Part two of my top ten favorite places to eat in New Orleans coming in hot! I went to Muriel’s for a bachelorette dinner, and it was the perfect place for such an event. Muriels’s describes itself as “casual fine dining” and this short description could not be more fitting. The restaurant’s ambiance practically drips of elegance, but in a sexy and chic way rather than being haughty and uncomfortable. Deep red walls with white trim are decorated with golden framed paintings and golden embroidered curtains in one private room. In another, light brick is draped over deep green walls which hearken to the bayous which are ever present in Louisiana.
Chandeliers and candles dimly light the restaurant for dinner, and the entire venue gives off an upscale Bohemian vibe. Muriel’s seems almost fit for a seance to accompany dinner. Actually – if that is what you are into, Muriel’s does in fact boast a seance lounge which is decorated in furnishings that are reminiscent of a Gypsy carriage. Muriel’s is the sexiness of New York City, mixed with the feeling and decor of the Gulf South and the intrigue of mysticism.
During my first visit to Muriel’s I arrived early and began with soaking up the ambiance by lush having drinks at the bar. To sit in such a lush and attractive environment drinking the evening away would have been satisfying enough. The unique cuisine of Muriel’s raises the bar that much more.
One of the finest dishes I’ve had the pleasure to taste is Muriel’s savory Gorgonzola cheesecake. This is offered as an appetizer and is ingenious. It holds the shape and style of an actual cheesecake with savory, sweet, and even tart flavors. Muriel’s menu describes the dish as, a “Gorgonzola prosciutto terrine, honeyed pecans, crispy prosciutto and slices of tart green apple.” The crawfish and goat cheese crepes are creamy and warm the bones, soul, and stomach with their richness. I ordered the shrimp and grits as my dinner entree, and was not disappointed.
Nothing cures the awful feeling of a Sunday morning hangover quite like fried chicken and carbs. The night prior to this meal, I had gotten ridiculously silly, and not just any level of silly. My friends and I had danced for six hours straight at the same venue on Bourbon Street. We pulled countless middle aged women onto the dance floor to dance with us, and a few were taken by force.
These memories come in flashes as I lay reeling in our hotel bed surrounded thankfully by cool air and darkness. In one instance, I remember both my best friend and I grabbing a reluctant elderly woman by each arm to come join in the fun after she alerted us that her hip wouldn’t allow for dancing too much.
In another instance, we ran into a girl from high school and continuously called her the wrong name even though she corrected us no less than six times. I remember yelling to the live band to change up the music because I’d heard them play this song already. “Ma’am, you’ve been here for five hours. There are bound to be some repeats.”
Full of flashes of embarrassing behavior my head ached and my stomach was in knots. It felt as though it would cave in. We made the only logical next move – venturing into the Treme for Willie Mae’s chicken.
The line was long, and it was no less than a squillion degrees outside. The sun beat down mercilessly, and I thought for sure I’d faint. Thankfully, an angel appeared, and ironically she was from Brooklyn. The woman had driven herself to Willie Mae’s and happened to have cool water in the back of her car. She ran and brought both my best friend and I bottles of the water and laughed with us about the stories we told her of our wild night before. Combing over the details of the night before as well as discussing life in New York City made the time on line feel nearly painless.
The decor of Willie Mae’s is simple, but effective. The orange painted walls are lined with photographs, paintings, and signs are almost feels as though you may be sitting in a friend’s kitchen or living room. However, one does not come here to appreciate art, you come to eat.
Willie Mae’s will ruin all other fried chicken for you. Forever. It’s juicy meat and crisp skin melts in your mouth and stays in your soul. The skin is thickly battered, only slightly greasy, and is served piping hot and fresh. The mac and cheese is creamy and flavorful and the red beans and rice is the best in the city. Be prepared that portions are HUGE – bigger than my child at birth. If you go to Willie Mae’s, be prepared for a nap afterward!
The Gumbo Shop
I’m sure the Gumbo Shop is not a hidden gem per say, but it certainly feels like one. The Gumbo Shop is a favorite among New Orleans locals in the French Quarter. It’s tucked away behind a wrought iron gate and down a short narrow alley, so it feels hidden. Eating furthest back in the garden patio makes one feel like the eatery is especially hidden.
Looking up at the staircases you might feel as if you’ve wandered into Stanley and Stella’s place in Elysian Fields. That’s more than enough of a reason that Gumbo Shop is one of my top ten favorite places to eat in New Orleans. You also wouldn’t be wrong if you felt that you were in some tropical paradise, perhaps Cuba. The perfected daiquiris only add to that vibe. In all honesty – our party of four felt that the daiquiris we enjoyed here far surpassed any we’ve had in the Caribbean. The banana daiquiri was my choice. It was strong, bold flavored, and perfectly sweetened.
Gumbo Shop is fortunate enough to have one of the most charismatic, kind, patient, and entertaining waiters on the planet. I feel like such a terrible human, because I cannot remember his name, but I hope he knows the worth of his talent. Our family still talks about how awesome this man made our experience. He had a subtle sense of humor and was over the top accommodating. He walked us through descriptions of dishes several times and referred to everyone as “baby” and “darling.” He even brought us some samples of food when we could not make a decision about what to order.
The award winning chicken gumbo is acclaimed for a reason. It has a smoky bold flavor and its combination of spices are divine. Trying to satisfy a carb craving, I sprung for the crawfish tasso pasta. The dish consists of penne pasta coated in a cream sauce, spices, and topped with a more than generous topping of crawfish tails. This was an excellent combination of New Orleans famed form of seafood with savory, creamy, salty goodness.
Stay tuned for part three and all of my other New Orleans restaurant reviews. Missed part one? Click here.
“This is where she operated, the famous Norma Wallace” our tour guide announced. A three story building in the iconic New Orleans building stood before me on an unpopulated street. At the time, I had no idea who Norma Wallace might be, but I snapped a photo anyway. Chills ran down my spine, and I got the spooky feeling that something of importance probably happened there. I wasn’t sure what and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure I cared.
