Updated: Nov 27, 2019
A city of music. A city of sinners and saints.
I have just realized that my desire to travel comes from my love of reading. Reading is an exploration through words, travel is exploration in physical motion. It brings ideas to life and helps make sense of the things you once only imagined.
I have been blessed to have found a partner who not only loves to travel as much as I do, but who shares in the same style of travel that I tend to enjoy. When it comes to exploring a new city, there is no one in the world I am on the same page with more than I am with my husband. We hit the ground running every time.
A dear college friend’s wedding brought us to New Orleans. Her gorgeous international Indian wedding would be a weekend-long event, so we decided to arrive a day early in order to get more time to explore the city. We landed at 8 in the morning, checked into our hotel early, and immediately set out to discover the storied streets.
My friend, Shoma, is someone who is incredibly connected with the world around her. She has a spirituality that only exists in a handful of people I know, so it’s no surprise that her special weekend fell during Lost in the Wardrobe’s Southern Gothic month. Of all the places she chose to have her wedding, NOLA was the perfect city to bring this theme to life.
We stayed at The Intercontinental, a solid choice for anyone who’s looking to be walkable to the main attractions, but who are looking to sleep away from the 2am noise.
We started with French Quarter. I was prepared for a tourist trap, but I knew it wouldn’t be a first-time trip to NOLA without experiencing the famous FQ. The architecture is beautiful, full of iron wrought balconies with intricate designs. Courtyards can be found in the back of every house, most of which have been turned into local shops, galleries, and restaurants.
The boutiques are spectacular. After experiencing the London storefronts, it’s not as easy to grab my attention, but the French Quarter stores peaked my interest. The first one that drew me in had a wide array of chandeliers that were begging to be seen. I was expecting to walk into a lighting store, but it turned out to be full of unique décor.
The modern style of décor exudes old Southern gothic vibes, with animal motifs being the predominant detail throughout both exterior and interior furniture, alike. Brass monkeys are a favorite, and they are incorporated into everything from lamp stands to paper towel holders. True to the Southern gothic style, there is a bit of whimsy sprinkled over subtle morbidity. A perfect example of this was a stand for toilet paper. It was being held by an iron monkey who was holding his nose to avoid the foul smell. This is the sort of thing my mother-in-law would love.
A Huck Finn sculpture was one of my favorite pieces, followed by a seashell encrusted jewelry box and a small bar table being held up by an alligator with a cigar in his mouth. It’s no surprise that gators were a common theme throughout the city in the bayou. Copper pots, porcelain oyster dishes with French inspired designs, and a champagne bucket in the form of a silver top hat were just a few of the items I wanted to snatch up. My husband, on the other hand, loved the old muskets, and the shops that sold recovered weapons from the Civil War, the American Revolution, and World War II. As we were walking through these stores, I had visions of the items coming to life once the stores closed. I imagined the soldiers who once carried the swords, strong and youthful, and I thought of the elaborate feasts that were had in the very houses I was walking through.
Long before New Orleans was part of the US, it was a territory of both France and Spain, and the influence of these cultures, in addition to the freed slaves who made the area their home, can be seen in every unique facet of the city, from the cuisine to the architecture to the fashion.
Vintage fashion is plentiful throughout the city. Boat necks with mini ties and bows, sweetheart busts, swing dresses, and Mary Janes with cut-out silhouettes had me swooning. Even the prints and color schemes screamed of decades past, from the deep green and brown fitted dress to the red polka dot fit and flare, the streets of New Orleans has a unique way of blending the old with the new.
After the obligatory exploration of the French Quarter, we finally made our way to the less touristic areas of the city. My dear friend’s wedding was in the Garden District, so we were fortunate enough to explore this magical area of NOLA. The Garden District is dotted with stunning, old Southern homes, all shaded by huge oak trees that circle the lovely little parks that are hidden within the neighborhood.
The Garden District has a completely different vibe from FQ. It’s quieter and more laid back, making it the perfect location for Shoma’s dreamy wedding. Her big day was at The Terrell House, a bed and breakfast located on Magazine Street. The historic home is quintessential NOLA, with iron gates at the entrance and a fabulous courtyard where the event would take place. The smell of verbena and gardenia filled the air, and the twinkly lights lit up the humid October evening.
