The exterior of a two-story corner building of a street in New Orleans, which is named Elysian Fields and runs between the L&N tracks and the river. The section is poor but, unlike corresponding sections in other American cities, it has a raffish charm.
So begins “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams.
Seventy years later at the exact address of Stella and Stanley Kowalski is where a New Orleans adventure begins for me. A Bicycle Named Desire and I.J. Reilly’s Knick Knack and Curiosities now occupy the house at 632 Elysian Fields and is home to bike rentals and tours and a menagerie of locally-made art and products.
In addition to the beach cruiser that I rented to take me all over the city, the shop rents tandem bikes, children’s bikes and baby seats, and outfits riders with maps, bike routes, helmets, locks, a wire basket, lights and a bell. I am well-equipped and ready to explore this amazing city, home of Bourbon Street, birthplace of jazz, and my escape from the Kentucky Derby: the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
I am trading in one track this year for another, as Jazz Fest is held around the track at the New Orleans Fairgrounds just minutes outside the French Quarter. Jazz Fest is two music-filled weekends beginning April 28 and lasting through May 7. New Orleans is host to every music lover’s dream with local musicians and internationally-renowned artists in jazz, rock, blues, zydeco, gospel, blues, R&B, latin, folk, Caribbean and Cuban music. This years lineup includes Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, Maroon 5, Lorde, Snoop Dogg, Earth, Wind and Fire, Patti Labelle, the Dirty Dozen brass band, the New Orleans Classic R&B review and hundreds of other artists. in addition to music, Jazz Fest brings together local handmade artists and craftspeople, the Congo Square African Marketplace, Cultural Exchange Pavilion welcoming Cuba to Jazz Fest
and amazing new orleans, Cuban and African Food.
There is a Jazz Fest App that allows you to personalize your experience. There is parking on-site, but the best way to get to and from the fairgrounds is by Uber or bicycle.
Tickets are $70 a day in advance/$80 at the gate and more information can be found on the website, www.nojazzfest.com
Attempting to guide someone to the charms of New Orleans would take volumes. This city is an explorer’s heaven and, luckily, she never sleeps. I have been in love since my first visit in college over 25 years ago. It’s the place I had chargrilled oysters for the first time, got a taste for deliciously nutty chicory coffee, saw my first drag show in a bar in the quarter and still as often as I go back, new experiences arise in the Crescent City.
New Orleans is one of the best places in the country to be a tourist, and tours present themselves at every turn, whether you’re into ghosts and vampires, architecture, history, pirates and plantations or swamps. The food is unique to the area, spicy cajun alligator or crawfish served in famous restaurants as well as some of the most delicious po-boys in the back of a tiny convenient store. Some of my favorite spots are not on any tourist map and some I have happened upon by accident.
It is tradition with my group of friends, after picking up the bikes, to make our first stop Organic Banana in the French Market. You will come across many a boozy, slushy-selling bar in the French Quarter, but once you have a Flaming Monkey from the Organic Banana, you will swear off the cheap imitations. The Flaming Monkey is 151 Bacardi, Irish Cream, banana and coconut cream. Non-alcoholic smoothies are available as well but all drinks are made with real, organic fruits and juices, and since we are on bikes, virgins all around this visit.
French Market 1100 N Peters St. #27
The past couple of years has seen the opening of Crescent Park and the Lafitte Greenway, as well as dedicated bicycle paths throughout the city. We rode our bikes through the quarter, into the Marigny, past Cake Cafe, home of a delicious king cake and site of my oﬃcial engagement and into the bywater, to the entrance of the Crescent Park. The 20 acre urban linear park along the banks of the river offers spectacular views of the city, public art, native landscaping and pedestrian and bike paths. The Lafitte Greenway begins just at the edge of the quarter and is over two miles of paved path along the city’s most historic transportation corridors. Originally people traveled by canal, then train and now tree lined bike and pedestrian paths all lead to City Park. Biking is definitely the easiest way to get to Jazz Fest. There is bicycle parking with overnight security in case we need to leave bicycles. With our Jazz Fest route secure, brunch is our next top priority.