In a trance, I considered how wild the decades past in New Orleans must have been. In my mind, sex work in New Orleans was something that stopped just about everywhere in the 20’s. To know a brothel operated all the way into the 1960’s was shocking information. My tour guide seemingly read my mind. “If anyone wants to know more about her, get a copy of The Last Madam.” Two months later, I purchased the book and finished it in one evening. It is one of the single greatest pieces I have ever read.
What are you waiting for? Purchase your copy here.
Norma Wallace was a high profile madam, five times married, an alleged criminal, and above all – a national treasure. We’ll revisit her later on.
A Paradigm Shift
Feminism can be really tricky. For the longest time, I felt that women who participated in sex work were the enemy. The prospects and possibilities of the type of career women can pursue has never been higher in our country. Yet, some women choose sex work. This is a career which in my mind only reaffirmed the male perspective that women are good for one thing. I felt for most of my life that women whose only job was to bare their naked bodies and lay on their back reinforced the notion that a woman with a brain was an oddity. To me, they upheld the idea that a woman’s real calling is to please men. I experienced one of the most profound paradigm shifts of my life after visiting New Orleans. First, a history:
Having been ruled by the French before the establishment of the United States, New Orleans in some ways dodges the bullet on the Puritan Prudism that plagues the east coast and thus most of the country. New Orleans was swamp land in its conception. Dirty, bug infested, stinky swamp land. Thus, France has a tough time populating and building up the area. No one in their right mind would have left the sanctity of France to move there. France’s answer?
Well, find people who maybe weren’t in their right mind to move there. Enter – a deal. Criminals and the criminally insane held behind bars were given the opportunity for freedom. This was by way of moving to New Orleans and leaving France. The catch was they had to do the dirty work of building up the city. The men did, and in addition took it upon themselves to build places to drink, places to gamble, and…wait a minute! They needed a place for sex! They needed women for sex, primarly though.
French prostitutes were next emptied out of the country’s jails and sent to New Orleans. So you see, New Orleans was a city built on vice. The first prostitutes sent over were actually more like pioneers coming to an unknown world. Beyond opening their legs, they sailed the great distance and foraged a path facing insurmountable dangers the entire time.
These is Bloody Shoes
I can only assume that being a prostitute in the 17 and 1800s could not have been dreamy. Often times from film, when we see prostitutes of the past picture we are met with images of lace, chandeliers, and sexy lingerie. Through my travels I’ve learned that this was definitely not the case during this time period in New Orleans. Most prostituion took place near the old French Market. The area was disgusting and smelly. Trash, dead bodies, and decaying seafood littered the ground. The blood from animals being slain from meat ran into the streets. It would often stain the bottoms of the high heel shoes of the prostitutes working there. Therefore, according to my tour guide, Quinn LaRoux, when Cardi B sings, “these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes” she damn well knows her history.
The area was unbelievably violent – so much so that the police would not even enter. Sex workers had to learn to survive this climate and soon themselves became some of the most vicious and violent perpetrators themselves including stabbing, shooting, and robbing to survive their hard environment.
A New Place for Sex Work in New Orleans
New Orleans knew this could not continue for much longer, and so pushed sex work into Storyville – the city’s red light district. Storyville was a more “elevated” means of prostitution. Well – elevated in the sense that women weren’t giving out blowies in broad daylight on the street and people weren’t getting stabbed and raped in public. Prostitutes operated out of actual houses. Men visiting New Orleans would often be handed “blue books” which listed the names and telephone numbers of the prostitutes as well as which madams house to find the women at. Clients received more than sex here, it was an experience. Drinks were often served and accompanied by live jazz music played by legends such as Pops Foster and Jelly Roll Morton.
Keep in mind, we are talking about the early 20th century here. Also, I’m not trying to paint an image of Storyville being an Eden. Storyville has its fair share of questionable morality even beyond traditional sex work. If you dig deep into the far corners of the internet, you will definitely find that sexual acts with animals (and oyster shells apparently) were a thing for sure. However, let’s return to my thesis. These women of Storyville didn’t have the means to go to college and become white collar professionals. Even if they did, how far would their male counterparts let them go? I’m damn proud to say that out of nothing many of these women grew something.
Many of these women became business owners – madams of prostitutes and grew their own fortunes. These women handled the accounts, set the prices, negotiated terms, leases, and pricing. In many times, they were their own security detail as well. In Storyville, many women banded together and formed deep friendships. One woman might watch the kids of the prostitutes on her off day. By doing so, their mothers could earn a living. Those women would return the favor on their off day.
For those women that found themselves accidentally pregnant and unable to have a baby there was some help. There would often be one woman who would give abortions. Women could then continue on with their trade without worrying about being pregnant and losing business. This is not female comradery as we see today. Rather, this is an early example of women helping women. This, given the circumstances that they were made to face.
In the 1920’s in one of Norma Wallace’s homes is one of my most favorite examples of women helping women. There was a system for when the police would knock on Norma’s door. She would put a plank of wood from her window to a neighboring brothel across the street. The place was run by a woman named Josephine. The prostitutes would scurry along the beam and into the safety of the neighboring bordello. The girls would pull the plank of wood in all before the cops were let into the door.
By this point, you’re wondering who Norma Wallace is anyhow.
Norma Wallace began to work as a “street walker” at just 15 years old. This was essentially after her mother abandoned her to pursue a wild life of sex and alcoholism. Eventually, she would go on to own New Orleans’ most infamous and well established brothel. Norma essentially born and died being fiercely independent long before it was in vogue. Throughout the course of decades many men tried to enter into Norma’s life and gain control of her.
Men tried to force her to settle down and turn toward a respectable life of being a housewife and mother. She never buckled or wavered under this pressure. Norma always stayed true to her desire to live life as a fruitful “landlady” as madams preferred to be called. She was tough, elegant, and took no shit from anyone. Norma was a business woman ahead of her time and was respected, loved, and feared by thousands.
She was always dressed luxuriously and was the original bad boss bitch. It became tradition to visit Norma’s whore house for sex. What I found most interested is how many fathers would take their sons there because they had been there as boys. Men would even take their wives to meet Norma and reflect on their wild youth. Norma was notorious among college boys, unsatisfied husbands, business elite, famous movie stars, mafia members, and the authorities.
