THE SE­CRET SIDE OF CAR­NI­VAL CITY

IS NEW OR­LEANS the NEW WILLIAMSBURG? SHAN­NON MAHANTY CHECKS out THE LOUISIANA HOTSPOT THAT’S as ARTY AS IT IS PARTY

ELLE (UK) - - Contents - Col­lages by GUS & STELLA

It’s home to Solange Knowles and has a thriv­ing jazz and art scene. Here are more rea­sons New Or­leans should be on your travel bucket list

‘THERE’S A REAL EN­ERGY ABOUT THIS CITY,’ de­clares our cool, twenty-some­thing wait­ress. She’s wear­ing dis­tressed jeans and a white silk Seven­ties blouse, and at­tributes her ef­fort­less style to the city’s bounty of up-and­com­ing de­sign­ers and thriv­ing vin­tage scene. Plac­ing a bowl of roasted cauliflower with smoked al­monds and salsa on our ta­ble, she adds: ‘And it’s a great place to be a woman.’

It’s only our first night in Louisiana’s most fa­mous city, and she’s right: there’s a cel­e­bra­tory en­ergy here. It’s not even Mardi Gras (the next one is 5 March 2O19), but many of the trees still drip with beads in fes­ti­val tra­di­tion, and the streets are buzzing. We’re stay­ing in the il­lus­tri­ous French Quar­ter, the old­est (and most touristy) part, but my friend Nel­lie and I de­cide to es­cape the crowds and the stag dos that dom­i­nate the area in favour of nearby By­wa­ter. A qui­eter, yet equally spir­ited part of town a 3O-minute walk away, it was put on the map when Solange moved there a few years ago.

Close to the Mis­sis­sippi River, it’s full of tree-lined streets and brightly painted 19th-cen­tury houses – lo­cals are quick to point us in the di­rec­tion of By­wa­ter’s un­der-the-radar cafés, bars and restau­rants. In re­cent years, the area has been de­scribed as ‘the Williamsburg of New Or­leans’, and while it shares some sim­i­lar­i­ties with New York’s hip­ster neigh­bour­hood (cafés, gal­leries, an in­flux of artists, a grow­ing nightlife scene), it feels calmer – an an­tithe­sis to the more densely pop­u­lated ar­eas.

Tonight, we’re at Paloma Cafe, a Lat­inCaribbean-in­spired restau­rant by twen­tysome­thing chefs Danny Alas and Justin Ro­driguez (palo­manola.com). The menu of­fers a mod­ern take on Louisiana favourites, such as steamed shrimp and charred toma­toes served with masa, a Latin ver­sion of grits, made from soaked maize flour. It’s rich, de­li­cious and beau­ti­fully pre­sented, but the charm of Paloma goes way past its menu. ‘As queer, Lat­inx [non­gen­der-spe­cific Latin-Amer­i­can] chefs, we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced the im­pli­ca­tions of the neg­a­tive nar­ra­tive un­der­stood by so­ci­ety, based on gen­der, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, race and eth­nic­ity,’ says Alas. ‘Justin and I have al­ways been ea­ger to cre­ate a restau­rant where our Latin her­itage is at the fore­front of what we share with our greater com­mu­nity. The space en­cour­ages peo­ple to hang out – come with your lap­top in the late morn­ing and stay through happy hour with friends.’

On a tip from Paloma’s staff, we head to lo­cal dive bar Bud Rip’s. Unas­sum­ing from the out­side, it’s full of at­mo­sphere­within.Low-hang­ing glass spheres dimly light a wood-pan­elled bar that’s the length of the room. There’s a juke­box, pool ta­ble and a range of cock­tails and craft beers. We could eas­ily stay all night, but head back to the French Quar­ter in search of jazz. We avoid Bour­bon Street – a sea of in­tox­i­cated par­ty­go­ers – and head to The Spot­ted Cat, an in­ti­mate club on French­men Street (spot­ted­cat­mu­s­ic­club.com). It’s packed, and a five-piece brass band on a tiny stage plays jazz, funk and blues.

The mu­sic spills out on to the street and, as we head back to bou­tique ho­tel So­niat House, we pass a sax­o­phon­ist on one cor­ner and a group drum­ming on buck­ets on an­other. The ho­tel, by com­par­i­son, is a peace­ful haven: be­hind its wrought-iron bal­conies lies a leafy, can­dlelit court­yard, and our room is dec­o­rated with an­tiques and oil paint­ings in gilded frames.

