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Skip the Beads, Hold the Bourbon

• The Fairmont (123 Baronne St., 800-441-1414, 504-529-7111, www.fairmont.com) was once the Roosevelt, Huey Long's favorite New Orleans hangout. The Fairmont Court Bar is apparently much as it was when Huey lifted a glass to the end of Prohibition in the '30s. The lobby is a city block long, and amazingly ornate. The rooms are grand, too, with doubles starting at $149.

• The Pontchartrain (2031 St. Charles Ave., 800-777-6193, www.pontchartrainhotel.com) in the Garden District is another historic property, this one built in 1927 and redone 40 years ago with antiques in every room. Doubles start at $74.

A trombone player performs at Donna's jazz club
A trombone player performs at Donna's jazz club
A trombone player performs at Donna's jazz club in New Orleans. (Chris Graythen - Getty Images For The Washington Post)

_____New Orleans_____
Lead Story
New Orleans Restaurants
Faubourg Marigny

• Farther out on St. Charles Avenue in the Upper Garden District is the Columns (3811 St. Charles Ave., 800-445-9308 or 504-899-9308, www.thecolumns.com), an Italianate mansion built in 1883. Louis Malle used the interior in his 1978 film "Pretty Baby" to evoke the grand houses of ill repute of Storyville, New Orleans' pre-World War I red light district. It's now an unpretentious, friendly establishment with 20 rooms on two floors, many with Victorian fittings such as claw-foot tubs and four-poster beds. Doubles start at about $120.

WHERE TO EAT: For a non-touristy introduction to the variety of New Orleans cuisine, Upperline (1413 Upperline St., 504-891-9822, www.upperline.com) is hard to beat with its $35 tasting menu. Ralph's on the Park (900 City Park Ave., 504-488-1000, ralphsonthepark.com) serves up history and good food at moderate prices; entrees start at $11.25 for lunch, $16.75 for dinner. At Elizabeth's (601 Gallier St., 504-944-9272, www.elizabeths-restaurant.com), the specialty is simple, satisfying breakfasts and lunches with a southern twist; the restaurant does not serve dinner.

The New Orleans Grill (300 Gravier St., 504-523-6000, www.windsorcourthotel.com) is an opulent choice, with a $75 tasting menu that includes such delicacies as Ravioli of Jumbo Lump Crab, Roasted Loin of Elk and an Almond Creme Brulee with flavors of rhubarb and wild strawberry. Lunch entrees range from $18 to $25; dinner, from $32 to $45.

For sensible advice on New Orleans dining, I recommend Brett Anderson, the talented restaurant critic of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, whose reviews of numerous New Orleans restaurants can be found at www.nola.com/dining.

WHERE TO HEAR JAZZ: Donna's (800 N. Rampart St., 504-596-6914, donnasbarandgrill.com) calls itself "brass band headquarters," with a lineup to show for it, mostly from the New Orleans area but also from places as distant as Japan. Blue Mondays offer a change of pace, featuring Bob French's Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, whose roots date to 1910. Donna's also serves a short menu, built around barbecue, from $6 to $9.

Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St., 888-946-JAZZ, www.preservationhall.com) is a tourist attraction, but also the home of real New Orleans jazz, and it's cheap -- $8 gets you in the door of the 44-year-old hall. Members of the famed jazz band, some of them on tour about one-third of the year, take turns hosting the nightly festivities.

For a list of 39 clubs offering live music: neworleanswebsites.com/cat/en/mu/m-lm/m-lm.html.

THE PLANTATION LIFE: Laurel Valley Plantation (985-446-8111, www.stepintohistory.com /states/LA/Laurel_Village.htm or 877-537-5800, www.visitlafourche.com) is on Highway 308 about a mile south of Thibodaux. Its sugar cane fields and slave quarters represent the largest surviving sugar plantation from the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. The general store is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekends from noon to 4. Admission is free for self-guided tours.

Oak Alley Plantation (800-44ALLEY, www.oakalleyplantation.com) is on Highway 18 in Vacherie, about 60 miles from New Orleans. This national historic landmark -- the house itself built in 1839 and restored in the 1920s -- has all the trappings of an established tourist destination, including guides in period costume, an overpriced restaurant and lodging in air-conditioned, century-old cottages. That said, the "alley" itself, of 28 live oaks dating as far back as 300 years, is a sight to behold. Oak Alley is open daily year-round; hours from March through October are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is $10.

INFORMATION: The Lonely Planet guide to New Orleans and the "Compass American Guide" published by Fodor's and written by Bethany Ewald Bultman, a New Orleans writer, both served us well. Two older books illuminate the French Quarter's history and fabulous architecture: "The French Quarter Manual," published by the Tulane University School of Architecture and distributed by the University Press of Mississippi; and "Old New Orleans: Walking Tours of the French Quarter" by Stanley Clisby Arthur. A classic first published in 1936, updated and reissued by Pelican Books in 1990, it is apparently out of print but is sold in some New Orleans bookstores, and is available online from www.abebooks.com and other book resellers.

New Orleans Online, www.neworleansonline.com, the city's official tourism site, covers the basics, with links to maps, sights, events, accommodations and restaurants. In addition, Everything New Orleans, the well-organized Web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, www.nola.com, is especially helpful. For more New Orleans sites: neworleanswebsites.com/cat/tr/tr.html.

-- Robert G. Kaiser


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