By Elisabeth Ann South
Everyone who visits New Orleans will tell you they went to Café du Monde and ate mouth-watering beignets. These same people will insist you take a Haunted Ghost Tour, declare they bought the best Louisiana hot sauce near Jackson Square and show you pictures of the house where “Interview with the Vampire” was filmed. Sure those are all nice to go and see and do, but let me tell you how to outdo these friends, and come back with stories to make them grimace with envy.
Don’t Call It A Trolly
“A Streetcar Named Desire” was actually a streetcar named “Desire” up until 1948. However, you can still ride the streetcar named “Cemeteries” which runs just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans, a throwback to so many of the plays by Tennessee Williams. A one-way fare will cost you all of $1.25, and be ready with the exact amount, as a fare box does not give back change. There are three lines you can choose from, which are St. Charles, Canal St., or Riverfront, all very historic and picturesque rides, so much so that you’ll think you’re back in the great Jazz Age of the 30’s. I prefer the Canal St. line, which is the Cemeteries branch and runs until 3am giving you the option for a late night adventure. St. Charles runs 24-hour service for those who consider themselves vampires on vacation. And don’t call them trollies or trams, because a local will correct you: they’re streetcars, dear visitor.
Everybody knows about the famed New Orleans Jazz Festival. But very few know about the following musical gem: known as the Satchmo SummerFest, the Louis Armstrong Jazz Festival is a treasure mostly unknown outside the city limits. Kicking off July 30th this year, the jazz fest will go until August 2nd in all its trumpeting glory. The few days of extravagant talent are dedicated to the life, legacy and music of NOLA native, Louis himself, and this year will mark the 15th anniversary of the festival. Two stages will host the talented performers that interpret classic jazz hits and debut new compositions. Tickets will cost you exactly $0, because it’s wonderfully free. Get this: there’s even a free app for your iPhone that will help guide you around and give you useful information so you won’t miss a single performance you’ve excitedly waited for.
More Than Cake, Still A Café
Wake up and smell the coffee. Oh, and smell the cake, too. Steve Himelfarb, a kid from New York City, bored with producing platinum records on the West Coast, found himself living in New Orleans selling slices of his freshly baked cake door to door. Quite a change, yes. Fast forward a number of years, post- Katrina, and you have the Cake Café (2440 Charles St) affectionately called just “The Cake” by locals, who line up around the block by 6am for their own piece of it. Open for breakfast and lunch only, the cozy Cake Café is run by Steve and his wife Becky, who work together open til close, making this gem even more special, as a tried and true down-home establishment. Not many cafés can make this claim, but “The Cake” truly has a cult following. Just walk in and ask about any person sitting with a fresh brewed chicory coffee in hand and they will profess their undying loyalty to the Cake Café .
Recently, the Cake Café has become the top producer of King Cakes for Mardi Gras. Birthday cakes, fruit- flavored cakes that boast fruit filling and butter cream icing, and specialty carrot cakes, just to name a few, are custom ordered and baked daily.
Whether you’re just dropping in to try one of the famous champagne or mimosa cupcakes, or to enjoy a full meal of Boudin And Eggs accompanied by some Shrimp & Grits, be sure and give my regards to Steve.
Looks Dank, Eats Great
My almost-native NOLA friend swears that Coops has the best jambalaya in the entire world. That’s a pretty big claim to uphold, but quite a few locals agree. Maybe the secret is in the traditional creole mustard sauce, but whatever it is, it works. At Decatur and Ursulines, you’ll see one of the typical, simple, swinging rectangles labeled “Coops Place“, dangling in front of the doorway. Don’t be put off by the dive-y, seedy look of the bar with the menu written on a blackboard wall. Look a little closer and you’ll see seats filled with old faithfuls dropping in to have their regular. Among the video poker machines and dark wooden tables, bartenders slide $5 well drinks or one of the beers on tap across the bar to the barstool customers. If you’re feeling wild, try the Rabbit and Sausage Jambalaya or Smoked Duck Quesadilla. But maybe you want to take it easy and just stick with good ol’ Fresh Louisiana Crab Claws. But whichever dish you choose, you’re not going to be disappointed, and you won’t be when you get the check either.
How to Use a Straw to Drink a Grenade
Tropical Isle, located at the corner of Bourbon and Orleans, is “Home of the Hand Grenade” and claims to be New Orleans’ most powerful drink, even more so than the famous Hurricane. After getting only halfway through one, I have to say that I might agree. The recipe is secret, and even though I tried to flirt with the bartender, and even asked the manager, the most information I could get was that it’s a mix of a lot of liquor. It has sort of this melon, citrusy flavor and tastes like candy. But don’t be fooled– this is a concoction not for the faint of heart. I walked out of the bar holding their trademark neon green yard cup with a plastic grenade toy floating on top of the sweet slush. I found myself shopping recklessly within a half hour and woke up the next day with credit card receipts strewn haphazardly inside my purse, and a few bags full of clothing that surprisingly were in good taste considering my state of mind. I was just happy I didn’t find any beads among my bag full of goodies…
Something Worth Sinking Your Teeth Into
At 709 ½ Saint Ann Street, Boutique du Vampyre is even more unique than its quirky address. It was there I met Marita, the owner, who flaunts fangs that she told me she was born with.
In the store you’ll find everything from fortune candles to gothic jewelry to vampire voodoo to custom fangs. They have perfume created specifically for the store by Hové , which happens to be the oldest perfumer in New Orleans. Talking to Marita further, I was informed that the leather bound journals I was admiring are used on set for the Emmy winning TV series, “American Horror Story.” And as a matter of fact, this little shop has become a favorite of the actors to stop by and pick up knickknacks. If this wasn’t cool enough already, the store sells a special bug repellent spray, “Medic Murder Mix,” that is all natural and was invented in NOLA; it is locally used on the film sets, including “True Blood” and “Vampire Diaries.” Go figure. I actually bought a book written by a local author, titled “The Casquette Girls.” Since I’m a complete book nerd, I was in love with the idea of seeing what the local talent had to offer in the literary world. I’ve only gotten about 50 pages into it though, so my opinion is still up in the air on that.
The store also offers personalized vampire adventures that they customize to your wants and desires. A full night of nocturnal living? No problem. You want two crazy days and nights as a full experience in the vampire world? No problem, either. Dinner, dancing, and cemetery trails are just some of the things they will do for you; though I was afraid to ask what dinner entailed…
I could tell you more about this secret spot I discovered, but why not go discover it for yourself? You might even walk in and fall in love with one of the soldier’s button perfume necklaces. Who knows?
About Elisabeth Ann South
In the four short years Elisabeth Ann South has been in New York City, she has acted in numerous independent films, had the lead in an off-Broadway show, and has become a regular contributor to FOX News as a millennial writer. Having filmed and photographed various television travel pieces, including an award winning one for the Siberian Express, she is scheduled to do a photography exhibit in her hometown of Indianapolis. She is currently working on her second book of essays.