To live in New Orleans is to give in to tradition, to ritual, to ceremony, to routine and, sometimes, to cliché. This is a city built on a unique history and the culture that pours from it, and one by extension that helped make it one of the most popular destination cities in the world. And so we’ve had guidebooks written about us; we’ve had campaigns compelling us to “be a tourist in your own hometown.”
We know the obvious rituals of living in a city we’re forced to share with others. We know about Mardi Gras. We know about Jazz Fest. We know about the French Quarter and we certainly know about Bourbon Street. But over the past decade, which coincides not by accident with the much-chronicled post-Katrina era, New Orleans has established new traditions, new rituals, new ceremonies and new routines. As New Orleans Magazine celebrates its 50th anniversary, it does so by trying to capture those things that are sometimes a little out of the ordinary, but invaluable nevertheless.
Find serenity at The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
Diboll Circle, 658-4100, NOMA.org/sculpture-garden/
As City Park has become what amounts to an increasingly bustling green space, peace still reigns inside this sculpture garden that’s only 13 years old. But under the spread of 64 soothing works dotted among the live oak, pine and magnolia trees, history reigns. No wonder they like to host free yoga here.
Dance to Geno Delafose on Cajun, Zydeco & Swamp Pop Night at Rock ‘n’ Bowl (monthly)
John Blancher’s shrine to Louisiana music has no better preacher than Zydeco fireball Geno Delafose, son of the legendary John Delafose and his backing band French Rockin’ Boogie. And that’s what fans do. They boogie, when they’re not bowling, at one of Delafose’s monthly appearances, usually on the third Thursday of the month.
Enter a Duck in the Rubber Duck Derby
More than 20,000 rubber ducks make their way into the Big Lake of City Park in the summer (late May or early June) to participate in a race for a cause: supporting the Second Harvest Food Bank. Fans can support the cause by “backing” or “adopting” a duck for a $5 donation. (The fact that they’re all wearing shades makes it all the more endearing, especially given the actual speed at which these ducks are “cruising.”)
Watch the “Greasing of the Poles” before Carnival at the Royal Sonesta
300 Bourbon St., 586-0300, Sonesta.com/us/louisiana/new-orleans/royal-sonesta-new-orleans
This nearly five-decade-old tradition began innocently enough – by greasing balconies and other poles in the French Quarter on the Friday of the second weekend of Carnival, revelers were prevented from getting too rowdy on Mardi Gras Day by scampering up to Vieux Carré balconies. Now it’s an “event,” complete with celebrity judges and contestants (often represented by some of the burlesque community’s brightest stars) turning the greasing into a pretty hot activity.
Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo (May)
A festival so popular it threatens to become a victim of its success, the Bayou Boogaloo rose from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina to help celebrate a previously underappreciated area of the city – with stages and vendors set up along a bayou filled with revelers squatting in kayaks, canoes, inner tubes, inflatable rafts and other floatables. The 2016 version became controversial as organizers and neighbors battled over a fence organizers argued would help keep the festival free; regardless the event still drew nearly 40,000 fans.
Line up for a beignet and café au lait at Morning Call in City Park
City Park, 300-1157, NewOrleansCityPark.com/in-the-park/Morning-Call
Sometimes it feels like every visitor asks their host for directions to Café du Monde for a beignet and a café au lait – even if it means waiting in line for a half hour in the blazing morning heat. Which is totally fine; it’s a tradition. But ever since Morning Call opened in City Park, locals have made it their go-to spot – whether to take their order with them to watch their kids feed the ducks in the nearby Great Lake or sit in the cool shade.
Compete in the Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest at the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival
It has become the stuff of almost annual national TV news coverage: On the upriver side of Jackson Square, down on the pavement, aspiring Stanleys and Stellas tear at their T-shirts and scream at the top of their lungs to the judges perched on the balcony above, the iconic scream from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. (Take it from someone who’s been there; it can cause serious vocal-chord damage if done improperly.) But it remains one of the greatest capstones to the annual tradition of the literary festival that celebrates one of the world's greatest playwrights.