Beyond sex work in New Orleans, the city has its fair share of “sex-y” work as well. There are many who say that burlesque has its origins steeped within the city. Burlesque is different from what we think of as stripping. It is sensual, artistic, refined, and at times quite “campy.”
Burlesque: Classy Nudity
When one thinks of New Orleans Burlesque, one may think of Kitty West. Her stage name as she was better known was Evangeline – The Oyster Girl. One of her most famous acts involved sitting half naked in a giant oyster shell on the stage at Casino Royale. She would dance scantily clad accompanied by a basketball sized faux-pearl.
Burlesque shows were huge decades ago and many famous venues for the seductive performance art lined the street. Women and men alike would actually dress in their finest for the performance. Patrons would imbibe in strong cocktails while enjoying the artistry. Burlesque belonged to another era entirely – one of jazz lounges and supper clubs, high heels and suits.
Legend has it that Kitty was either jealous of a fellow performer or performer at another lounge. Either way, her rival created an aquatic themed act. Kitty felt this to be a rip off of her performance. When her rival performed in a giant fish tank, Kitty channeled the violence and rage of the women who had come before her. She smashed the tank with a sledge hammer. Wu-tang clan ain’t nothin’ to fuck with Evangeline and her giant oyster ain’t nothin to fuck with. Unless of course, it was all a publicity stunt. If that’s the case, the two girls were very much in on it. They hearkened back to the business genius of those women who came before them.
You can still find sex performance, but unfortunately its largely confined to the sub par strip joints on Bourbon Street. While the naked bodies are still alive and thriving, the mystique and decorum of the art is lost entirely.
I deeply believe that there can be, and is a beauty, mysticism, and sensual element to women in professions like prostitution and sex performance. For so long I wondered, “Does any woman actually want to be a prostitute or sex performer?” Some women do. Some women enjoy sex, or strip teasing and for them, the career is not only lucrative but enjoyable. In these cases, I support these women. Not only that, I believe that there is power and strength in a woman choosing a profession in sex work. This is so long as it’s a choice and not forced. These women are the living epitome of the notion that many find appalling. The idea that it is OK for females to be sexual and to enjoy sex. It’s enjoyable even enough to earn money from it.
Men only take issue with this type of work because they’ve yet to find a way to control it. Where prostitution is legal, they are not typically proprietors and thus do not profit. This is especially true in the cases of female run establishments. Men can never be comfortable with an entity that they do not own entirely. This is also why there is a heavy stigma of sexually active women. Female sex workers are typically seen as not being suitable wives.
Perhaps as women we sneer at sex workers because we are ignorant. Women, by way of being human deserve to be treated with respect. Women deserve dignity no matter what their chosen profession or sexual history. Many feel that to treat a sex worker, a woman of the underworld, with respect and integrity is indecent. True indecency would be believing that a person’s chosen career, especially one as benign as sex work, makes them deserving of being treated cruelly and as less than human.
Hopefully, you’re reading this somewhere with a glass of something alcoholic in hand as I am. If so, it is only proper to toast. I’d like to remember and thank the women in this article, even the hundreds not mentioned by name.
I’d like to give respect and kudos to the women of the sex industry. Particularly, I’d like to give respect to those who have been a part of the history of sex work in New Orleans. Many of whom who endured the harshest and most unforgiving conditions on the streets of New Orleans. These women have faced some of the worst that humanity can bestow.
Many of these women took what was handed to them. They made not just lemonade, but a lemonade empire out of lemons. Others, we must never forget, were undoubtedly physically and sexually brutalized and perhaps utterly broken both in spirit and body. Although most will remain nameless for all of eternity, you are not forgotten.
Looking to book the Drag Queen Walking Tour where I learned a lot of this? Click here
I fu______ hate this title, but SEO dictates that I brand this article with the most generic approach as possible. Therefore, everything following it will be as unorthodox as possible. For some New Orleans locals, that probably includes some of the choices of restaurants that have made this article. Disclaimer, I have NOT VISITED EVERY RESTAURANT IN THE CITY! So, as the saying goes, please do not “at me” if your personal temple of food porn worship did not make it onto my list of my top ten favorite places to eat in New Orleans.
New Orleans is the only place that is acceptable to venture to purely because of the cuisine. I’ve traveled to the Big Easy five times, and I have never struck out with a “bad” meal during any of my trips. I’ve loved EVERY single meal that I’ve devoured. However, there are some eateries that I love as dearly as a relative. I dream about these places. I salivate like an animal when I think of them. I’m frighteningly close to rolling up a sleeping bag and trying to move into these restaurants as my permanent place of residence.
K Paul’s Kitchen
The staff at K-Paul’s is amazing and friendly in a familial way. They actually might take me up on my offer in the last sentence of my intro.
Fewer names are more synonymous with Louisiana cooking than Paul Prudhomme. If your mind is drawing a blank, pick up a bottle of Magic Seasoning Blend out of your kitchen cabinet – that’s him. He served as executive chef at none other than Commander’s palace and is rarely pictured without the wearing of his signature snap brim hat. Unfortunately for the world, he passed away in 2015. However, his long time talented associate, Chef Paul Miller has headed the operation for quite a while, procuring fresh and local ingredients for some of the best tasting dishes in New Orleans.
Turtle Soup and Lies
I never thought that I would try turtle soup. Afterall, turtles are pretty friendly and adorable. However, deep diving into culture is important to me. It also helps that our waitress described the dish as being a lot like a cup of chili. Like most good rustic dishes, turtle soup originated out of an abundance of product. Green snapping turtles populated the area where early American colonists settled. In my case, the meat came ground and served in a dark brown roux. This made it palatable as opposed to trying to down giant chunks of mystery meat.
The soup had a gamey consistency and a oceanic taste, similar to gator or frog legs. Had no one told me that I was eating turtle, I could have cleared the entire cup. It truly was delicious and a lot like a savory, bold, chili. Knowing that the animal I was eating has such an endearing personality – at least in cartoons – made it hard to swallow. I tried to be ethical and not waste food by passing the cup around the table and giving the family a taste. I was not ethical in telling them it was “delicious and they must try” when I really thought it was a difficult meal emotionally.
