New Orleans is one of those rare places that lives up to its well-deserved hype. In fact, it’s pretty much everything you want it to be—a Southern Gothic stew made up of equal parts jazz, crayfish, beignets, and dive bars, plus the occasional testosteroney whiff of a Stanley Kowalski doppelganger. And it’s easy to corner that heady mix.
The epicenter of the old-school party-time New Orleans remains the French Quarter, where Galatoires still offers a genuine slice of codified NOLA culture (etouffee, men in seersucker, ladies in fancy hats, Tennessee Williams’ favorite table) and everyone comes strung with mardi gras beads.
But if you want something more than the familiar New Orleans you can find that too, in a recently reimagined NOLA. The emerging Warehouse District—an easy ten-minute walk from the din of The French Quarter but a parallel universe—is really a whole new city, a kind of updated Cajun goes boho reinvention, complete with a hipper class of drunk and a determinedly urbane vibe. How does one squeeze the most from a weekend in the neighborhood?
Left: Exterior of the Ace Hotel New Orleans (Photo by Tim Black). Top right: Standard guest room at Ace Hotel New Orleans. Bottom right: Standard guest bathroom at Ace Hotel New Orleans (Photos by Simon Watson).
In a town that has largely played it safe with hotels, the Ace Hotel New Orleans, which opened with a big bang in 2016, really personifies everything that distinguishes the Warehouse District from the traditional NOLA. The Art Deco hotel’s ground floor lounge lobby and bar are worth the stay alone; jammed with beards and panama hats, they resemble the midnight flight to Ibiza. There is a rooftop garden pool and bar, a 24-hour gym, and a ground-floor performance space featuring a manic entertainment calendar (everything from an inscrutable list of single-name DJs, updated jazz and samba funk performances, and a cabaret series). And then there are the signature Ace-patented guestrooms. What to expect? If you threw every fairly recent trend (artisanal, industrial, steam punk, Americana) in a blender, took it out, and blended it again, the Ace guestroom would pop out—a butch brooding room accented with a guitar, a signature turntable and curated vinyl records, a black leather couch, a Smeg fridge, and some paintings that even outsider artists would consider too outsider.
A symbol of how a single hotel can invigorate a whole city block, the Ace is surrounded by Park Slope meets NOLA boutiques. Running down the block you’ll find: Friend men’s boutique (leather loafers; canvas coats; Gitman vintage shirts); Freda women’s boutique (pom pom baskets); and the inevitable (why?) hip barber shop.
Left: Dining room at Seaworthy. Right: Bar at Seaworthy.
Down the street from Ace (yeah we haven’t even gone a whole block yet) is Seaworthy, a moody oyster bar (also lobster rolls). Even closer to home—right off of Ace’s lobby—is Josephine Estelle, a sprawling Italo-Cajun restaurant dishing up both country ham with cornbread and a bucatini amatriciana. And a short walk away (finally) is Emeril Lagasse’s new Meril, which takes things to a whole new level of border-jumping Lagasse excess (fried rock shrimp tacos; Korean short ribs; boudin tamales). For dessert: a loopy chocolate peanut butter banana cream pie that is the best response yet to all those locavore plops of nothing passing for pastry everywhere else.
Granted, a few days in the Warehouse District can pale, and the best night out from all those DJs is an easy call. Start at the James Beard anointed Shaya, Alon Shaya’s modern Israeli kitchen. And then end up back in the French Quarter at the Corner Pocket. The closest thing to a John Waters’ outtake, the Pocket features southern boys dancing on the bar and lots of tea-bagging. Someone could easily make the case that it’s a study in classist oppression but everyone seems to be having lots of fun.