Sometimes it is hard finding something everyone can agree on for food. St. roch Market is a southern food hall and craft cocktail bar with history as a market going back to 1838. After falling in disrepair sitting empty for years following Katrina, the market has returned as a multi-vendor market and bar. Street food, coffee shop, pastries and juice bar, Haitian, Mexican and Japanese, oyster bar, organic vegetarian and southern barbecue all under one roof, we were sure to spend an hour making a decision, and surely find something for everyone. I found my brunch at Juice nola. My avocado toast was semolina bread, mashed avocado, lemon juice, sea salt, chili flakes, egg and cherry tomato to start. I finished my meal off with the Morning bowl of quinoa, black beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado, pumpkin seeds, cotija cheese, a sunny side up egg and avocado dressing. I apparently had pedaled up quite an appetite.
ST ROCH MARKET
2381 St. Claude Ave 504-609-3813
The French Quarter is definitely a must see, though it can be tricky to navigate through crowds of people and cars by bike. We like to stick to exploring neighborhoods on two wheels and the quarter by foot. The Marigny and bywater offer breathtaking public murals, Dr. bob’s Art gallery, famous for the tag line “BE NICE OR LEAVE”, and haunting X-codes or Katrina “crosses” still on some houses and buildings in spray paint and some turned into iron sculptures. The crosses identified rescue workers, time and date and survivors or the dead. the grand houses of the garden District and restaurants and shops along Magazine Street, through neighborhoods and parks, exploring in the big Easy is a feast for the eyes. You could wait in an hour long line for beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde in the quarter, but my exploring in the found a great coffee shop without the wait. I am an admitted fan of chicory coffee, and so glad I can pick up a can at Kroger at home, but Hi Volt Coffee in the lower garden District has me hooked. they have a Cola Cocktail on the menu. Mexican Coke, shot of espresso and vanilla over ice gives me just the sugary, caffeinated jolt of energy we need to get us back to the quarter before dark.
HI VOLT COFFEE
1829 Sophie Wright Place
We lock up the bikes and hoof it through the quarter stopping to look at wigs at Fifi Mahoney’s, stumble upon a vampire themed gift shop, peruse the artists at the Second Line Art and Antiques and end up at Lafitte’s blacksmith Shop. Lafitte’s was built between 1722 and 1732 and is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the united States. The bar feels old, mainly lit by candle light, dark and crumbling, mysterious with the spirits of murderous pirates perhaps. The only non three hundred year old thing in the bar is the purple drink, one of the only other acceptable boozy slushies in the quarter. I used to down my drink when the group is ready to go, forgetting that in new orleans, everything is in a to go cup, and downing purple slushy leads to brain freeze, but this time, slushy in hand we head back home to our hostess for some sage advice for Derby escapees coming to Jazz Fest.
LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP
941 Bourbon St.
Our amazing hostess and friend, Kim Smith was put on the spot as I asked her some questions about a trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest.
Q. What is your number one tip for anyone visiting for Jazz Fest?
A. Most people don’t realize Jazz Fest ends at 7pm at night so attendees can get out into the city and see jazz in clubs and music venues. You get to see music up close in some of the same places jazz was born. Also bike to Jazz Fest.
Q. What is the best tourist spot that should be on everyones list?
A. Just wander around the French Quarter, Jackson Square artists, ghost tours. Avoid Bourbon Street. If it’s your first time, you should go to Bourbon Street, but only for an hour or so then explore the streets around it. Also the swamp tours are pretty amazing, where else can you see hundreds of alligators swimming around?
Q. Best non-tourist spot in town?
A. Anything not in the Quarter. Frenchman Street, biking along the levee, Bacchanal in the Bywater, City Park.
Q.The number one thing as a tourist one should NEVER do?
A. Drink a hand grenade, spend all your visit on Bourbon Street, stand in line for beignets, refer to New Orleans as N’Awlins.
Q. Best cocktail in town?
A. Cane and Table has an amazing tiki inspired cocktail list and Victory Bar in the CBD makes a spicy drink called So Pho-cking Good and it is! Our trip to New Orlean for Jazz Fest is sure to end on a cheerier note than A Streetcar Named Desire. While we will miss the fun and festive atmosphere of home around Derby-time, the charms and music of this southern city will keep us happily entertained.