K Paul’s green onion dressing will have even the most reluctant of folks interested in salad again. The creaminess of ranch dressing meets the tangy flavor of scallions to create the most perfect condiment known to man. Once you eat this, there will be no other dressing or dip that compares. Seriously, I will appreciate all fan e-mail telling me that you life has been changed by this experience.
A Terrible Comparison and My Death Row Meal
I love crab claws. I hate the amount of work I need to do to get to the meat. I’m willing to eat a lot, I’m not willing to exercise to get my food. I’m not a hunter gathered, and this is not the stone age – I shouldn’t have to do that shit. Enter: fried crab fingers. The hard work of de-shelling was done for me, and instead the meat was battered and fried in a creamy and breaded filling. To some this may be sacrilegious, but I can best describe these delectable bites as an elevated seafood take on the hushpuppy. Fresh, delicious crab without the pain in the ass work, and added benefit of lightly fried and battered goodness made this an outstanding appetizer. The creamy sriracha sauce served on the side made for a great accompaniment.
I have five death row meals; this next dish is one of them. Paneed veal with lobster herbal brie cream was my entree of the evening. If you haven’t been able to tell, I do really well with creamy. The savory melt of brie cheese and heavy cream leaking onto a mountain of mashed potatoes is my idea of heaven. The veal (also covered in the cream and brie) was perfectly seasoned and the combination of all of the above with lobster and herbs is worth killing for.
New Orleans Is Haunted. Straight Up.
I felt a bit dizzy and went to the women’s restaurant on the second floor (where we were seated) to use the restroom and splash some water on my face. I went into the stall and did not see anyone enter from under the stall door, but was surprised when I heard shuffling. As I left the stall, I stopped in my tracks seeing a beautiful young woman washing her hands, almost obsessively in the sink.
She kept sighing and seemed as though she were looking for an “in” for conversation. “I cut my hand” she said. Despite my better judgement, I looked into her sink expecting to see a small cut, and instead seeing a giant gash across her palm. Concern consumed me. “Oh wow, you should put pressure on that.” She continued washing and washing. “My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy. I grabbed the glass too hard.” I laughed in a small way and went to grab a paper towel. She repeated the sentiment about her boyfriend twice.
I told my family about the encounter, and I looked around the restaurant throughout dinner trying to find the woman. The dining room was small, and only people who dined on the 2nd floor would use that bathroom. I never saw her again. I even looked around on the first floor and she was nowhere to be found.
One of my favorite parts about visiting the French Market Restaurant is walking in during the afternoon when barely anyone is there. Apparently there’s an upstairs rooftop dining area to eat; I have no interest in that. Instead, I take a seat at the bar in the dark dingy back area. I order the same meal every time, and spend hours drinking while bullshitting with the bartender. French Market Restaurant could be seen as touristy, and yet it is free from photo snapping, Insta-worshiping, phone scrolling masses of people that plague just about every corner of the earth.
There’s no pressure to be getting the greatest shot and documenting every single moment of the dining experience. It’s one of those rare eateries where the afternoons pass slowly. People talk face to face while sipping an ice cold beer. It’s a come-as-you-are casual dining establishment, and that is partly why it makes my list of top ten favorite places to eat in New Orleans. These types of places are disappearing from society and I’m not happy about it.
When I eat here, I don’t ever deviate from my typical meal of choice. The crawfish boil with a side of the corn, potatoes, and sausage is the first thing I try to eat as soon as I land; because simply put – it feels like home. It’s the ultimate Cajun comfort food. I consider New York the home of my body and cultivator of my personality. However, I consider New Orleans the home of my soul.
For me, there is no greater affirmation that I’ve landed in the Crescent City than diving face first into a hot plate of crawfish fresh from the heavily seasoned boil. (the literal image of this is beyond funny to me – scolded by a bucket of crawfish.) Typically, I hate snow crab legs, but I always order them here, they’re damn good and a portion of the price as the big guys. Last but not least, the macaroni and cheese. Its bold and creamy taste underneath a mound of more broiled cheese can warm the heart and bones during even the rainiest stormy afternoon. Sound like your type of place? Click here: https://frenchmarketrestaurant.com/
The Pelican Club – Sazeracs and Bugsy Siegel, Apparently.
My mother walks into the room and declares loudly, “Alright, fuh Thanksgiving, I made res-uh-vations for the Pelican Club.” She’s a meticulous and amazing researcher. Even though she’d never been to the Big Easy yet, she did her due diligence. “The Pelican Club? That sounds like an old gangster hang-out” my dad retorted. “It’s a restaurant, Steve. In New Aw-lins.” I can listen to my parents have normal run of the mill conversations all day long. Even the most generic and normal topics are nothing short of hysterical when they discuss them.
We entered Pelican Club on Thanksgiving day and…yeah – I could see some big time gangsters passing an evening here back in the days of Capone and Rothstein. The main dining room of Pelican Club immediately hearkens back to a time of 20th century old world sophistication and elegance, but not snobbishly so. It is very hard to find a restaurant that has exceptional food and feels exclusive. One where the staff aren’t thrown into cardiac arrest when you use the dinner fork for salad.
The room is slightly dim and faintly glowing. The room appears to go on for miles and miles and everything in it screams grandiosity. The paintings which hand on the white and tan two toned walls are as big as a bathtub. The ceilings are enormously high and decorated with wood paneled ceilings fans. The chairs have wood paneling as well with black leather and the table clothes of course are white and perfectly starched. The ambiance is undoubtedly southern, but also possibly transported from another era entirely.
The duck, shrimp, and andouille gumbo is to die for, full stop. My three favorite proteins in one warm and delicious cup? As Michael Scott would say, that’s a win-win-win. The Pelican Club boasts some amazing entree options, I was most impressed by the offering of Thai Massaman Curry – one of my favorite dishes when visiting Thailand.
