Louisiana State Museum
The French Quarter is a diverse neighborhood where locals and visitors mingle amidst historic landmarks, modern restaurants, eccentric shops and basic necessities like grocery and hardware stores. It can feel like a city within a city. With world-famous food and entertainment, southern hospitality, unique shopping and its own festivals, it’s always a hub of activity – especially in spring. Whether you find yourself wandering down to this month’s French Quarter Festival (April 12-15) or just happen to be visiting for a spell, allow your curiosity to lead you into the open doors of the neighborhood’s many purveyors of goods, services, arts and culture; you’ll learn there’s a story to every locale.
“Lots of folks tell us that Aunt Sally’s is their first stop when they get to town and the last stop as they head back home,” says Mary-Jo Webster, CEO of Aunt Sally’s. The French Quarter confection shop was founded in 1935, when French Creole couple Diane and Pierre Bagur started making and selling pralines and offering locally crafted gifts.
“Today, 83 years later, we’re still doing the same thing and although we ship all around the world, we’re still a family-owned New Orleans company and very proud of it,” says Webster. Aunt Sally’s is undoubtedly most famous for its classic Creole and creamy pralines, handmade daily in the store. Webster says working in the French Quarter is like being a diplomat for the best city in the world.
“People come in to shop and sample our pralines, but they also really appreciate meeting some New Orleanians and having that personal connection,” she says.
A more recent arrival to the French Quarter is one of Royal Street’s many notable galleries: Antieau Gallery New Orleans. The gallery exclusively features the work of Chris Roberts-Antieau, a self-taught artist who works in fabric appliqué and embroidery. The gallery is often packed on Dirty Linen Night (usually the second Saturday of August), when art enthusiasts from across New Orleans descend on Royal Street. This month, the gallery will draw in fans for an Opening Reception for new work by the artist on April 21.
“This is our biggest event of the year, and people come from all over the country to be among the first to see Chris’ newest work,” says Gallery Manager Lauren Donovan. According to Donovan, New Orleans is the first place Chris Roberts-Antieau ever felt like she belonged. In 2010, the artist rented the gallery space as a pop-up gallery to test the waters. The test proved successful, and the gallery celebrates its ninth anniversary this month.
As with many French Quarter buildings, the history often goes much deeper than the current occupant, and that’s the case a few blocks away at elegant event space Latrobe’s on Royal. Originally built as the Louisiana State Bank, the building brings historical charm to its events.
“Not only are we in the process of documenting and restoring thousands of Louisiana State Bank documents found in between the first and second roofs of this building, but we’re extremely excited to soon embark on a project to unearth one of the original tunnels that runs underneath and determine its original purpose,” says Owner-Operator Mildred Adler.
Meanwhile the architectural allure, combined with Latrobe’s in-house event planning, production and catering services, means you’ll find a variety of events taking place at Latrobe’s on any given day or night, from weddings and receptions to corporate events, film productions and more.
Preserving history and bringing it to life is an important work for the Louisiana State Museum, which owns a number of properties in the French Quarter. The museum is excited to welcome a new exhibition to the Cabildo in Jackson Square this spring, beginning April 21.
“Recovered Memories: Spain, New Orleans, and the Support for the American Revolution,” organized by Iberdrola in association with the Louisiana State Museum, will showcase hundreds of historic artifacts, documents and works of art exploring Spain’s influence on the development of New Orleans, its support of the American Revolution and Spain’s lasting legacy on American culture. The exhibition brings notable items to view from Spain, including: paintings by Francisco de Goya, Luis Paret and others; the original British flag captured at the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Baton Rouge in 1779; naval models; clothing; and more.
The Louisiana State Museum will also offer a host of events and other exhibitions this spring at its other French Quarter locations: The New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old Mint, The Presbytère, the 1850 House, and Madame John’s Legacy.
Around the corner from The Cabildo is another New Orleans treasure, Le Petit Théâtre, which has existed in its French Quarter home for nearly a century. Founded in 1916 as a community theatre by a group called the Drawing Room Players, the theatre acquired its official home at its current location in 1922. Today it operates as a professional union theatre, offering a combination of musicals, comedies and American classics in addition to special events, entertainers, concerts and film screenings.
“Because we’re located in such an iconic and treasured corner of the French Quarter, we strive to provide events and activities that appeal to the wide and diverse populations that visit us, whether residents, tourists or students,” says General Manager Ashley Robison. To that end, the theater welcomes the students of Lusher High School as they present their spring cabaret (April 10-11), the French Quarter Festival’s annual film festival (April 14-15) and, in May, David Javerbaum’s Broadway smash comedy, An Act of God, starring Bryan Batt.