While New Or­leans is fa­mous for ev­ery­thing from Mardi Gras to craw­fish, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Beyond the fried

beignets (frit­ters) is a city of sub­cul­tures and sur­prises. Take the fa­mous food scene. We head to Gala­toire’s, a cen­tury-old French-Cre­ole restau­rant, to try gumbo,

MU­SIC a tra­di­tional stew made with An­douille sausage, shrimp, toma­toes and Ca­jun spices (gala­toires.

com). Less ex­pected is Red’s, a cool-but-kitsch Chi­nese restau­rant that at­tracts a young, artsy crowd (red­schi­nese.com), or Shaya, an award­win­ning mod­ern Is­raeli restau­rant with de­li­cious shar­ing dishes and in­cred­i­ble ser­vice (shaya

restau­rant.com). New Or­leans has a big Viet­namese com­mu­nity (es­pe­cially across the Mis­sis­sippi in Gretna), so it’s a great place to eat South­east Asian cui­sine. In Mid-City, Mopho dishes up Viet­namese pho with Cre­ole in­flu­ences, and the boba (bub­ble) tea comes in de­li­cious cock­tail form (mophonola.com).

With lower rents than many US cities, NOLA, as New Or­leans is af­fec­tion­ately known, has be­come a mag­net for cre­atives. Artist Ash­ley Long­shore has a stu­dio in the

Gar­den Dis­trict, mak­ing vi­brant pieces that draw on pop cul­ture, fash­ion and fem­i­nism (Blake Lively is a reg­u­lar cus­tomer). ‘There is such a par­tic­i­pa­tory spirit,’ says painter and il­lus­tra­tor Jes­sica Bizer. ‘I feel like I live in a weird sum­mer arts camp. It’s easy for an artist to find col­lab­o­ra­tors and show work; there’s such a sense of com­mu­nity.’ The city is full of small gal­leries. An­tenna

(an­tenna.works), The Front (no­lafront.org) and the Good Chil­dren Gallery (good­chil­dren­gallery.com) were all es­tab­lished when the dev­as­tated city was try­ing to re­build af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. Now more than ten years old, these col­lab­o­ra­tive, artist-run spa­ces are re­ally com­ing into their own as venues where break­through tal­ent can ex­per­i­ment. There are big shows, too: the New Or­leans Mu­seum of Art

(noma.org) hosted A Queen Within ear­lier this year, show­cas­ing hun­dreds of rare and ex­per­i­men­tal pieces from Alexan­der McQueen, Prada, Gypsy Sport and Iris van Her­pen.

Fash­ion doesn’t just ex­ist be­hind a glass case in NOLA, and shop­ping should be on ev­ery to-do list. Top of that list is United Ap­parel Liq­uida­tors (shop­ual.com), an unas­sum­ing store we stum­bled upon. Part of a small chain, it’s crammed with dis­counted de­signer pieces. UAL never ad­ver­tises, re­ly­ing on word of mouth, which ev­i­dently works: we meet two women in the fit­ting rooms who make reg­u­lar trips from New York. Ba­len­ci­aga and Vetements boots re­tail at 8O% off their orig­i­nal price, and we fall in love with a flo­ral Raf Si­mons for Calvin Klein dress sell­ing for a frac­tion of the cost. UAL is full of pieces from un­ex­pected de­sign­ers, too. We try on Molly God­dard skirts, Jac­que­mus jack­ets and Shrimps co-or­di­nates. We re­turn sev­eral times (new stock ar­rives daily), leav­ing with over­flow­ing bags and the man­ager’s per­sonal num­ber.

We find a slew of stores stock­ing ev­ery­thing from vin­tage Chanel suits to Twen­ties ball gowns. One par­tic­u­lar favourite is Bambi DeVille, its three rooms over­flow­ing with one-off pieces (bambi

deville.com). We find silk slip dresses in ev­ery colour and a pair of nearper­fect Eight­ies Manolo Blah­niks. In re­cent years, NOLA has be­come the go-to for cos­tume de­sign­ers – owner Bambi tells us she re­cently sold a piece for Net­flix’s Amer­i­can Hor­ror

Story. With New Or­leans be­ing the set­ting for re­cent films such as Girls Trip, Mar­vel’s new

Cloak & Dag­ger fran­chise, Ava DuVer­nay’s ac­claimed Queen Sugar series and much of Be­y­oncé’s longer-form Lemon­ade video, it’s un­sur­pris­ing Hol­ly­wood is head­ing east. The re­lo­ca­tion of celebri­ties such as Solange helped de­fine the city as a place full of creative en­ergy.

The Coun­try Club is just one of the spots she’s known to fre­quent, so we head there on our fi­nal day (the­coun­tryclub­newor­leans.com). It’s a beau­ti­ful, pas­tel-yel­low build­ing hous­ing a restau­rant and pool, and the $2O en­try in­cludes lounger and towel hire. Ar­rive be­fore 11am to have it to your­self for a few hours – in a city that loves to party, the af­ter­noons be­come crowded as the mu­sic gets louder. Our time here is so per­fect that our only dis­ap­point­ment is miss­ing its well-known Drag Brunch the fol­low­ing day. We take a taxi back and, like the ma­jor­ity of Ubers dur­ing our stay, the driver is fe­male. As we share ex­pe­ri­ences of the city, I tell her what the wait­ress we met on our first night said, and she agrees: with all the cul­ture and easy-go­ing par­ty­ing, New Or­leans is a great city for women.

ELLE OC­TO­BER

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