correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to St. Louis Cathedral as St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The story has been updated.
Food and drinks — and crowds — can combine to make the French Quarter overwhelming
New Orleans’s French Quarter is a must-see. Its colorful Creole architecture, random outbursts of jazz and beignet cafes are distinct reminders that there is no other destination like the Big Easy. But hit it without a plan and the round-the-clock Bacchanalian vibe of Bourbon Street and mealtime lines at popular restaurants like Galatoire’s can be overwhelming (if not inappropriate for younger visitors). Consider visiting the historic quarter first thing in the morning, when the to-go-cup crowds haven’t yet filled Royal and Bourbon streets but the career buskers and artists of Jackson Square have already started livening things up around St. Louis Cathedral. Save your beignet fix until late at night (when the lines for the powdered-sugar treats at Café du Monde tend to be shorter) and consider options outside the quarter for cocktails and food, especially on weekends and during festivals.
Location: The French Quarter is a 73-block historic district delineated by Rampart Street, Esplanade Avenue, Canal Street and the Mississippi River; neworleansonline.com.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum offers dishes and cocktails in a genteel setting
Across town in Central City, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum provides a more refined atmosphere in which to enjoy a Sazerac or a mint julep and learn about the signature dishes and drinks offered in the French Quarter. Operating since 2015 on the site of a former public market (its first home was in the Riverwalk mall), the museum not only covers Louisiana cuisine, and specialties such as gumbo and beignets, but also the culinary traditions of 15 Southern states and Washington, D.C. The best part: Visitors are allowed, encouraged even, to sip a perfectly executed cocktail from Toups South, the museum’s adjacent bar and restaurant, while checking out the displays. (A table is required to enjoy the sourdough biscuits, blood sausage cassoulet and other Cajun specialties on the menu.)
Organized by state with pullout exhibits on chefs, Mardi Gras and other themes, it covers a wide swath of notable foods and drinks — hot sauce, Virginia hams, sno-cones, Derby pie and the South’s many, many different takes on barbecue — through recipes, posters, menus and, of course, stories. The Washington exhibit offers presidential anecdotes, including one involving Thomas Jefferson and a gift of a four-foot-high block of cheese that may have ended up in the Potomac.
For kids, there are nonelectronic interactive opportunities, such as a please-touch sign hanging below a table full of old kitchen gadgets, including egg beaters, sausage grinders and meringue cutters.
Dominating one side is the Museum of the American Cocktail, with wall displays of antique cocktail shakers, menus and tiki mugs from Don the Beachcomber, and Prohibition-era posters. (Carry Nation’s scowl may haunt you for the rest of the day.) Nearby is a full-size absinthe bar, detailing the origins of the once-banned drink with vintage glasses and stories about the writers and artists who fell under the influence of the “green fairy.” Belly up to the bartop fountain (and eerily lifelike bartender) and take in the seedy surroundings as Jean Lafitte once did, or head over to Toups’s more contemporary bar, which has its own working absinthe fountain and Imperial cocktail shaker. No elbow-jostling or bead-throwing required.
Randall is a writer based in Los Angeles.
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