Get spanked by a Big Easy Rollergirl while joining The Running of the Bulls (July)
This event, held throughout the Warehouse District, comes directly inspired by The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. The festival has a distinctly New Orleans flavor to it, led by the Big Easy Rollergirls roller-derby squad and hundreds of others wielding plastic bats used to thwack runners in front of a crowd of as many as 20,000. Organized by the group San Fermin in Nueva Orleans, the festival serves as a fundraiser for local charities.
Run and Revel in the Running of the Santas
Perhaps New Orleans always has been a drinking city with a running problem, so to speak. But the Running of the Santas – one of a few plays on the Running of the Bulls tradition in Pamplona, Spain – has solidified the silly notion of tippling in motion. Each holiday season – usually in December throughout the CBD – hundreds of male and female Santas help create a festival mob of thousands in the downtown area for a seven-block pub crawl and festival.
See Trixie Minx and the Fleur de Tease burlesque show at One Eyed Jacks (Monthly)
In a city that has transcended its traditional striptease roots, burlesque producer and performer Trixie Minx has created a burlesque vaudeville review, a show that includes dancers, comics, magicians, aerialists and more, all working together to create a new and elaborately themed show each month. The twin sets invariably sell out yet always remain intimate, hilarious and ornate affairs.
Ride a boat in the Krewe of Kolossos “Bayou Flotilla” (Fourth of July)
One of the myriad Mardi Gras sub-krewes that has sprung up since Hurricane Katrina, the Krewe of Kolossos – “A Conscientious Collection of the Carnivalesque” – always loves to shine on the bayou. Every Fourth of July, floating creations make their way down Bayou St. John, sporting such crafted riders as giraffes and creatively redesigned U.S. flags. It has become the bohemian answer to the more outsized gathering for the annual fireworks display along the Mississippi River.
Go see the Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf (Tuesdays)
Sooner or later, just about every college student in New Orleans goes through the rite of passage that has become the most famous night for brass band music in the city of New Orleans. The Grammy Award-winning Rebirth has held down this spot since 1990, debuting such classics as “Do Whatcha Wanna,” “Let Me Do My Thing” and “Casanova.”
Enjoy burlesque, circus arts and sideshow at the annual Snake Oil Festival (June)
New Orleans’ cabaret culture has expanded beyond drag and burlesque and into the circus arts and circus sideshow acts that once made vaudeville and carnivals the definition of Americana, co-producers Ben Wisdom and Little Luna have created the Biggest Top in New Orleans with this three-ring – well, three-night – circus affair featuring local and touring performers. More than 1,000 attendees showed for the 2015 premiere, and the crowd grew in ’16, promising to make this sideshow an annual tradition.
Dance on the pool table after midnight at F&M Patio Bar
4841 Tchoupitoulas St., 895-6784, FandMPatioBar.com
During an interview about her post-Mardi Gras ball plans, a recent debutante let slip she and her friends were going to unwind at F&M Patio Bar that evening – a testament to how legendary a late-night hang the Tchoupitoulas Street dive has become for college students (and die-hard alumni) over the decades. It is almost mandatory to wind up dancing atop a pool table to seal the tradition.
Dance to Kermit Ruffins at Bullet’s Sports Bar (Thursdays)
2441 A P Tureaud Ave., 669-4464
Even though one of New Orleans’ most popular entertainers likes to start performing a little earlier than he used to, locals and in-the-know visitors are happy to hit the 7th Ward for a post-sunset show if it means squeezing in next to one another to watch the trumpeter and vocalist hold court on Thursdays at this mainstay. Plus, you never know who might join him on stage, including the lovely and talented vocalist Nayo Jones.
March with a legend in the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade (April)
We chose the Easter Parade because everyone is wearing their Sunday best for this seasonal parade featuring the legendary New Orleans entertainer, but who are we kidding? It is also fun to pop in and catch (and often dance with) Chris Owens inside her famous Bourbon Street nightclub.