However, I’ve an affinity for lamb so I chose that and was not disappointed in the least. It was unbelievably tender – one of those “like butter” deals where you could probably cut the lamb with a spoon. The crispy outside and heavy seasoning makes me salivate even writing this, and the asparagus and potatoes on the side were a phenomenal touch. I highly recommend the sazerac, shoo fly, or pomegranate martini to accompany any meal. The shoo fly being an elevated and sexy take on the gin and tonic, incorporating features such as lavender bitters and violet liqueur. For more information: https://www.pelicanclub.com/
Ah, yes. The champagne destiny reading experience – the elevated version of what I’m about to describe. My body swayed side to side free of my own effort as I sat on the tacky dining room chair. I was several vodka sodas into a happy hour that had long surpassed the typical late afternoon/early evening time slot. A woman looked into my bloodshot eyes and touched my hand affectionately. In her indiscernible accent she proclaimed, “I see that you have a big change coming in the autumn, probably in October.” I did have a dream of finally finishing the writing of my cartel crime novel that fall. October sounded like a decent deadline to me. My befuddled mind was astounded. “Wow, you’re amazing.” I slurred as I threw 40 bucks on the table.
That transaction, my dear readers, was a palm reading in Queens, New York. Believe it or not, that interaction is probably the height of legitimacy in the field of mysticism in New York City. Yes, a woman reading my palm out of her dining room as her family carries on as normal in the background telling me I was about to experience a big change is what passes for esoteric magic in the big apple. I’ve done enough palm readings to know that it is truly all generalized bullshit.
I woke up the next morning only vaguely remembering the interaction. My husband wasted no time in telling me that I had been duped. He also suggested that start drinking less at happy hour. There is something heartwarming, ironically, in getting tricked in New York City. It’s an essential New York experience that every visitor and resident must undergo, some more times than others. Of course, it’s a charming experience until you realize you blew forty dollars. The big issue with that is that rent in New York City happens to be a bajillion dollars. Damn you, Tito’s and club on a Friday afternoon.
Whenever an experience like the aforementioned occurs, I can’t help feeling like I need a trip to my favorite city in the world, New Orleans. The supernatural scene in New Orleans goes far beyond a hustler trying to make a buck. Although you can find that in the crescent city too. Mysticism is deeply rooted in the culture of the Big Easy. It is the only city that I know of which a high number of people legitimately practice voodoo as a religion. It also boasts high rates of believers in vampirism and other elements of the supernatural.
Mystical New Orleans
During my recent trip to New Orleans in October, I participated in a particular experience. A champagne destiny reading experience in the park was a siren song to a woman who loves an excuse to drink in the morning, and has an unfortunate fascination with knowing my destiny. For better or for worse, I’m a type A person. My greatest comfort comes from preparation and planning for the future; my whole life I have always been this way. When other kids would draw in kindergarten, I would be making to-do lists.
I’m also a curious person. I’m one of those rare breeds who can never learn enough. If I’m not learning something, my time is being wasted. Being an inquisitive person means I need to understand how and why life works. Every aspect of it. For thousands of years, when there is no obvious answer to such a grand question, humans turn to mystic means for an answer.
My Personal Conquest
On a personal level, my biggest conquest has been to better understand myself. I’ve been unique my entire life. From my earliest memories I’ve always been opinionated and ambitious. I’ve always had grand plans for my life, and always felt a need to question the status quo. In response, I’ve nearly always been told to shut up and step into line. For much of my life I tried, but I could never do that.
It was just a fact of life that there must be something wrong with me. I came to terms with the fact that I would have to accept that I was indeed idiosyncratic. No other young woman I knew thought and talked about injustice, politics, ambition, and the way that I did. No other woman actively plotted a timeline in which to advance their career. Most women I know were focused on dressing pretty, getting married, and have babies. These women were perfectly content to let men do things like debate and achieve lofty goals that go beyond having the nicest eyebrows and raising the sweetest kids.
Arriving at City Park
Tired from a long night on Frenchmen Street and impromptu tattoos, my cousin Nina and I arrived at Cafe DuMonde in City Park by cab. I had never been to city park before, and I was struck by how picturesque and romantic it looked. It boasts all of the flora and fauna, such as draping trees and Spanish moss that creates an image of southern, gulf coast, charm. City Park looks as though in its conception, it was painted by the same brush as an artist who creates images for children’s fairy tale books. The trees in the ‘secret garden’ are weeping, gigantic, and vibrant; they practically beg visitors to embrace their inner childhood imagination and to come explore for the day.
After some awkward walking back and forth in the shaded overhang of the cafe, we found Mika. She is the beautiful mind and originator of the champagne destiny reading experience. A bubbly, beautiful, black woman with large sunglasses. She was waving to us and welcoming us as if we were old friends. I enjoyed her from the start – she radiated warmth on a cool cloudy morning. For some reason, I just got the feeling that I was in good hands. I was in the presence of someone bona fide. Mika immediately struck me as a cosmic-goddess-slash-fly-as-hell-old-soul. I had the feeling we were kindred spirits from the jump. We were starving, so she encouraged us to get beignets and beverages before we settled in. We took her up on that offer. I learned that the Cafe DuMonde iced cafe mocha is far superior to cafe au lait. Fight me on that one.
Pop The Bubbly for the Champagne Destiny Reading Experience
Mika began by popping a bottle of Barefoot brand bubbly and filling our champagne glasses to the brim. I find that people who are open about themselves are often the most authentic. Mika’s genuine energy came through strongly as she told us about herself. What immediately struck me was that her whole life she had been casted as a misfit of sorts. She thought and behaved differently from her peers. This granted her the designation of ‘weirdo.’
To start, she has ADHD which led her to dream and imagine rather than listen and focus. Beyond that, she thought and felt differently than others, she is an empath. She deeply feels a connection to those around her. She experiences emotions in a way that is deeper than the average person. Empaths tend to ponder societal issues and the trajectory of their life often. I’d finally found a person outside of my own circle who shared the same struggles I had throughout childhood. For 20 odd years of my life, I have never found a single person who is like me. I’d say this encounter was mystical and serendipitous in and of itself.
I was buzzed after my first glass of champagne and I ready to watch how the stars align. Mika began by describing how numbers and therefore playing cards are inextricably part of the universe. Humanity has been working with some form of playing card or number games for centuries. Originally, cards functioned as a calendar system for early humans. For example, there are 52 cards and 52 weeks in a year. When there are numbers that correspond to each playing card in order, we get a total of 365. Considering that numbers and humanity are born of the same universal matter, there is a tenacious connection between the two entities.
