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New Or­leans

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - In This Issue - Story and photograph­y by Re­becca McCormick

Among big city nick­names, you'll find the Big Ap­ple (New York), Big Town (Chicago) and Big D (Dal­las). But there's only one Big Easy, and New Or­leans has claimed the ti­tle with pride ever since the 1970s when a jour­nal­ist praised the city's laid-back life­style and joie de vivre. For lo­cals and tourists alike, the moniker is never more ap­pro­pri­ate than dur­ing spring — par­tic­u­larly af­ter Mardi Gras, when fes­ti­val sea­son fills the cal­en­dar and peo­ple flock to the city for their own brand of cel­e­bra­tion.

Back­ground: Since the early 1700s, New Or­leans has been the prin­ci­pal city of Louisiana and the busiest port on the Gulf of Mex­ico. Her dis­tinct Cre­ole cul­ture is de­rived from French and Span­ish rule be­fore 1803, when the city be­came part of the United States through the Louisiana Pur­chase. Strug­gles con­tin­ued through the War of 1812 and the Civil War, when bat­tles raged through her streets. But so­cial and nat­u­ral hard­ships have served only to build re­silience into New Or­leans, a city known for over­com­ing ev­ery­thing from poverty and racial strife to hur­ri­canes and shrink­ing shore­lines.

Why go now: From world-fa­mous restau­rants and hid­den mu­sic clubs to cen­turies-old ar­chi­tec­ture and top­notch arts in­sti­tu­tions, you'll find end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore New Or­leans — the city that knows how to “lais­sez les bons temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!). Fes­ti­val sea­son be­gins with Mardi Gras and con­tin­ues through­out the year, but spring packs a big wal­lop of fun into a sea­son of mild tem­per­a­tures and popular cel­e­bra­tions that high­light the city's best mu­sic, food and cul­ture. The last two weeks of this month, you can tour his­toric homes in the French Quar­ter and Gar­den Dis­trict as part of Spring Fi­esta. Cel­e­brate African Amer­i­can her­itage with Mardi Gras In­di­ans and brass bands at the Congo Square New World Rhythms Fes­ti­val. The popular Ten­nessee Wil­liams/New Or­leans Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val brings more than 130 au­thors, ac­tors and mu­si­cians to New Or­leans for five days of mas­ter classes, pan­elist dis­cus­sions, celebrity in­ter­views, com­pe­ti­tions, theater events and more.

If you love food, wait un­til the last week­end for a tri­fecta of culi­nary fes­ti­vals: NOLA Food­fest — “Amer­ica's home­town eats,” Hogs for the Cause BBQ Com­pe­ti­tion

and Louisiana Oys­ter Ju­biliee for the world's long­est oys­ter po-boy. I guar­an­tee you'll go home fat and happy.

Can't make it this month? Mu­sic lovers flock to the Fair Grounds Race Course, April 24-May 3, for New Or­leans Jazz & Her­itage Fes­ti­val — two week­ends of live mu­sic, food and danc­ing. This year's lineup in­cludes El­ton John, The Who, Jimmy Buf­fett, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, No Doubt, Keith Ur­ban, Pit­bull, John Leg­end and many more artists. www.newor­lean­scvb.com/cal­en­dar-events/fes­ti­vals/ springfes­ti­vals/

Spend your day: Treat your­self to tra­di­tional cof­fee and beignets (been-YAYS) at Café du Monde (www.cafe­du­monde.com), then ex­plore the French Mar­ket — Amer­ica's old­est public mar­ket — for the NOLA tra­di­tion of “mak­ing gro­ceries.” Ev­ery Wed­nes­day from 2-6 p.m., this his­toric area comes alive with cooking demos, mu­sic and lo­cal food. www.french­mar­ket.org. Whether you're look­ing for time­less an­tiques or cut­ting edge fash­ions, fine jew­elry or clas­sic art gal­leries there are plenty of shops, plus world­class ho­tels and restau­rants to ex­plore on Royal Street.