Disrobe and ride in the World Naked Bike Ride in the French Quarter (June)
We aren’t sure which is more fun: the idea of dressing down and hopping on a bicycle to ride au natural through the French Quarter with hundreds of others, or watching local newspaper and magazine photographers shoot and select photos appropriate enough for publication. (It often takes some strategically placed handlebars, believe us.) Needless to say, it’s also a spectator sport.
Pedal your way around the Big Lake in City Park
Big Lake Trail, City Park, 300-1289, WheelFunRentals.com/Locations/New-Orleans-2
It is a little more difficult than it looks, at least at first, but there are few more romantic ways to enjoy City Park at sunset than to tool around in a Double Pedal Boat with a loved one, taking in the entire expanse of the Big Lake.
Sip on a Sazerac at the Sazerac Bar inside the Roosevelt Hotel
130 Roosevelt Way, 648-1200, TheRooseveltNewOrleans.com/dining/the-sazerac-bar.html
If the Sazerac is New Orleans' most iconic drink for cocktail connoisseurs, then maybe the Sazerac Bar inside the Roosevelt Hotel is the most appropriate place to give it that deliberately slow sip. (Others could make a strong case for the Carousel Bar; see below.) There is something warm and inviting about that room, with its Paul Ninas mural and formally attired bartenders, pouring cocktails using the signature Sazerac Rye.
Play Drag Bingo at Oz New Orleans or AllWays Lounge
There are few goofier New Orleans nightlife traditions than “Drag Bingo,” popularized over a decade ago by the now-nationally known queen, Bianca Del Rio, and currently plied by such spitfires as Persana Shoulders on Sundays at Oz New Orleans in the French Quarter and Hannibelle Spector on Thursdays at the AllWays Lounge down on St. Claude Avenue. There is nothing like trying to hit the jackpot with these two cracking wise.
Take a NOLA Brewery tour
3001 Tchoupitoulas St., 896-9996, NolaBrewing.com
Louisiana has joined the rest of the world’s obsession with craft beer and, with New Orleans leading the way, NOLA Brewery has become a major player in the local industry. NOLA Brewery’s tours not only show beer drinkers how it’s done, but guests also can enjoy food from the recently relocated McClure’s Barbecue.
Cool off with a frozen Irish coffee at Molly’s at the Market on Decatur Street
1107 Decatur St., 525-5169, MollysAtTheMarket.net
It is served as the tippling spot for artists, writers and journalists – the latter of whom often serve as “celebrity bartenders” and, in more recent years, supportive wakes after being laid off by The Times-Picayune. (It has been a tough decade for the ink-stained wretches.) But whether you’re part of The Creative Class, a stumbling, fumbling tourist or a gutter punk, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as the frozen Irish coffee that oozes out from that dispenser at the back end of the bar. Especially in the summer.
Look for Mardi Gras Indians at Second and Dryades streets on Mardi Gras Day
On the greatest morning for the city of New Orleans, hundreds of thousands or residents and tourists flock to streets such as St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, hoping to catch beads from Rex or a coconut from Zulu. For some Carnival die-hards, the true Mardi Gras morning ritual is looking out for Mardi Gras Indians from tribes across the city – but most notably at that historic Central City intersection of Second and Dryades streets. It is a chance to see the latest “new suit” from the Big Chiefs and soak in a tradition that up until recently was an underappreciated gem.
Revisit the golden era of Bourbon Street burlesque with Bustout Burlesque (Monthly)
Nearly 20 years ago, historian and filmmaker Rick Delaup seized on the need to honor the heyday of New Orleans burlesque that dominated the French Quarter back in the 1940s and ’50s, documenting the burlesque revival that began in the late ’90s and has since blossomed. Delaup, who also produces the popular New Orleans Burlesque Festival, is a stickler for traditional detail.
“HUSTLE” to the deep funk spun by DJ Soul Sister at the Hi-Ho Lounge (Saturdays)
For years Melissa Weber, aka DJ Soul Sister, toiled in relative obscurity spinning almost as obscure funk and soul music on her Saturday-night “Soul Power” radio show on WWOZ, followed by a live version later that night at Mimi’s in the Marigny. Now she’s a bona fide New Orleans funk star without touching an instrument – unless the needle counts. Her show at the Hi-Ho Lounge has drawn no less a star as part-time New Orleanian Solange Knowles (on her wedding weekend, no less) as fans sweat the night away to rare grooves and familiar tunes.