To Mika, it is no wonder that numbers and dates can tell so much about each and every person in the world. To start, people fall into four categories: spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts. People who are hearts find that success comes by way of having a relationship. Those who are clubs tend to be innately curious and strong communicators.
We gave Mika our birthdays and she pulled two pieces of paper out of her binder. There were very thorough descriptions on each. She read the first one, and we were to guess whose birthday it was based on the description. About halfway through, Nina, who is much more of a logical skeptical type declared, “This is you for sure”. I could not deny it. The description accurately depicted the exact types of arguments that I have. It told of specific insecurities and fears that I have never shared with anyone.
Just days earlier I had gotten myself into a frenzy. My husband had not completed a task by the deadline we agreed upon. This was not going to cause any danger or harm. Nonetheless, I felt my heart beat out of my chest. This is often a source of contention in our home. My husband is free spirited and laid back. I on the other hand have no capacity for waiting, being flexible, or even slightly adjusting my desires or expectations. We rarely argue. If I begin a row, it is because something is because a plan has been changed. I often need things done how I want, and when I want. This might look like a movie date night being switched from Friday to Saturday. It might look like booking a trip on Wednesday night when we had plans to do it by Monday night.
Everyone who knows me knows that this is an issue of mine. Mika looked at her paper and read aloud. [I] “often start arguments due to my need to get things done the exact way I want.” Not only that, I want them done when I want them done. Nina looked at me and smirked. This was undoubtedly me to a tee.
Most astonishing, the reading validates the notion that my birthday declares me to be a human oddity. This being because of my constant curiosity, outspoken nature, and perseverance on societal, political, and worldly issues. It also stated that I most likely enjoy writing as a hobby.
The Take Away
The champagne destiny reading experience is legit. I think relieved is the best word I can think of to describe the outcome of my session with Mika. I know it sounds peculiar to call our experience a session, but it was damn right therapeutic. In a typical therapy session, I sometimes guard the things I’m most vulnerable about discussing. Most humans do, it’s natural. It is often difficult to put my fears, memories, and attitudes into words sometimes. Therefore, I ugly cry, I hurt, and most days I’d rather not deal with the messiness of all of that. I didn’t have to verbalize that in this case, Mika just knew based on the reading. She knew what drove me crazy, what drove my ambition, and what propelled my utter and complete joy in life.
I admit, I am far more willing and wanting to believe in the supernatural than most people. Maybe it is because like Mika, I am an empath. I feel connected to people, ideas, the stars, God. I see in ways that others might not that we are all connected. Still, the accuracy of my birthday reading was eerily accurate. Even to a typically more logical and guarded person like my cousin, the accuracy was uncanny.
The experience ended with blowing bubbles into the blue sky. This was done as a symbol of the wishes and ideas we want to project out to the universe. As I blew my bubbles into the air, I felt light and hopeful. I had a genuine sense that everything was going to be OK. A way in which I had not felt that way for a very long time. I always feel that I am meant for an important and exceptional future – more so than other people. Furthermore, when I’m down on myself, I wonder if having these feelings is delusional. Hearing my birthday tarot card brought validation to my original ideal. It validates that greatness is within my destiny, and that greatness is still worth working passionately toward. What may I ask, is YOUR destiny? Find out by booking an experience with Mika at https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/256675
At this point in my life, I’m incredibly well traveled. Inevitably, I will often be asked “what is your favorite place in the world?” I haven’t been to everywhere in the world, but I’ve been to 25 countries in counting and dozens upon dozens of cities. While most travelers say, “Ugh, I hate the question of my favorite place” I’m not afraid of it. My favorite place in the world, is New Orleans. Hand’s down and no contest. This Thanksgiving, will be my fifth time in the Big Easy (also my good friend’s college nickname.) I’ve been scanning through my photos from 2014 to now, and it’s so interesting to see my love affair of New Orleans through the years.
There is nothing pretentious about New Orleans. Even at its most exclusive and upscale of institutions it is welcoming and inclusive. New Orleans is admirable in the lengths it takes to preserve its culture and the uniqueness of its identity. While many cities are chameleons, trying to be like Paris, or New York, or Rome, New Orleans knows it is not those places and does not try to be, because it’s better than those places.
I’m amazed at the taxi cab drivers. Every single one has mastered the art of conversation and for 15 minutes to an hour, I get a no holds barred look into the life of a complete stranger. On my most recent trip I met a refugee and former attorney from Venezuela who indulged in all of the ways that he was pursued by the Venezuelan government for his speaking out against them. I had another cab driver pass me her phone where I watched videos of the dancing she does in her free time. Yeah, try striking up a conversation with a New York cabbie about dance moves, see how that goes.
I love the way the intricate and unique architecture and bold colors of creole cottages mixes with the undeniably palpable feeling of residual other wordly energy lingering from the Yellow Fever days. It feels as though the people who once lived in the city have never really left. You are never alone in New Orleans, even when you’re the only person on a block. The city turns even the biggest skeptics of ghosts into believers. The magnitude of their stories lingers heavily. There is an air of mysticism in the city; one sees it as he passes the tarot card readers, wanders into Boutique du Vampire for some herbs, and examines a dizzying array of voodoo dolls in VooDoo Authentica.
The city is so damn eccentric. Let’s start with the fact that the first inhabitants, Native Peoples aside, were convicts and prostitutes who traded prison sentences for freedom if they built up the city. Once you understand that, everything else falls into place. There is something not disturbing, but poignant about the tales of The Big Easy’s history of Storyville prostitutes, coffin girls, madams, psychics, druggies, writers, and Bohemians.
As much as New Orleans is a tale of wantonness, it is also, as Tennesee Williams once said, “an easy intermingling of the races.” In this city there are cultures of people simply not found within the United States. There are Creole people of mixed descent, people of Native, African, and Spanish heritage. There are French Cajuns and a true Francophonie society where French culture and language is preserved; French immersion schools exist here.
Nowhere in the world has better food than New Orleans. Yes, you can find your share of gumbo and jambalaya. But, the city also procures the best hummus I’ve ever had. It also churns out exceptional bahn mi and pho thanks to its Vietnamese population. A large part of acclimating to the New Orleans culture, is holding tight to your mother culture and sharing it with the city. What is more beautiful than that? Just as delicious, savory, and fulfilling is the music of the city. As essential as water and oxygen, music is present at all vital passages of life, New Orleans is the city of Second Lines and jazz funerals. Everything, everything, is celebrated and expressed with music.