*Thanks to Eliza J for this stunning dress*
True to Shoma’s unique style, the cocktail hour began as we walked in. We took a seat at a table with glasses of bubbly, and we watched as she married the man she loves. I’ve never been to a wedding where guests are welcomed with drinks prior to the ceremony, but it all added to the mystical allure of the NOLA experience.
The highlight of the event; however, was the surprise parade that awaited guests after Shoma and Stan exchanged vows. New Orleans is a city of music. From rhythm and blues to jazz, music is at the very heart of their culture, so it wouldn’t be a true NOLA wedding without a music parade. A brass band came marching through the courtyard as the newlyweds followed, carrying parasols to shield them from the sun as we walked through the Garden District. To incorporate her Indian roots, we were given silk handkerchiefs to wave around as we followed along in the parade.
We marched right past the gorgeous homes that define the district, where residents came out onto the balconies to cheer and send well wishes to the happy couple. I always say that when traveling, one has to take a moment to allow themselves to be completely bewildered. This musical wedding parade was one of those moments.
The food served at the wedding was my favorite meal out of the entire trip. The shrimp and grits were some of the best I’ve ever had, and the cupcakes were perfectly moist. The service at The Terrell House was impeccable and the inside of the house was out of an antebellum dream. If any of our readers are looking at New Orleans as a possible wedding location, I would highly suggest this lovely venue. It will make for an unforgettable event.
After talking to dozens of locals, we gathered that Frenchman Street is the place to be if you’re looking to escape the tourist trap of the French Quarter. My husband and I really detest tourist traps because it leaves the area with zero authenticity. If we’re not experiencing the real local culture, then what’s the point of traveling?
The locals were on point. Frenchman Street was our favorite part of the trip, besides my sweet friend’s amazing wedding. Every street corner had a different type of musician honing their craft, from a group of four women called the Cat Babes, all dressed in vintage clothing, playing Patsy Cline on the banjo, to an older man singing Blind Lemon Jefferson as he led the melody on his harmonica, Frenchman Street was a musical experience unlike anything I’ve seen in the United States or abroad.
Our Uber driver was looking for a good place to drop us off, and we picked NOLA Cantina because of the beautiful sounds we heard coming from the patio. It was a lovely night, not as humid as the other nights we were there. The patio was full of small tables and cabanas, as well as a bar that primarily served tequila. A Casamigos spicy margarita and an order of queso later, and we found ourselves front and center at an incredible show. The band was called Budz and they were absolutely amazing. From Zeppellin to Peter Gabriel, they entertained the crowd until almost midnight, and when they announced that their set was ending, people screamed and begged for an encore.
As soon as they left the stage, we left the cantina in search of another musical experience. Frenchman Street is full of bars that play great live music, but many of the bars, such as the Apple Barrel and The Maison are cash only, so we walked around for a while until we stumbled upon Bamboula’s, an awesome bar with exposed brick walls and a gold-painted ceiling, a quintessential Southern gothic aesthetic.
I ordered a French(men)75, my husband ordered a local Pilsner, and we sat front and center, once again, at yet another great show. This time, the show was brought to us by the Ace Brass Band, or as the front man told us, “ACE B-R- ASS Band”. I’d be lying if I told you this didn’t help me remember their name.
The Ace Brass Band’s music is more of the jazz persuasion, and my oh my, did they put on one hell of a show. I tend to have a hard time completely clearing my head. Even when I’m relaxed, I am always thinking, always running scenarios, lists, and ideas through my mind. I can count on my hand how many times I’ve been able to totally decompress. At Bamboula’s, watching the Ace Brass Band, I left myself. I was out of my head for the entirety of their set, entranced by the music, and solely living in the beauty and joy of the moment. From traditional jazz songs to jazzy versions of 90’s hip hop and pop music, the band had everyone in the bar dancing, singing, and relishing in the privilege of being able to experience great live music.
Frenchmen Street and its music is what made me understand the magic of New Orleans. Music is what they do, and when you understand the history of the city and the incredible blend of cultures that it has experienced, it’s no surprise that this diversity has manifested itself through the music scene. The food was also better on Frenchmen than French Quarter. Before we ubered back to our hotel, we got some delicious local pizza that was not only better than the pizza we tried on FQ, but also half the price. If we ever return to NOLA, I can’t imagine us wanting to go anywhere other than Frenchman Street.