Take on the chess king in the red beret, Jude Acers, in the French Quarter
He once duked it out with Bobby Fischer. Now Jude Acers, one of the greatest chess players in the world, can be found down on Decatur Street taking on all comers for $5 a game or $200 for a two-hour lesson if you have the passion and the patience. Acers has held records in the Guinness Book of World Records for handling the most simultaneous chess games, and in a city filled with idiosyncratic characters he’s easily one of its most accomplished.
Pose as a model at Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School (monthly)
Part of a now-international syndicate, Dr. Sketchy is one-part art workshop and one-part performance art as models pose for aspiring artists in what’s often referred to as “life draw” and includes performers from the burlesque community. The current home, United Bakery Gallery, features a fair amount of cocktails and can be quite interactive, with some artists becoming the canvas.
Enjoy a cocktail with a view at the La Riviera rooftop bar at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel
621 St. Louis St., 529-5333, OmniHotels.com/hotels/new-orleans-royal-orleans/dining/la-riviera
Increasingly, New Orleanians have found creative ways to beat the heat as early as March and as late as October with a visit to La Riviera – and, gratefully, they have to be tourists to do so. La Riviera boasts of being a “delightful oasis” with beverages and light meals available at its rooftop bar. No one’s complaining.
Parade with the Mardi Gras Indians on Super Sunday (March)
If Mardi Gras Day is too loaded down with the amazing and historic parades by Rex and Zulu, fans of Mardi Gras Indians are fine to be patient and wait for the historic Super Sunday gathering of Mardi Gras Indian tribes traditionally scheduled on the third Sunday of March, around St. Joseph’s Day. A.L. Davis Park, at the intersection of Washington and LaSalle streets in Central City, serves as the gathering spot for tribes under the auspices of the Mardi Gras Indian Council to show off those pretty suits.
Learn the art of the tease from Bella Blue at the New Orleans School of Burlesque
New Orleans Healing Center, 2372 St. Claude Ave., Suite 256, 912-1734, NolaSchoolOfBurlesque.com
Whether it’s to become the next Blaze Starr, enjoy a lark with a bachelorette party or simply enjoy some female empowerment, burlesque producer and performer Bella Blue has transformed the New Orleans School of Burlesque into one-part incubator, one-part party stop and one-part source of education. Workshops include everything from working with a chair and ballet (that’s right, ballet) to hula-hooping and bounce dancing.
Relax with weekly yoga in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at City Park
Diboll Circle, 658-4100, NOMA.org/event/yoga-in-the-sculpture-garden
Yoga should be, at its best, a meditative affair, and while there has been a proliferation of quality yoga studios across the Crescent City, there are few more soothing (and meditative) spaces than the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden off to the side of the New Orleans Museum of Art. (Note: Sometime pilates is also offered and, in keeping with its partnership with the East Jefferson Wellness Center, NOMA offers tai chi courses at 6 p.m. Mondays in select art galleries.)
Enjoy some of the finest brown liquor with the New Orleans Bourbon Society at the Bourbon House
144 Bourbon St., 522-0111, BourbonHouse.com/new_orleans_bourbon_society
Yes, you can find some of the best of the best in brown liquor at The Avenue Pub and also at hotshot newcomer Barrel Proof. But why not join the club and make it a regular habit with the New Orleans Bourbon Society that meets (appropriately enough) at the Bourbon House at the corner of Bourbon and Iberville streets. Membership has its privileges, including the inside scoop on bourbon-related events, such seminars with master distillers, dinners, cocktail parties and more.
