NEW ORLEANS — When the drying tumblers stop tumbling, the garment conveyors stop conveying and the steam hisses no more for the day, it’ll be time for Clean Show attendees to experience what the locals call lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap)— the lingo for “a little something extra.”
Tourism is a driving economic force here, and the city responds with great hospitality, music, food and atmosphere. While other cities may excel in one area or another, no other offers the total package, says Riddle & Associates, the Clean Show’s management firm.
MELTING POT OF CULTURES
Virtually isolated from the mainland for nearly 200 years by the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, and vast oak-cypress swamplands, New Orleans became a haven for emigrants from Europe, the West Indies and elsewhere, creating a unique melting pot of cultures.
Originally established as a French colony on the Mississippi River — the main thoroughfare for commerce — in the 1690s, the territory was sold to the Spanish, then back to the French before the 1803 Louisiana Purchase by the United States. The French and Spanish Creoles built Canal Street to separate the French Quarter from the Americans, which is why street names change when crossing Canal.
It’s the Spanish influence that’s most evident in the architecture of the French Quarter, arguably New Orleans’ most famous — and lively — area. The colorful Cajuns, originally Acadians from Nova Scotia, Canada, developed their own French-derived dialect to enhance the city’s cosmopolitan flavor.
FRENCH QUARTER NEVER RESTS
The Quarter’s French name is Vieux Carré, which translates to “old square,” the name given when the French incorporated the city in 1718. From Canal to Esplanade, Rampart to the River, the Quarter covers 98 square blocks.
Visitors will find the city’s characteristic two-story houses trimmed with fanciful wrought-iron balconies, and sidewalks built higher than street level to protect homes and ladies’ gowns from mud and high water.
Great restaurants and bistros, nightclubs, honky-tonks and bars, seamy trinket shops, and fine antique stores and boutiques all seem to co-exist happily in a place that never seems to rest, Riddle & Associates says.
Gone is the dirt and odors visitors may remember from the past. The company now contracted to clean the Quarter’s streets has done such a good job that its owner has become one of the city’s greatest celebrities.
There’s often reason to pause for impromptu entertainment by street performers while you’re walking through the Quarter’s narrow streets. A word of advice from Riddle: tipping the performers is encouraged, but giving handouts to street people is not.
Bourbon Street — closed to vehicles at night — is where much of New Orleans goes to have fun. You can stop in at the many jazz and blues clubs for a drink, eat at one of its famous restaurants, and mingle with a crowd of partygoers. In contrast, Royal Street — just a block away — is where you’ll find New Orleans’ sophisticated antique shops.
On the east side of the Quarter is the French Market and open-air Flea Market. Browse and bargain for a mind-boggling array of goods, native and imported, for as long as endurance and wallet will allow. Vendors are happy to tell stories about their wares, be they native ’gator heads, African artifacts or bounteous collections of T-shirts and Mardi Gras souvenirs.
In the heart of the French Quarter is renowned Jackson Square, an eclectic enclave of artists and musicians, horse-drawn carriages, and visitors from around the world. They gather at the fences around St. Louis Cathedral, said to be the oldest active cathedral in the States, and the statue of Andrew Jackson that gives the square its name. Nearby is historic Jax Brewery, now home to a multitude of shops and restaurants.
But if the French Quarter isn’t your cup of tea, don’t fret. New Orleans has much more to offer.
OLD-WORLD CHARM: ARTS/WAREHOUSE DISTRICT
Famous chef Emeril Lagasse was truly foresighted when he opened his first restaurant, Emeril’s, in what was then a somewhat rundown Warehouse District. Anchored by Harrah’s Casino, among the largest in the country, the area near the convention center has had a resurgence that brought new hotels, restaurants, galleries, shops and condos.
Old-world charm is assured by a city ordinance that requires buildings in the historic district to retain at least one original exterior wall.
Here you’ll find one of the city’s most moving experiences — the National World War II Museum, the only museum in the United States that addresses all of the amphibious invasions, or “D-Days,” of the war. New Orleans is home to the LCVP, or Higgins boat, the landing craft that brought U.S. soldiers to shore in every major amphibious assault of WWII.
GET THE BEAT
Music permeates throughout New Orleans almost around the clock. You may find legendary clarinetist Pete Fountain at one of his occasional appearances at Harrah’s Casino, or dance the Cajun two-step at Mulate’s while dining on its famous red beans and rice. Sit on the back-straining benches at Preservation Hall to enjoy authentic New Orleans jazz, or visit the House of Blues. Beyond the street performers, every style of music can be found in the city’s restaurants and clubs.
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