Pat Garin. Courtesy of New Orleans CVB
If you’re planning on investing in real estate in New Orleans, act like a local and be sure to get something with an extra room. You’re going to need a place to put all of those costumes.
Known as the Festival Capital of the World, there is literally at least one festival every month of the year, and more often than not, several to choose from. Why choose? There’s no reason to sit at home when you can watch a swarm of men run down the street in red dresses in August or compare wig heights among multiple Marie Antoinettes during the Bastille Day Fete.
There are food festivals and cultural festivals, music festivals and literary festivals, neighborhood festivals and even a po-boy festival, as well as a festival to celebrate that favorite summertime vestment, white linen. The holiday season is no exception — although it’s hard not to call any time of year the holiday season in the Big Easy!
New Orleans has been a well-known gastronomic capital for decades, so putting together the Christmas season and special meals as a citywide celebration is a no-brainer, and it comes in the form of the Reveillon dinners. Reveillon meals started in the 1800s when families would come home from fasting for midnight mass on Christmas Eve and eat elaborate feasts, usually at about 2 a.m. This tradition was revived in the 1990s, particularly by the restaurant scene, and now more than 50 restaurants around town and beyond offer prix fixe, multi-course holiday menus. Visit holiday.neworleansonline.com to find which restaurants are participating, what they’re serving, how to make reservations, and more. (This is also a good website for all things Christmas in New Orleans.)
Running of the Santas and Pub Crawl
In its sixth year, the Running of the Santas Festival and Pub Crawl will be held Saturday, December 17th, where thousands of costumed merrymakers will take to the streets in the Warehouse District. The 21+ party kicks off at 2 p.m. at the “South Pole” (Manning’s, 519 Fulton Street), where participants will gather for food and specialty drinks before taking off at 6 p.m. for a four-block jaunt to the “North Pole” (Generations Hall, 310 Andrew Higgins Drive). Spectators will see variations of Santa, Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, Scrooge, and other holiday characters. Prizes for the most creative costumes will be awarded. Visit runningofthesantas.com/new-orleans for more info.
On the Sunday before Christmas, you can find a sea of candles held by carolers, professional and non, in Jackson Square for a tradition that has pretty much exceeded capacity, and anyone is welcome to attend. Sheet music is usually provided. And on Christmas Eve, just in case Papa Noël (Santa Claus, Cajun style) doesn’t catch City Park and its infinitude of lights, locals prepare large wooden bonfire structures along the Mississippi River levee, sometimes in the shapes of cabins or steamboats, and set them on fire while passing around bowls of gumbo among friends and family. You might want to bring your own snacks if you weren’t formally invited, but everyone is generally friendly.
There are home tours and shopping and concerts in St. Louis Cathedral and St. Augustine Cathedral. The NOLA ChristmasFest includes an indoor skating rink in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a maze, a carousel, and other carnival rides, and many other activities including crafts, famous Christmas characters, and life-size inflatables, from December 16th to the 30th. Check out nolachristmasfest.com for more details.
As far as where to stay, the choices are well nigh endless. There’s the 1886-built, Beaux Arts institution Hotel Monteleone, complete with its carousel-like rotating bar in the lobby, literary heritage, and French Quarter digs. The Waldorf Astoria Roosevelt Hotel was built in 1893 and renovated in 2009 and boasts the John Besh (Cochon, Peche, and Luke) eatery, Domenica, along with a spa and an exquisite rooftop pool. Holiday activities include the kid-friendly Teddy Bear Tea and Christmas Day brunch in the ballroom.
Le Pavillon in the CBD (the French Quarter’s hip neighbor and the arts district of New Orleans) has a grand, white exterior with an Old-World porte-cochère that is no shrinking violet, and that goes for the inside as well. And they have a tradition of serving gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every night that somehow makes you feel like you’re in an old Hollywood movie.
I stayed in the Audubon Cottages in the Quarter for Endymion Ball a few years back, and I can’t recommend it enough. This quite literal hidden gem in the Quarter usually makes it on any “Top Five” list, and word has it, it is an Oprah favorite. It features seven one- and two-bedroom suites surrounding an outdoor, heated salt pool, with complimentary breakfast in the pool room.
And with so such an international flair, and all these creative people, most Airbnb choices will be good ones. Just keep in mind the unusual home architecture of the area many times involves going through people’s bedrooms to get to the kitchen, but that’s just part of the New Orleans experience.