Play hooky from work for an entire Friday afternoon with lunch at Dooky Chase’s
2301 Orleans Ave., 821-0600, DookyChaseRestaurant.com
While the bluebloods enjoy life in the upper crust at Galatoire’s, over in the Tremé folks line up around the block for the doors of Dooky Chase’s to swing open at 11 a.m., ready to pounce on an old-fashioned buffet line featuring Leah Chase’s world-famous Creole cuisine. But it’s almost impossible to escape without sampling a piece or two of the award-winning fried chicken, and, if folks are patient enough, the 93-year-old Chase often comes out from the kitchen to greet diners.
Laugh and be confused all at once at Cecile Monteyne’s “You Don’t Know the Half of It” sketch comedy show (Quarterly)
New Orleans has quietly (OK, riotously) become one of the most popular cities in the United States for improv comedy, due in large part to the talent being churned out by The New Movement. From this well sprang Cecile Monteyne’s clever conceit: recruiting New Orleans writers to supply scripts for skits and giving half of them to one set of partners and nothing but guesswork to their respective improv partners. This quarterly show’s become so popular it’s graduated from Café Istanbul to Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré.
Learn about our drinking and eating culture at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (including the Museum of the American Cocktail)
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 569-0405, NATFAB.org/southern-food-and-beverage
Under the watchful eye of Liz Williams, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum has grown for its humble beginnings at the Riverwalk Marketplace to (in just two years) a bona fide destination location in Central City and a national title. Visitors come to learn about the Southern food and drink culture and its African-American, French, Caribbean and even German roots. Special events insure that many of those history lessons are interactive.
Find a slice of Eden at the Longue Vue House & Gardens
7 Bamboo Road, 488-5488, LongueVue.com
Tucked away in a patch of land just off Metairie Road, Longue Vue has become a kind of mini-getaway for New Orleanians, with something for everyone – whether it’s a “Taste & Pair” wine dinner for adults or the interactive “Kinder Garden” activity for kids.
Line up for a snowball at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-9788, SnoBliz.com
Waiting in line for Hansen’s Sno-Bliz isn’t just a tradition; over the summer months it’s almost a badge of honor. But then there’s the payoff for enduring that overbearing heat: Keeping up the family tradition, Ashley Hansen Springgate uses many of the same recipes handed down by her late grandmother and former founding co-owner, Mary Hansen. Hansen’s was named an “American Classic” in 2014 by the James Beard Foundation. (We think it’s because of the Satsuma.)
Take a kayak trip down Bayou St. John
Once just a sliver of water that sliced through a quiet edge of Mid-City and Gentilly, Bayou St. John arguably has evolved into the epicenter for casual New Orleans recreation – certainly away from Lake Pontchartrain. Kayaking (and stand-up paddling) has become almost ubiquitous on the bayou, even in cooler months, and it’s harder to beat the vistas, especially the quieter trips on the backside of Demourelles Island.
Study the history of perfumes and cosmetics at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
514 Chartres St., 565-8027, PharmacyMuseum.org
New Orleans’ reputation as a haunted city has accelerated mightily in recent years. You literally can run into a ghost tour on any given evening in the French Quarter. But the hauntings come with a potion at the New Orleans Pharmacy, one of the last of the French Quarter’s great oddities as business. Dating back to the early 1800s, this apothecary features exhibits, special features (leeches, anyone?) and more. It is a must-see for locals who treasure what used to make the French Quarter quirky but historic – or, at least more so.
Take a tour of the Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter
1112 Chartres St., 503-0361, StLouisCathedral.org/convent-museum
There is probably no more cliché tourist activity in New Orleans than taking a tour in the French Quarter – they’re so ubiquitous these days that tours literally run into one another on busy nights. But a tour of the Old Ursuline Convent – housed in a building erected in 1752 – is like air-conditioned historical eye candy. There is the cypress staircase, the manicured garden, the oil paintings of past church leaders and other Catholic artifacts.
Get up to speed on Hollywood South and old Hollywood in New Orleans with a movie tour
(225) 240-8648, NolaMovies.com
Although the recent decision to cut back on tax incentives for the industry might herald a slowdown, Louisiana has become one of the home bases for what is referred to as Hollywood South, which is one generational reason to take a movie tour around the city and learn about key filmmaking sites for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as classics such as A Streetcar Named Desire and King Creole.
