You know to avoid Bourbon Street, right? Unless you have a thing for drunken louts decked out in fanny packs, Tabasco boxer shorts, Mardi Gras beads and feather boas (sometimes all on the same person), it's a good idea to steer clear of the fabled epicenter of tourism in the French Quarter.
So where to hang out in New Orleans?
Locals gather for their morning coffee at the Sound Cafe, in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans.
(K.C. Summers -- The Washington Post)
The neighborhood immediately downriver from the French Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny (FOE-burg MARE-uh-nee), reminds many of what the Quarter was like 50 years ago. Bounded roughly by Esplanade Avenue, North Rampart Street, Franklin Avenue and the Mississippi River, it's about a 20-minute walk from Jackson Square. Follow Decatur Street across Esplanade, turn left on Frenchmen Street and breathe a sigh of relief: The quiet is palpable.
There are no "attractions" here, no fancy hotels, no shops selling alligator back-scratchers -- no shopping at all, really. It's just a vibrant, appealing neighborhood of 19th-century cottages, B&Bs, cafes and storefronts that's wonderful for walking around in. It's also home to some of the hippest jazz clubs in the city.
On Frenchmen Street you'll find the well-regarded Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen, 504-949-0696, www.snugjazz.com). There's usually a Marsalis on the schedule -- jazz pianist Ellis performs most Friday nights, and his younger son, trombonist Delfeayo, appears frequently with his quintet. Reservations are recommended, and you can have a decent dinner here as well. But as the club points out on its Web site, "Snug Harbor is not a dinner theater; the dining room is separate from the music club." Furthermore, "We're a jazz club, not a disco. NO PHOTOGRAPHY, NO VIDEOTAPING , NO AUDIO RECORDING, and NO FUNNY CIGARETTES during the performances." All right, then!
For a more relaxed atmosphere, just walk down the street and follow the music. It comes wafting out of the Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen, 504-943-3887), an intimate bar/club whose bandstand is set up near the front door. There's no cover, so for the price of a beer you can settle back in a leopardskin chair and let some memorable jazz wash over you. And we do mean wash: Most Saturday nights, Washboard Chaz Leary and his acoustic jazz band play classic old-time blues on guitar, harmonica and one hell of a washboard (coffee cans and front-desk bell included). The trio also appears Thursday nights at the Blue Nile down the street (534 Frenchmen, 504-948-2583). Also worth checking out: d.b.a. (618 Frenchmen, 504-942-3731), an offshoot of the New York club, and Alley Katz (upstairs from the Blue Nile).
Dinnertime options are surprisingly diverse, including Thai ( Sukho Thai, 1913 Royal St., 504-948-9309), Tex-Mex ( Santa Fe, 801 Frenchmen, 504-944-6854) and Middle Eastern ( Mona's, 504 Frenchmen, 504-949-4115), among many other cuisines.
Our advice: Hold out for that unsung subspecialty, Creole-Italian, which is the draw at the intimate, funky Adolfo's (611 Frenchmen St., 504-948-3800). More than just a hole in the wall, Adolfo's is a hole above the wall , one flight up from the Apple Barrel bar. You may have to wait for a table, but it's worth it: The place is shadowy and romantic, it seats about three dozen, and it's about as far as you can get from the glitz-fests of the French Quarter. For $16.95 you can design your own seafood entree: Try the red snapper topped with shrimp and crabmeat.
When it's time for morning coffee, head for the anti-Starbucks, Cafe Rose Nicaud (634 Frenchmen St., 504-949-3300) or the Sound Cafe (2700 Chartres St., 504-947-4477), two community gathering spots complete with colorful clientele and local musicians' CDs for sale. Then walk the tree-shaded streets and admire the neighborhood's colorful Victorian, Greek Revival, Creole and West Indian-style cottages -- some peeling, some rehabbed to eye-popping results.
If you happen to end up at the Feelings Cafe (2600 Chartres St., 504-945-2222), don't be put off by the name -- it's not a smarmy lounge, but an elegant and historic restaurant that attracts a stylish crowd for Sunday brunch. Set in a pre-Civil War building on land that once housed the slave quarters of an 18th-century plantation, it features an enclosed brick courtyard with interior dining rooms downstairs and up. Brunch entrees range from $10 to $18, and you can't go wrong with Grillades and Grits -- sliced veal simmered in a spicy Creole sauce and served with buttered cheese grits and Creole bananas (it's worth it for the bananas alone). Another must-try: shrimp etoufee served as a spread, with garlic toast and Creole mustard sauce. Ask for a table on the balcony overlooking the old courtyard, and savor this classic New Orleans dining experience.
Among the lodging options in the Faubourg Marigny are the slightly faded but affordable Frenchmen Hotel (417 Frenchmen, 800-831-1781, www.frenchmenhotel.com; doubles from $89.50 per night); the Elysian Fields Inn, in an 1860s Greek Revival mansion (930 Elysian Fields Ave., 866-948-9420, www.elysianfieldsinn.com; doubles from $99); and the classy Parkview Marigny B&B (726 Frenchmen, 877-645-8617, www.neworleansbb.com; doubles from $125). About.com has a good list of B&B options at bandb.about.com/cs/neworleans/a/faubourgmarigny.htm.