Although French Quarter is riddled with tourists, watered-down drinks, and overpriced food, there were two things I needed to do while I was there: Visit Faulkner’s House and have a drink at Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar. William Faulkner has two famous houses, one in Oxford, Mississippi, and one in French Quarter, NOLA. The one in Mississippi is where he famously wrote on his bedroom walls, outlining the structure of his novels. His NOLA home is where he spent his early, rowdy adulthood, partying with his roommate and fellow writer, shooting BB guns and passerbys, enjoying the company of women, and honing their craft. The French Quarter is where William Faulkner lived before he was Faulkner.
Faulkner’s House was bought by a retired attorney and avid book lover. He and his wife bought the home, made the second story their residence, and turned the first story into a book store. The house is located in an alley that used to be surrounded by a French colonial prison, and is currently backed by a house that is said to be haunted. The entrance is narrow and brick floors are discolored, reminding me of the age of the home. As soon as I walked in, I noticed the framed letters from other great writers. Correspondence from Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, and Tennessee Williams lined the walls, and I couldn’t help but be amazed by the literary renaissance that occurred on the very steps where I stood.
Flannery O’Connor’s letter discussed a Catholic radio station that she used as inspiration for her work, and she mentioned sending Faulkner pamphlets with information that may inspire his work as well. I have always wondered what kinds of things these incredible artists talked about. After visiting Faulkner’s House, I have a bit of an idea. Apart from the letters, the house had some wonderful Tennessee Williams collections that put my personal collection to shame.
From the moment we arrived to New Orleans, I had a goal of visiting Hotel Monteleone. Hotel Monteleone is a gorgeous, Spanish style hotel with a very cool bar called the Carousel Bar, which rotates around very slowly, putting you in constant motion as you enjoy your spirits. Not surprisingly, the bar is always packed and it is very difficult to get a spot on the carousel because once people snag a seat, they stay there all day. The Carousel provides some of the best energy in the FQ, but I was shocked to find out that most people go there because of the rotating bar, not because of the history behind it. While the carousel is beautiful and an awesome concept, it is also the place where the likes of Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Faulkner used to frequent TOGETHER. Hotel Monteleone was the watering hole for these literary greats.
After a long day of brainstorming, creating, and writing, they would go to the Carousel Bar to blow off steam, discuss ideas, and perhaps, get a little rowdy. I have spent hours imagining the kinds of conversations that went on between these brilliant minds in this storied hotel, so I needed to at least step foot in it, just to feel the spark, even if it was for a moment. The problem was, once I walked through those heavy, golden hotel doors and laid my eyes on the carousel, I became fixated with taking my seat on the famed rotating bar.
My husband and I tried for several days. We went at different times of the day. We waited around for 20 minutes at a pop in hopes that someone would leave, but each time we were unsuccessful. On our last night, after Shoma’s charming wedding, after the magic of Frenchmen Street, and after the wonder of Faulkner’s House, my husband suggested that we give it one last shot.
As we were walking back to our hotel, we stopped in to check on the Carousel Bar one last time, and as luck would have it, there was one young man who was getting ready to leave. I came up and asked him if he was leaving, he said yes, my husband bought him a shot of his choice out of gratitude, and I finally took my seat on the carousel. Now this, this was truly magic.
I looked up to see my reflection in the mirror of the carousel and wondered if Faulkner ever sat in the exact seat I was sitting in. I looked at the back of my chair, noticing its hand-painted scenery and intricate construction. My husband ordered a Mint Julep because I told him that’s what Faulkner used to drink, and I had a glass of champagne because that’s what I like to drink. We ended up striking a conversation with a very nice lady who was sitting next to me, and she listened in wonderment as I told her about the history of the bar where we sat. No one knew this at the time, but I had brought my first published book with me in my purse. I quickly took it out for a moment and clung onto it in hopes that the collective spirit of the great writers who came before will pass over me and sprinkle me with their inspiration.
It’s really something special when you get to check an item off of your bucket list. I didn’t think Hotel Monteleone would happen for me, but it all came together over the course of one beautiful, enchanted day where I finally understood the magic of New Orleans. I would like to believe that Faulkner’s spirit brought me there after I lovingly made my way through his house. The Southern Gothic genre has meant so much to me and has inspired me so much, that my visit to the Carousel Bar felt like the perfect culmination to my fascination. Even though the extreme tourism turned me off of French Quarter, its history brought me back. It seems that in the end, I couldn’t escape her allure.