Relax by the pool at the Country Club
634 Louisa St., 945-0742, TheCountryClubNewOrleans.com
In a city that knows how to relax, there are two places that allow residents (and some visitors) to lay about around the pool in style. While the Country Club no longer offers a clothing-optional setting at its Bywater location, locals still flock to the pool area behind the 18th century Creole cottage house, where they can receive pool-side cocktail service while working on their tan.
Sing karaoke at Kajun’s Pub
2256 St. Claude Ave., 947-3735, KajunPub.com
There is no question that Cat’s Meow offers the most famous karaoke moments in the French Quarter – heck, even Miley Cyrus joined in the fun on stage while on tour – but further downriver on St. Claude Avenue, Kajun’s Pub has become the hip spot for locals to belt one out. (Pro tip: The hammier your performance, the better.)
Enjoy at least one spin around at the Carousel Bar & Lounge inside the Hotel Monteleone
214 Royal St., 523-3341, HotelMonteleone.com/entertainment/carousel-bar
The expansion and renovation a few years ago has robbed the Carousel Bar of part of its dank and dark intimacy, but it remains one of the iconic drinking spots in the French Quarter. That is only one small reason why the Hotel Monteleone is the epicenter of Tales of the Cocktail. (Pro tip: If you’re dizzy after one Sazerac, maybe it’s best to step off.)
Soak in the jazz and good food with the Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace
1403 Washington Ave., 899-8221, CommandersPalace.com
Maybe it’s the Creole Crawfish Chile Relleno; or the Cochon de Lait Eggs Benedict; or the Caramel Roasted Banana & Cookie Dough Cobbler. Oh, Tory McPhail, you know how to make a Sunday brunch a New Orleans classic. And, we can't forget to mention the jazz music that makes Sunday brunch a classic.
Listen to the street musicians on Jackson Square
There are those who might say that Jackson Square is the place for tourists – the tarot card readers, the street performers, the magicians and the hustlers. They might be right. But it’s easy to forget where New Orleans music began, and that’s in the streets, and Jackson Square is the most reliable, familiar spot to see where many of these musicians get their start — playing for tips, love and experience.
Learn about Celebration Distillation at Old New Orleans Rum
2815 Frenchmen St., 945-9400, OldNewOrleansRum.com
While Old New Orleans Rum has been on the scene for a while now, the recent craft cocktail craze has gotten more people interested in the distillery process, and Celebration Distillation is ready to educate. Housed in an 18th century cotton warehouse, the distillery tour kicks off with a taste of one of the three main rum flavors: the Crystal white rum, the Amber dark rum (aged for up to three years in charred whiskey barrels) and the unique Cajun Spice rum.
Get in touch with wildlife at Insta-Gator Alligator Ranch & Hatchery
74645 Allen Road, Covington, (985) 892-3669, Insta-GatorRanch.com
Louisiana is known for its vast wildlife, including alligators, and this hatchery in Covington allows visitors to get an up-close-and-personal look at about 2,000 of them lounging in clear waters in a climate-controlled environment.
Learn about voodoo culture from Sallie Ann Glassman at Island of Salvation Botanica
2372 St. Claude Ave., Suite 100, 948-9961, IslandOfSalvationBotanica.com
Too often New Orleans’ voodoo culture is celebrated as minstrelsy; Glassman has become one of the more serious and dedicated practitioners and ambassadors of this complicated culture. Her Faubourg Marigny spot features voodoo art, literature, readings and a variety of services, all in the name of voodoo awareness.
Get loaded on the Dump Truck Fries at The Avenue Pub
1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243, TheAvenuePub.com
Truth be told, Polly Watts’ taking over the family business after Hurricane Katrina is one of the great success stories of New Orleans drinking. That is especially true when you consider The Avenue Pub features one of the best beer and bourbon selections in the city – not bad for a 24-hour bar some used to call a dive. But something’s gotta soak up that liquor, and the pub’s most prominent sponge are those Dump Truck Fries that come loaded down with roasted pork drenched in béchamel, grilled onions and a port wine au jus.