I’d like to take a look back on some grainy photographs, and at some points even grainier recollections of my time in New Orleans through the years!
My first trip was in February of 2016. My husband and I drove down from Brooklyn after severe winter weather grounded all flights out of New York City. After 13 hours in total on the road, none we reached the Crescent City. From the very first night time looks from the car it was gritty, it was gray, it was raucous. It was a city made for me as far as I was concerned.
I was in my early twenties and completely content with doing the Bourbon Street thing, and that is exactly what we did starting early the next morning. We waited in line for Jimmy J’s Cafe, and I’ll never forget my first New Orleans meal: crispy bacon and bananas foster french toast. The restaurant was jam packed, but the streets were even more packed. I remember leaving Jimmy J’s just in time to catch a glimpse of a parade passing by, one krewe member looked right out from the float and threw a frisbee. I was all the way in the back of the crowd with at least a hundred people in front of me, and yet, the frisbee floated over the heads of the masses and directly toward me, and landed right into my non athletic hands. It was in that moment, clutching the bright yellow frisbee, my jaw hitting the floor, that I knew New Orleans was magical. I still have that frisbee.
I get a brain freeze just thinking about all of the slushee drinks, the hurricane after hurricane that I pounded down. That is what I really remember about that day, and that’s what got me into a lot of misadventures. I remember after already slamming something like 5 or 6 of them, a woman from Slidell stopped us and said, “I’d slow down with those. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint. I made the same mistake you’re making now my first time down here.” I scoffed in her face and pounded the drink as I walked away. This was no mistake, this was NAWLINS. I spent a lot of that evening with my head in my hotel toilet. I hope she’s reading this now and laughing at me.
I promised random adventures, there were quite a few. None that really make sense now as a sober person several years later. I remember taking photographs with a topless older woman with an exquisite Mardi Gras mural painted across her chest. I remember a random llama roaming the streets and taking photographs with it and thinking, “is Mardi Gras really this crazy? We got llamas up in here now?!” I remember women flashing for beads, but being really disturbed by the amount of photographs being taken of these revelers. I think more women would have had fun and bared it all if there weren’t perverts encircling them with cameras. Mostly, I remember how disgusted I was with a group of protestors who marched in with their anti gay nonsense. I got in the faces of one of the protestors, and my husband was pepper sprayed by the police as a consequence.
I had way too much fun, and got into way too much trouble. I slept off the day hangover, and was treated to the New Orleanean dinner of my dreams later that night. Enter, my first shrimp and grits in the city, and samplings of crawfish etouffee and jambalaya. I still remember the creaminess of the grits and the rich, smokey dark brown roux.
That first trip was mostly drinks, but it wasn’t entirely drinks. After hearing about bayous in so many rock and country songs, I finally saw one. We did a cruise through ominous waterways full of twisting, turning, bare trees and all sorts of wildlife. I saw a gator, our tour guide straight up grabbed him out of the water by the snout, petting him like the family dog. Louisianians are crazy. CRAZY. (In the best way.)
I was introduced to Marie Lauveau for the first time, and she has captivated my attention and heart ever since. Marie Lauveau is known as the voodoo priestess, but she is actually and literally one miracle short of being a saint. Her major life’s sacraments are recorded history in the Catholic church. She exuded the manifesto of “love thy neighbor” by allowing those with no place to be buried to rest forever in her family crypt. She was an entrepreneur who used the gossip she often overheard as a hair-dresser, as well as word from enslaved people, to put on the appearance that she had powers that were beyond worldly. She would hear a piece of gossip about a person in the city, and confront the person about the new fact leaving the person stupefied as to how she could possibly know such an intimate secret. Once she built faith in her clientele, she was able to sell them potions and charge money for readings.
After just three days it was time to move on with our road trip and leave New Orleans. I knew I’d be back soon. I returned several more times.
I returned for a bachelorette party where we carried an inflatable man and his giant penis into every bar on Bourbon street, his name was Bad Boy Brad. At one point, someone stole him and he crowd surfed all the way up to the main stage at a live music event, it was really difficult getting him back, but we did it!
That same weekend I had drank two giant hurricanes and a dozen jello shots and danced in the same bar on Bourbon Street for FIVE HOURS. Five solid hours dancing with no breaks. I don’t know how many middle aged random women that we pulled onto the dance floor and forced them to be friends with us, but it was probably at least fifteen.
I rode the streetcar.
I visited Mardi Gras world and saw how the parade floats are made and learned about the history of the holiday. I had no idea that designing and decorating the floats are full time careers for some artists, and the opportunity to work on these floats attracts real artists from all over the country!
I ventured into the Treme and had the best friend chicken in all of the United States.
I visited Muriel’s and had no idea it was haunted. But, we also lived our best life ordering champagne and the best food ever. The savory gorgonzola cheesecake makes its way into my dreams at least once a week.
I went in the winter, during January, and found more things to fall in love with.
I tasted crawfish for the first time and while I still freak the fuck out that they look like mini cockroaches, and I feel like they’re going to re-animate and come back to life every time I pick them up, they’re damn delicious. My favorite place for them is the Original French Market restaurant and bar on Decatur. In fact, they offer my definition of comfort food and one of my death row meals. Crawfish plate, crab legs, their creamy and generous portion of mac and cheese, and a tap beer.
I returned to the bayou, and came face to face with my long lost twin, seen below.
I found Frenchmen street, and my tastes are now such that I really prefer it to the madness of Bourbon Street. I heard a second line for the first time on Frenchmen, and it brought me to tears. The diversity of crowd it attracted, the hard work of the performers, people from all walks of life coming together to enjoy the music, these are the most magical moments of travel.
However, I was 25, and so a rendevouz down Bourbon Street seemed appropriate. We said we were just going to take a quick stroll and then…
I met the love of my life…the Central Grocery Muffaletta. Being Italian, this was always bound to happen. A huge delicious loaf of bread stuffed with all the meats and cheeses and olive tapenade…yes please.
