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OPINION | RICHARD MASON: A return visit that’s long overdue

by RICHARD MASON | February 14, 2021 at 8:39 a.m.

Vertis and I are hunkered down, staying away from crowds and wearing masks. The pandemic has shut down our traveling, and when we sit around and talk, it’s usually about where to go after we escape the virus.

Several destinations always pop up in the conversation. We’re going to Dallas next month after receiving our second Moderna vaccine, and I’m going to a trade show in Houston in mid-August. I hope the pandemic will be over by then.

In our where-to-go conversations, New Orleans always comes up. We haven’t considered going there while the virus is raging. Early in the pandemic it was one of the first epicenters. I know of three individuals in El Dorado who came down with the virus, and they have one thing in common: they attended Mardi Gras in 2020. It’s a lot of fun, but close contact is almost mandatory.

Vertis couldn’t legally order a glass of wine when we first headed there on our honeymoon in the 1960s. We have been back numerous times, and although we have moved up a notch or two since the $8-a-night motel and Crystal hamburgers, we still relish its special atmosphere.

Southerners go to New Orleans because it is a getaway from the South. With its mix of cultures and history and remarkable food, it creates a different atmosphere. Bourbon Street isn’t as naughty as it was in the ’60s, but it hasn’t lost its flavor.

We usually head straight for 209 Bourbon Street when we arrive to dine at Galatoire’s.

When there’s not a pandemic raging, it can be crowded, and we know not to go on Friday afternoon since frequently a junior law clerk has been sent there to hold a table for 10 for some sort of celebration.

We usually order oysters Rockefeller and pompano (sautéed with crab meat on top, it’s the best fish in the Gulf; redfish is No. 2, and a whole broiled 14-16 inch flounder is No. 3).

In a city with dozens of great restaurants, it’s hard to have a bad meal. Ordinary restaurants can’t stay open because of the competition. Emeril’s on Tchoupitoulas Street is a short walk from the Windsor Court Hotel at 300 Gravier St., where we usually stay, and at 605 Canal Street is the Palace Restaurant for lunch. For a breakfast splurge, when we’re leaving town, we have breakfast at Brennan’s at 417 Royal St.

A notch down (and several notches down in price) is Mother’s, 401 Poydras St., for a hearty breakfast. Another top spot is the Hilton New Orleans, 333 St. Charles Ave., where the restaurant serves mouth-watering charcoal-broiled oysters on the half shell.

Or hold onto your pocketbook and splurge at Nola (Emeril Lagasse’s casual eatery at 534 St. Louis St.), or Commanders Palace at 1403 Washington Ave., or contemporary August at 301 Tchoupitoulas St.

There are plenty of great hotels. If you want to get a taste of old New Orleans, stay at Audubon Cottages at 509 Dauphine St., a couple of blocks from the Quarter. The Windsor Court Hotel is an easy walking distance from the nonstop racket of the Quarter. It offers good rooms, the best lobby in town, and its Polo Club Lounge is the perfect place to get away from it all and listen to some good jazz.

Or stay at the Roosevelt at 130 Roosevelt Way, with its always crowded old-world Sazerac Bar.

Street musicians and bars in the Quarter always have live music. However, over the last few years, a lot of the music scene has shifted to Frenchmen Street, where there are 20-plus live music bars within two blocks. The Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St.) and The Spotted Cat Music Club (623 Frenchmen St.) are two of the most popular; if you want a smaller venue try The Apple Barrel Bar at 609 Frenchmen St.

Don’t take your kids to Bourbon Street or Frenchmen Street. They are adult playgrounds, and even adults can have theft problems there, especially during Mardi Gras. Hold onto your wallet.

If you have kids with you, there are plenty of other things to do. I would especially recommend the Audubon Park Zoo at 6500 Magazine St. The setting is breathtaking, and the ambiance created by the massive live oaks makes a visit there worthwhile.

Or take them to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium at 423 Canal Street, and be sure and let them ride a street car. There are tours galore; Plantation, Ghost, Riverboat, and Swamp, to name a few. Other great venues include the World War II Museum (945 Magazine St.) and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (1 Canal St.).

I like life here in El Dorado, where it’s quiet and peaceful, but quiet and peaceful can get old, especially during a mask-wearing non-socializing pandemic. As soon as we can, we’re heading south, and five and a half hours later we’ll roll into New Orleans.

Email Richard Mason at .


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