History buffs and arts seekers aren’t the only people to find solace in the French Quarter. Foodies satisfy their appetites in the neighborhood as well with a veritable treasure trove of restaurants.
“We like to say we’re located in the lively ‘gateway’ to the French Quarter, and we’re often credited with revitalizing the once sleepy block. But we continue to provide a welcome oasis from the Bourbon Street mayhem,” says Executive Chef Austin Kirzner of Red Fish Grill. Opened in 1997, the restaurant is located on the first block of Bourbon Street and serves up fresh Gulf seafood.
A fan favorite at Red Fish Grill is the signature BBQ Oysters, which are flash fried and tossed in a Crystal BBQ sauce. At French Quarter Festival, the restaurant will be serving the signature oysters up on their BBQ Oyster Po’ Boy.
“In terms of new items, the Crawfish and Fried Green Tomatoes that will be offered this spring is sure to impress,” says Austin.
Another casual French Quarter eatery is Emeril’s NOLA, a recently renovated three-story restaurant featuring an open-action kitchen, chef’s food bar, signature wood-fired brick oven and private event space. Weather permitting, the restaurant hopes to begin opening its balcony for happy hour this season. At NOLA, Chef de Cuisine Philip Buccieri works with chef Emeril and the team to feature rustic Louisiana cooking with local ingredients.
According to Buccieri, fan favorites of late are a few newer additions, such as hot Frog Legs, Miso Cobia Lettuce Bundles, Wild Boar Pizza from the wood burning oven and NOLA’s Steamed Artichoke, stuffed with fresh whole wheat spaghetti, crabmeat and Cajun caviar.
“We look forward to welcoming French Quarter Fest revelers in for a bite, beverage or both. It’s a beautiful time of year to take in the French Quarter. I’m also thrilled to be part of this year’s Jazz Fest (April 27-May 6) programming and conducting a cooking demo in the Cajun Cabin,” says Buccieri.
Hospitality is part of what New Orleans does best, and when you tack on the word “southern,” it gets even better. Royal Sonesta New Orleans is one of the French Quarter’s numerous hotels, but according to General Manager Alfred L. Groos, it’s the only luxury hotel on Bourbon Street. Because of that, the hotel receives guests from all over the world looking to explore New Orleans from its most renowned street.
“Visitors not only like to stay in our guest rooms, swim in the pool and have that one-of-a-kind experience in our Bourbon Balcony Suites, but guests also enjoy live jazz music at The Jazz Playhouse, dining on authentic Louisiana cuisine at Desire Oyster Bar and experiencing unbeatable fine dining at Restaurant R’evolution,” says Groos. During this year’s French Quarter Festival, The Jazz Playhouse will serve as an official stage with hours of live music.
If you consider the French Quarter the heart of the city, then you could say that music is what keeps the beat. One of the many gems in the French Quarter is an understated little store where you might rub elbows with some of the city’s greatest musicians. The only music supply store in the French Quarter, Downtown Music nearly shuttered its doors three years ago, but by partnering with three local music professionals, Owner Sheryl Martin was able to revive the business and continue supplying the local music community and visiting musicians with a full-service music store.
“Everyone on our staff is committed to preserving, expanding, and sharing the unique musical culture we have here in the great city of New Orleans,” says Partner Kristin Maguire. “Being located in the Quarter makes us easily accessible for musicians who play in nearby venues and street musicians alike. We also meet tourists from around the world who pop into the store after enjoying local music and who are looking to bring some musical magic from New Orleans home.”
Aunt Sally’s 810 Decatur St., 524-3373, AuntSallys.com ••• Antieau Gallery 927 Royal St., 304-0849, AntieauGallery.com ••• Latrobe’s on Royal 403 Royal St., 299-0601, LatrobesOnRoyal.com ••• Louisiana State Museum The Cabildo, 701 Chartres St., 568-6968, LouisianaStateMuseum.org ••• Le Petit Théâtre 616 St. Peter St., 522-2081, LePetitTheatre.com ••• Red Fish Grill 115 Bourbon St., 598-1200, RedFishGrill.com ••• NOLA 534 St. Louis St., 522-6652, EmerilsRestaurants.com/Nola-Restaurant ••• Royal Sonesta New Orleans 300 Bourbon St., 586-0300, Sonesta.com/RoyalNewOrleans ••• Downtown Music 527 Dumaine St., 358-3100, DMNola.com