What is New Orleans’ cultural scene like?

The Big Easy is known worldwide for its culture, from Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest to the New Orleans Saints and Emeril Lagasse. With upwards of 50 museums showcasing its gems, New Orleans is more than just wild parties and unique food; it’s the Museum City. But if you want to experience the Crescent City rather than just learning about it in a museum, the real culture lies within its music and festivities. We all heard about the devastating Hurricane Katrina that plowed through the city, leaving New Oleanians to pick up the pieces. Though much of the country was unsure if the Big Easy would ever recover, the city is back and in full force.

What might be the most famous aspect of New Orleans hits the town every year without fail, you guess it, Mardi Gras. Courtesy of the French history that Louisiana fully encompasses, a ranting and raving tradition has been born. Mardi Gras is both a carnival and a holiday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the Lent, the season of fasting and repentance. And contrary to what is commonly believed, Fat Tuesday is more than the salacious frat-boy party you might imagine. It is a bash — a huge bash — but there are plenty of different ways to celebrate in New Orleans, especially when the party is as big as Mardi Gras. January 6 usually marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, a time when the winter holiday season traditionally ends, but in New Orleans, Twelfth Night kicks off a season of merriment. Festivities reach fever pitch 12 days before Mardi Gras and peak on the Saturday prior to Fat Tuesday, when the city celebrates with four days of nonstop jazz, food, drink and masquerade balls. Perhaps most closely associated with the celebrations — aside from mayhem in the French Quarter — are the colorful parades where marchers in elaborate costumes toss plastic purple, green and gold beads to onlookers. Be sure to taste a king cake (a large circular cake coated with purple, green and gold sugar with a tiny plastic baby hidden inside). Traditionally, whoever gets the slice with the baby provides the king cake for the next party.

And what is most likely the second most famous festivity in New Orleans boogies into the Crescent City every spring. You can’t mention New Orleans without mentioning jazz and you can’t mention jazz without bringing up Jazz Fest. As the soul of the Big Easy, it’s no wonder that jazz has sparked a festival that has been grooving for more than 40 years. Truly a celebration of the city and Louisiana culture, the festival showcases local talent, arts and crafts, parades and food. With 12 music tents and two food stages lined up next to each other. You can catch the melodies of everything from gospel to headliners like Lionel Richie. Of course to fully represent soul, you’ll need some homecookin’ and trust us, Jazz Fest has plenty of that. It’s a great way to sample local culinary delights such as crawfish, mango freezes, gator sticks (alligator meat covered in fried dough) and cochon de lait po-boy (the Cajun term for a roast suckling pig sandwich).

As the city came back in full force, so did the beloved New Orleans Saints — so much so that the NFL team captured the title of 2010 Super Bowl Champions. Whether you are at a game in the Superdome or watching the game at one of the local dives, you’ll be surrounded with Saints pride. From cheering for quarterback Drew Brees to yelling “WHO DAT,” a New Orleans Saints game is a cultural experience to be had.

  • On June 1, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What is the best New Orleans nightlife?

    The best New Orleans nightlife combines its signature cocktail culture with some of the best dining and live music in the world.

    Top level mixologists are found at SoBou, named for South of Bourbon Street and run by the purveyors of legendary Commander’s Palace. Follow cocktails with dinner at the Forbes Four Star Rated Bayona restaurant, run by iconic New Orleans chef Susan Spicer. Then stroll down Royal Street where you can shop to your heart's content on the way to the live music of Frenchmen Street.

    Snug Harbor offers an evening of music from world-class New Orleans artists at the top of their game. Music flows from clubs up and down the street, so enjoy a stroll and see what tickles your ear. Celebrity-spotting is becoming more and more common on Frenchmen which is an integral part of the Hollywood of the South.
  • On June 1, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What's new in New Orleans?

    There's more New in New Orleans than at any other time in recent memory. New Orleans has received publicity from a series of high-visibility events including Super Bowl 2013 that have only added to its tourism boom. The city is host to a vibrant comedy scene, has been named an entrepreneurial hub by Forbes Magazine, and is becoming even more of a foodie paradise with cutting-edge chefs making it a destination for their culinary pet projects.

