gay, straight, or in between. We just want you to have a good time.” There’s nothing quite like walking through the streets of a city and hearing a jazz band burst into, “When the Saints Come Marching In” or seeing a wedding party dance down the road to the church for their ceremony, but that’s just touching the surface of New Orleans’ culture.
It wouldn’t really be a first trip to New Orleans if we didn’t hit up famous locations like Café du Monde and Pat O’Brien’s. Café du Mode was the perfect way to start off the day. I bought the strongest (and possibly the smallest) coffee of my life and consumed enough powdered sugar to last me a life time.
When we were at Pat O’Brien’s, home of the original Hurricane, the city’s party culture was even evident at 11:30 a.m. If you’re in search of a New Orleans souvenir, you don’t have to go further than Pat O’Brien’s bar. When you purchase you’re drink, you not only purchase your beverage but the souvenir glass it comes in. If you aren’t interested in keeping the glass, just give it back to the bar and they will reimburse you $3.00. Since it’s such an iconic location in the city, I think it was a really brilliant marketing plan to avoid stolen glassware.
We also watched in awe as a table of twelve order two three-gallon Hurricanes. After talking to our waitress, we discovered that each drink costs $200.00 a piece but you will be reimbursed $75.00 if you don’t break the glass. We didn’t see if the table managed the feat, but when I asked a few of them what their special occasion was, they simply told me, “Saturday.” (seemed like a good enough reason to me!)
We continued our exploration of Bourbon Street to celebrate my friend’s dad’s 60th birthday. We tucked into Huge Ass Beers to buy him a novelty sized beer bottle and filled it up with Blue Moon. It was shared by everyone in our group and gave us all a great laugh for the semi-reasonable price of $25.00.
We ended up in the Kerry Irish Pub next. It was the quintessential Irish Pub with the back wall of the bar covered in police and vet patches and a flag from county Kerry handing from the ceiling. They even have the Irish classic, Mangers, on tap. The bartender said they haven’t received police patches from every state yet, but they have received one from Canada and Australia. I also spotted vet patches from Vietnam and Iraq while studying the wall. He also taught us about a NOLA tradition of pinning dollars to your shirt for your birthday. My friend’s dad followed his instructions and from that point forward he earned a few bucks and more people said “Happy Birthday” than they had before when he was simply wearing a “Happy 60th” birthday button.
Our time in New Orleans ended with a happy surprise. Without realizing it, we were sailing out of New Orleans the same weekend of their Halloween parade. It started later than any parade I had ever been to in Saint Louis and was also equally as exuberant as I would imagine any NOLA parade to be. My friend and I jokingly agreed that the amount of parades they have down in New Orleans explained why confetti seemed to be embedded into the sidewalks.
I can honestly say my time in New Orleans was one of the happiest surprises in my stateside travels so far. I would go back to NOLA quicker than I could say “gumbo” and I hope you consider checking out this wonderful slice of the South as soon as you can.