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The Big Easy

by Richard Mason | February 14, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.

Vertis and I are hunkered down, staying away from crowds and wearing masks. Of course the pandemic has also shut down our traveling, and when we sit around and talk, it’s usually about where to go after we escape the virus. Several trips always pop up in the conversation: We’re going to Dallas next month, after our second Moderna shot, and I’m going to a trade show in Houston in Mid-August. I hope by then, the damn pandemic will be over.

In those where to go conversations, New Orleans always seems to come up. Of course, we haven’t even considered going there during the year while the virus is raging. Early in the pandemic it was one of the first epicenters. I know of three individuals in El Dorado who came down with the virus, and they have one thing in common; they attended Mardi Gras. Well, I’ve been to Mardi Gras, and if you want to envision a super spreader event, imagine going to Mardi Gras. It’s a lot of fun, but close contact is almost mandatory.

But why do Vertis and I like New Orleans? Well, Vertis couldn’t even legally order a glass of wine when we headed there on our first trip down south. We were on our honeymoon, and the attraction of going to New Orleans seemed to be the best available destination. Since that 60s trip, we have been back numerous times, and although we have moved up a notch or two since the eight dollar a night motel and Crystal hamburgers, we still relish the special New Orleans atmosphere.

I think southerners go to New Orleans because it is a getaway from the south. With its mix of cultures and history along with the combination of remarkable food, it creates a different atmosphere than the rest of the south.That makes it the perfect southern vacation and honeymoon spot.

Bourbon Street isn’t as naughty as it was in the 60s, but it hasn’t lost its special flavor.

Of course, we usually head straight for Bourbon Street when we arrive, but not to hit a bar with scantily clad waitresses. No, we’re heading for Galitories. I know there are plenty of other great restaurants in the city, and we will end up going to a number of them during our stay. But Galitories, with its fresh seafood, is always our first choice. When there’s not a pandemic raging, it’s a little crowded, and we know not to go on Friday afternoon, since frequently a junior law clerk has been sent down earlier to hold a table for ten. Someone in the firm is celebrating a birthday, and you don’t want to be part of the celebration.

We usually order Oysters Rockefeller and pompano, which I think is the best fish in the Gulf, and living in Corpus Christi, working on an offshore rig, and a frequent visitor to New Orleans, I think I know something about Gulf fish. I would rank the Gulf’s fish is this order: pompano #1, sautéed with crab meat on top; redfish # 2; and a whole broiled 14-16 inch flounder #3.

Of course, in a city with dozens of great restaurants, it hard to have a bad meal. Poor or ordinary restaurants can’t stay open because of the competition from some of the best restaurants in the country. New Orleans is a lot more than an eat and drink town; however, that is high on our list of things to do because of the great restaurants.

Emeril’s is just a short walk from the Windsor Court Hotel, where we stay, and just down Canal Street is our usual stop at the Palace Restaurant for lunch, and for a breakfast splurge, when we’re leaving town, we have breakfast at Brennan’s. Of course, several notches down in price is Mother’s for a hearty breakfast. It actually gets a four star review. Another top spot for a Gulf specialty is the Hilton Hotel where the restaurant serves mouth-watering charcoal broiled oysters on the half shell. Or hold onto your pocketbook and splurge at Nola, which is close to the top of the mark in New Orleans restaurants, or try Commanders Palace or August, which is across the street from our hotel. They both rival Nola in quality and price.

There are plenty of great hotels, and if you want to stay near the French Quarter, I would recommend the Royal Orleans or the Audubon Cottages. If you want to get a taste of old New Orleans, stay in the Audubon Cottages. We have stayed there and it’s just a couple of block from the Quarter. There are a lot of other excellent hotels in the French Quarter, but we like to stay easy walking distance at the Windsor Court Hotel. It is a little further away from what can be nonstop racket from the Quarter. Good rooms, the best lobby in town, and their Polo Lounge is the perfect place to get away from it all and listen to some good jazz. Or stay at the old Roosevelt Hotel, which has the top bar in town, the always crowded Sazerac Bar.

Of course music is everywhere in New Orleans. Street musicians and numerous bars in the Quarter will always have live music. However, over the last few years, a lot of the music scene has shifted to Frenchman Street.There are 20-plus live music bars within two blocks. The Blue Nile and The Spotted Cat are two of the most popular, but if you want a smaller venue try The Apple Barrel. But don’t take your kids to Bourbon or Frenchman Street. They are an adult playground streets, and believe me even adults can have theft problem there especially during Mardi Gras. I know of a prominent El Dorado gentlemen who came up missing a wallet during Mardi Gras.

However, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention John James Audubon. It seems every other attraction is named after him. He lived in New Orleans for nine years and painted more of his famous Birds of America in Louisiana than anywhere else.

If you have kids with you there are plenty of other things to do beside eating and drinking. I would especially recommend the Audubon Park Zoo. The setting is breathtaking, and just the ambiance created by the massive live oaks makes a trip there worthwhile. Or just take them to the Audubon Insecticide on Canal Street, and be sure and let them ride a street car. Of course there are tours galore: Plantation, Ghost, Riverboat and Swamp, to name a few. Other great venues include the World War II Museum, the Audubon Aquarium, and the Butterfly Garden.

Yes, I will admit, I like life here in El Dorado, where it’s quiet and peaceful, but quiet and peaceful can get really old especially during a mask-wearing non-socializing pandemic. Going to New Orleans is sure a get away from it all, and yes, just as soon as we can, we’re heading south, and five and a half hours later we’ll roll into New Orleans.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]

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