    Add to that the fact that New Orleans is now considered the Hollywood of the South thanks to tax credit incentives to filmmakers, and you have the makings of a cultural renaissance in an already culture-heavy city. Case in point, just off the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street hosts a vibrant new music and club scene, with an arts market adjacent to the clubs. If it's been a few years since you visited, old favorites abound but the new New Orleans adds event more entertainment bang for a traveler's buck.
  • On June 1, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the five best New Orleans food experiences?

    New Orleans' five best food experiences owe as much to their surroundings as the food itself.
    Gumbo Z'Herbes: Dookie Chase is the location for the culinary high holy holiday of Gumbo Z'Herbes. Chef Leah Chase presides over the event herself on Good Friday, in a unique gumbo dish made with smothered greens.

    Chef's Tables: From Restaurant R'evolution to Commander's Palace to M. Bistro in the Forbes Four Star Ritz Carlton, Chef's Tables are a chef's chance to wow you with the top selections of the day. Ask well in advance for a booking and prepare to have a life-changing evening.

    The classic crawfish boil can't be beat for its inherent sociability. Sidle up to a table covered in newspaper and begin to claim your pile of crawfish. Each chef has his or her own spice mix, some molten and some more to a standard traveler's palate. You won't know until you twist off the tail, peel of the shell and dive in. Boils abound in French Quarter restaurants.

    Po-Boy: The classic po-boy is made with french bread, dressed with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato, and filled with everything from fried oysters to french fries covered in gravy (yes, that's a thing). Stick to neighborhood diners and ask a local and you can't go wrong. Parkway Tavern is one of the most hearty servings with outdoor seating when weather permits.

    Beignets: Cafe Du Monde is the best place to start your first day in New Orleans. It's a common tourist attraction for a reason, fluffy squares of fried dough covered in powdered sugar come with a coffee strong enough to get you through a traveler's day of pounding the pavement.
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  • On June 1, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What is New Orleans’ cultural scene like?

    New Orleans' cultural scene is mercurial with as many facets as the city itself. Old-school glamour can be found in a night at the Mahalia Jackson Theater; drinks at the Sazerac Bar, and a walk down Royal Street with its antique-filled windows.

    A new twist on the classic New Orleans night out can be found sampling wildly popular new restaurants in the Bywater or Marigny neighborhoods, and then taking in live music on Frenchmen Street in clubs like the Spotted Cat or d.b.a.

    But New Orleans is all about finding your own unique experience in a city of back-to-back festivals and more costumed events than any town has a right to pull off. Come down for the Red Dress Run, the Running of the Bulls, the first game of the Saints season or any other joyful only-in-New-Orleans event and you'll be back for more of the same.
  • On June 1, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best spas in New Orleans?

    New Orleans abounds in luxury spas for travelers looking to pamper off their jet lag. Spa Aria at the Hotel Monteleone is your home away from home, offering its signature Jet Lag Package with intensive rescue ritual.

    The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star rated Ritz-Carlton Spa hosts an apothecary bar of house-made treatments to have you glowing before a big night out. Its Voodoo Love Massage is an only-in-New Orleans treatment that includes drums, elixers and other proprietery summoning of the spirit.

    And the Four-Star Spa at Windsor Court has rung it its first year of service with a devoted following of fans of luxe treatment. Soak in your favorite spa treatments in the Duet Suite, awash in old world charm.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best seafood restaurants in New Orleans?

    GW Fins is the penultimate New Orleans seafood restaurant. From the elegance of its private dining room, sample Chef Tenney Flynn's culinary journey around the world with seafood at each stop. Local seafood is featured in season, but he also offers a wide array of fine dining fins.

    Dickie Brennan's Redfish Grill is a casual seafood restaurant boasting hickory grilled redfish, barbecued oysters or alligator sausage with fresh gulf seafood available every night.

    RioMar, a seafood destination in the Warehouse District, is known for its fresh ceviche but also features a wide array of creations fresh from the Gulf of Mexico.