I met a random restaurant owner on the street who knew my name without ever having met me and told me that angels told him to tell me that I have a blessed and protected life.
I ate approximately 9,234 beignets during both my January and July trip.
I whole heartedly enjoyed every second of jazz brunch at Antoine’s. Once of the oldest restaurants in the city.
After a few year hiatus, I took a trip last month with my cousin, Nina (who you remember from my Wales escapade.) This was my first girls trip after having a baby, and you could say I really let loose.
We got wigs, spread a gaudy amount of glitter on our bodies, caked on purple eye shadow, and became new people. Fifi Mahony’s on Royal Street is THE best place for wigs. They charge a five dollar capping fee, but it goes toward the purchase of a wig. We must have tried on a dozen, and the women who work there were incredibly patient and helpful.
We had a bougie French meal at Justine’s complete with champagne, a cheese plate,duck and oysters.
I had possibly the best meal of my life at Shaya, an incredible Israeli restaurant which if you follow what’s hot in the gastronomic world, tops the charts of New Orleans constantly. Shaya made cauliflower taste good. I couldn’t stop eating it. This is the kind of magic that this place creates, guys. The hummus had to have been made by gods. I can see no other way to understand the perfection of their hummus. Seriously…get on a plane and go there.
I tried the Cafe DuMonde in City Park and I risk my life by saying…the cafe mocha is so much better than the cafe au lait.
We visited New Orleans’ Arcadian book store where books are sold in both French and English. The works are piled high and you’re bound to find something (or someone) interesting. I’ve never been in a bilingual bookstore, but I think we need more of them.
In New Orleans through the years, I’ve always been content to just do the tourist thing each time I visit. But, locals keep saying that the best way to experience the city is through the many festivals that the Big Easy offers. Enter…mac and cheese fest! Live music and a multitude of different types of variations on the classic. Not to mention, a mac and cheese eating contest!
I’m a huge fan of AirBnB experiences. Here are some that I did during my trip in October:
Champagne Destiny Reading: I’ll be doing a separate write up for this entirely because it was so great, and linking it to this article once I get it done. Briefly, the experience starts with a bottle of bubbly (as every morning should) which was appropriate because the organizer, Mika, is so much fun and so full of life! She was down to earth and easy to talk to, she shared about her own background and how she became involved in the mystical practice of card reading and astrology. I will say, my reading was eerily accurate. The entire practice is based on birth dates. I’m now a believer!
Frenchmen Street Pub Crawl: I’ve been on Frenchmen Street, but never knew which clubs and music spots to dive into. Quay changed all of that for me. He was our guide on our big night out in the Marigny, a respected musician, and his mother used to sing back up for Aretha Franklin! He took us to several music spots throughout the night and timed everything perfectly so that we would always be listening to the best live music. We saw jazz, classic rock, blues, and even danced to Zydeco thanks to a lot of liquid courage. He led us to places I would never have known to visit, and we always had the best seats in the house! We even stopped at the Art Market to pick up some souvenirs. He really opened up my eyes, heart, and what’s left of my soul to the huge range of diversity in New Orleans music which makes the city so unique. I feel way too old to be partying on Bourbon street anymore, but there’s a new life for me and my antics, and that life is on Frenchmen Street with world class music!
Drag Queen Tour: It’s difficult to pick a favorite experience of my October trip to New Orleans, they were all outstanding. However, I might have to go with my drag queen tour! I try to pick the wackiest, most fun, most unique activities when I visit the city, I love all things drag, so this seemed like a great option. As a humanities teacher, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about the history of marginalized people. This tour was packed full of the history of people of color, the LGBTQ community, sex workers, and WOMEN! Quinn was our guide and she was so full of knowledge and humor, I was captivated from the get go. Quinn exudes a style of teaching which makes it impossible to forget the stories she tells. However, please don’t think this experience was anything like a boring history class! We learned about women who danced seductively with oysters on their bodies, the sex workers of Storyville and its history, violence, and all the raunchiness! I’m a proud ally of the LGBTQ community and so I loved learning about the struggles of the community, but also its history and how members of the community have overcome bigotry. I enjoyed learning about how women used their limited opportunities in the city to become entrepreneurs. It was inspiring, educational, and SO much damn fun!
Drunk and Haunted tour: New Orleans just does everything in such an incredible fashion, and this was no exception. The city is full of unbelievable story tellers and we were lucky enough to have one as our guide. I learned so much and after hearing about all of the stories truly felt the spirits of those who passed walking among us. Not in an eerie way, but a matter of fact way. In every location we went to, Nina was able to see green orbs on her phone! If you’re not a ghost nerd, orbs are said to be spirits floating around. I learned the real story of Marie Lauveu, and the heinous story of Madame LaLaurie, even visiting her old mansion. There is said to be so much residual energy there that people actually faint when visiting. I ran this past our tour guide, and she thinks they faint from drinking too much. I REALLY appreciated that she herself is a historian and only shared what was factual and did not fabricate for the sake of the tour. There were two stops on the tour which were opportunities to get drinks and the Pimm’s Cup I chose was a pretty boss move. The sky was a midnight blue, the white moon shone bright, the air had a crisp chill and rustled the leaves on the streets. Other tour groups walked excitedly from place to place like adult trick or treaters. Autumn was a perfect time to take this tour! I’ll be sharing more in a separate post!
I also got MY FIRST TATTOO! Shout out to Downtown Tattoos and Piercings who did such a phenomenal job. I came in with an embarrassingly gaudy and hideous idea for a tattoo, and they gave me suggestions and ideas which saved my foot from pretty much looking like a giant king cake. For their creativity, for their professionalism, for their great humor and conversation, I’m so thankful! In an ode to the city I love the most, I got a fleur dis lis.
New Orleans through the years has certainly changed. When I first visited, it was still legal to smoke in bars! That’s mostly a thing of the past. When I first visited, I was mainly interested in the drinking and partying scene, as any proper 23 year old should be. Nowadays, I try to visit at least once a year for different reasons. The cocktails will always be an integral part of my experience, but I also love the history, music, and culture. It will be interesting to see what experiences I have in November going with my husband, parents, and 6 month old baby. Talk about a change! Any ideas on what to do when I visit for Thanksgiving? Let me know in the comments!