Make time to visit The Na­tional World War II Mu­seum, newly ex­panded with a 31,000-square-foot pav­il­ion that uses dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, per­sonal sto­ries and iconic ar­ti­facts to cre­ate a por­trait of the av­er­age Amer­i­can who fought in the war. Road to Ber­lin: Euro­pean Theater Gal­leries, an im­mer­sive ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cus­ing on bat­tles in Ger­many, de­buted in De­cem­ber. (http://na­tion­al­ww2­mu­seum.org)

Arts lovers will want to head over to the Con­tem­po­rary Arts Cen­ter in the Ware­house Dis­trict for world-class ex­hi­bi­tions, shows and bold ex­per­i­ments in stu­dio and per­form­ing arts of all kinds. (www.cacno.org)

One of my fa­vorite new must-sees is the South­ern Food and Bev­er­age Mu­seum (SoFab), where you'll get a mouth­ful of in­sight into the culi­nary his­tory of the South­ern states. www.south­ern­food.org. If you've still got en­ergy left at the end of the day, make your way to French­men Street, a three-block sec­tion of Faubourg Marginy neigh­bor­hood fa­mous for some of the city's best emerg­ing mu­sic. Try the Spot­ted Cat or Snug Har­bor. www.french­men­streetlive. com. Want some­thing more lively? Try Up­town's Rock `n' Bowl, where you lit­er­ally bowl with a brew to live Ca­jun, blues and Zy­deco. (www.rockn­bowl.com) Or Tip­itina's, host to NOLA's mu­sic leg­ends for nearly 40 years. www. tip­iti­nas.com

Must do: When­ever you're not lis­ten­ing to live mu­sic some­where in the city, tune in to WWOZ 90.7 FM, a lis­tener-sup­ported, non­com­mer­cial ra­dio sta­tion for NOLA and the sur­round­ing area. You'll hear jazz, blues, Latin, Ca­jun, funk and more.

Don't bother: Un­less you're on a fra­ter­nity road trip or a friend's bacheloret­te party, don't spend much time or money on Bour­bon Street, a “high oc­tane fan­ta­sy­land,” ac­cord­ing to one lo­cal concierge. “Drinks are over­sweet, over­priced, and po­tent enough to eat the chrome off a trailer hitch.” Give it a 15-minute stroll and move on to more au­then­tic ar­eas of the city.

Where to eat: Bren­nan's — Since 1946, this French Quar­ter restau­rant is known for its lav­ish break­fast and for the cre­ation of ba­nanas Foster. Re­opened on Royal Street in Novem­ber, the iconic restau­rant boasts a brand-new bar, The Roost. (www.bren­nansnewor­leans.com)

Col­umns — Have a cock­tail on the sweep­ing porch over­look­ing St. Charles Ave. at the stately 19th cen­tury Col­umns Ho­tel, listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. (www.thecolumns.com)

Gala­toire's 33 — The lat­est spinoff of the 105-year-old grand dame of French Quar­ter dining, this restau­rant has de­vel­oped a fol­low­ing in its own right. The name de­rives from the build­ing's first ad­dress, 33 Bour­bon St., be­fore an 1893 stan­dard­iza­tion of the mu­nic­i­pal ad­dress sys­tem in New Or­leans. (www. gala­toires33ba­rand­steak.com)

Brigt­sen's — Chef/Owner Frank Brigt­sen is stack­ing up awards like beads on a Mardi Gras float. On top of that, he and his wife, Marna, are fab­u­lous am­bas­sadors for the city. Eat­ing in their restau­rant is like dining in their home. Please say I sent you, sop the sauces for me and above all, or­der the white choco­late bread pud­ding. (www.brigt­sens. com)

Where to stay: Ho­tel Mon­teleone — This luxury French Quar­ter ho­tel is both a his­toric and lit­er­ary land­mark dat­ing back 125 years. Fam­ily owned since the very start, Ho­tel Mon­teleone is iconic to the New Or­leans' French Quar­ter. En­joy in­stinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture in a full-ser­vice en­vi­ron­ment. (www.hotel­monteleone.com)

Get­ting around: New Or­leans prides it­self on walk­a­bil­ity, but you'll need a car or public trans­porta­tion to get from one area to the other. Street­cars, the city's rum­bling relics of the past, are a vi­brant part of the cur­rent cul­ture. For $1.25 in ex­act change, you can ex­plore on four dif­fer­ent lines. Or pur­chase a Jazzy pass (good for street­cars and buses) and travel as much as you like for the du­ra­tion of the pass.

So you know: Wear­ing Mardi Gras beads out­side Car­ni­val sea­son marks you as a newbie and a tar­get for mem­o­ries of the worst sort. Don't do it.

More in­for­ma­tion: Down­load New Or­leans' very own free City Vis­i­tor App, GO NOLA, on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch or visit their web­site, www.newor­lean­scvb.com. You can also find them on Face­book (New Or­leans), Twit­ter (@NewOr­leans) and Instagram (NewOr­lean­sCVB).

The Carousel Bar & Lounge is a long-time fa­vorite New Or­leans hotspot and the city's only re­volv­ing bar.

The St. Charles Street­car has earned a spot on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. This paint­ing by Joyce Hunter de­picts the street­car for which Ten­nessee Wil­liams named his 1946 play.

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