    Deanie's is a family favorite in the French Quarter and Lakeview, with massive platters of fried seafood rounding the tables, particularly on Fridays.

    Drago's offers a location in the Hilton Riverside, so fans of charbroiled oysters and gumbo no longer need to trek to Fat City.

    Acme Oyster House is the granddaddy of fresh shucked oysters in New Orleans, along with other classic seafood dishes from gumbo to jambalaya.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best concert venues in New Orleans?

    In the city where jazz was born and rock and roll got its sea legs, quality music venues are crucial.

    For overall sound quality and ambience the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts tops the list. The venue consistently offers solid booking of top acts. The theater, named after legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, is located in Louis Armstrong Park.
     
    The Little Gem Saloon is reviving music on South Rampart Street in a club that housed jazz acts almost a century ago. Bookings include the first families of New Orleans music, and local breakout stars. Creole cuisine is also part of the experience.

    The Blue Nile is a prime spot to experience Frenchmen Street's musical renaissance. Originally the Dream Palace, it was one of the first Frenchmen Street establishments to feature live music, and hasn't let up on bringing the sounds of New Orleans to locals and travelers alike.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best concert venues in New Orleans?

    In the city where jazz was born and rock and roll got its sea legs, good music venues are crucial.
    For overall sound quality and ambience the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts tops the list. The venue consistently offers solid booking of top acts. The theater, named after legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, is located in Louis Armstrong Park.
     
    The Little Gem Saloon is reviving music on South Rampart Street in a club that housed jazz acts almost a century ago. Bookings include the first families of New Orleans music, and local breakout stars. Creole cuisine is also part of the experience.

    The Blue Nile is a prime spot to experience Frenchmen Street's musical renaissance. Originally the Dream Palace, it was one of the first Frenchmen Street establishments to feature live music, and hasn't let up on bringing the sounds of New Orleans to locals and travelers alike.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best local dishes in New Orleans?

    Looming over New Orleans in every journalist's bag of metaphors is the word gumbo. It's easy to forget that it's a food until a bowl of seafood and okra riddled gumbo slides up to your spoon and you taste the smoky perfection. There are as many variations of gumbo as there are restaurants, but it's a true classic and you know at first sip when it's right.

    Oyster Po-Boy is a classic not to be trifled with, because you already have the two perfect ingredients: fresh fried oysters and crisp French bread. “Dressed” means garnished with lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles and tomato, so Oyster Po-Boy Dressed keeps the lines moving at diners around the city.

    New Orleaneans are traditionalists, with fish on Friday and Red Beans and Rice on Monday. Legendary musician Louis Armstrong signed his correspondence “Red Beans and Ricely Yours,” that's how iconic the dish has become. Add pork chops or sausage and the meal is complete.

    Bananas Foster, invented at Brennan's Restaurant, is the perfect finish to a New Orleans dinner. The dish is now served at restaurants around the world, but New Orleans is the best place to sample its ice cream, butter, brown sugar, rum, banana liquor-flaming goodness.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best seafood restaurants in New Orleans?

    GW Fins is the penultimate New Orleans seafood restaurant. From the elegance of its private dining room, sample Chef Tenney Flynn's culinary journey around the world with seafood at each stop. Local seafood is featured in season, but he also offers a wide array of fine dining fins.

    Dickie Brennan's Redfish Grill is a casual seafood restaurant boasting hickory grilled redfish, barbecued oysters or alligator sausage with fresh gulf seafood available every night.

    Rio Mar, a seafood destination in the Warehouse District, is known for its fresh ceviche but also features a wide array of creations fresh from the Gulf of Mexico.

    Deanie's is a family favorite in the French Quarter and Lakeview, with massive platters of fried seafood rounding the tables, particularly on Fridays.

    Drago's offers a location in the Hilton Riverside, so fans of charbroiled oysters and gumbo no longer need to trek to Fat City.

    Acme Oyster House is the granddaddy of fresh shucked oysters in New Orleans, along with other classic seafood dishes from gumbo to jambalaya.
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