Our first trip to New Orleans was back in college and that was before Katrina happened. A few years have passed since the Katrina disaster and New Orleans is back to life, although the Ninth Ward area is still very much feeling the disaster effects and have yet to fully rebuild. Most often when people think of New Orleans, they associate the city with the French Quarter and the craziness and drunkenness on Bourbon Street. Beyond that, New Orleans has its own distinct areas that carry their own character. These areas are worth exploring and we got into a sense of a more local vibe that was beyond the overly touristy vibe.
Warehouse District (Arts District)
Some sections of Tchoupitoulas Street were quite reminiscent to the Fulton Market area in Chicago. Originally an industrial area, some buildings in the Warehouse District are converted into fine restaurants that are perfect for a great night out. This is where you can find Emeril's flagship restaurant. Other than restaurants, some storefronts are transformed into art galleries, wine lounges, and cafes. We were surprised to stumble upon a random Australian-themed cafe in the area. We walked a half block farther and saw a man set up a temporary cooking station right on the street. In true New Orleans fashion, the massive pot he was stirring into with an equally massive metal spatula was filled with crawfish, mushrooms, corn, lemon halves, bay leaves, and whatnot right outside the restaurant bar he worked at.
Most of the art galleries are concentrated on Julia Street or otherwise known as Julia Row. Here are some of the city's best art galleries although they weren't bustling with people on a Friday afternoon but interesting nevertheless to see the different types of art exhibits.
The historic sense of the Warehouse District is not all lost in this gradual transformation process. As we walked along the streets, there were many visible warehouses that were probably still functioning or at least appeared to be, as well as storefronts that were seemingly abandoned and perhaps waiting for its very slow transformation fate.
The Ambassador Hotel stays true to its historic origin in the Warehouse District with this plaque that tells people the building once used to be a coffee warehouse back in the days when this district was a bustling area for trade and commerce.
At Garden District we saw a whole different community entirely. We went on a self-guided walking tour beginning from St Charles Avenue to Prytania Street and Coliseum Street and some other streets in between before ending on Washington Avenue. The mansion-style homes were grand and yet there was a strong historic sense in them with many of them built about 150 years ago. Many of the mansions have a plaque at the front gate that references the original owner(s) who lived there once upon a time. One of the notable original residents of the homes was the novelist Anne Rice.
One of the first mansions we saw was Colonel's Short Villa which was occupied at one time in history by one of the governors and his wife. The cast iron railings surrounding the garden has the distinct pattern of cornstalks.
We later realized that the cornstalk pattern theme in the cast iron railing was often a repeated design in some other homes.
Expansive gardens are also a common theme in this area with flowering plants. Some mansions have enough space for their own mini fountain.
One of the mansions was previously the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel that was once owned by the novelist Anne Rice. The original use of this building as a chapel is still visible today with the statue in the garden, as seen in the picture below. The former chapel is now owned by Nicholas Cage.
Just across the street we saw a slightly different architectural influence for this mansion. Spotting the Greek Revival style architecture, this building is now owned by the Women's Opera Guild House which promotes the opera culture in New Orleans.
We ended our walking tour at the famous Victorian-style Commander Palace restaurant, noted for its tradition of turtle soup and jazz brunch in New Orleans.
We veered onto Magazine Street which is the area's main commercial area that reminded us a lot about the little neighborhoods back in Chicago. The street was bustling with pedestrians and there wasn't a shortage of coffee shops, bars, cafes, gelato store, salons, locally owned boutiques, studios, etc. We spent the whole afternoon strolling on the street and absorbing the local charm without the rush of having to do anything else or be at anywhere else.