Take it Easy in The Big Easy’s Garden District
Words by Katelyn Chef
Photos provided by The Pontchartrain Hotel
The Big Easy. The Crescent City. The French Quarter. The Most Unique City. All of these nicknames describe one place—New Orleans.
New Orleans is a metropolis full of diverse, cultural traits—but the city is most well known for serving up a whole lot of Cajun flair. The Big Easy is universally famous for its vibrant party spirit, tasty gumbo, soulful jazz music, bold bourbon, bright parade beads, and of course that magical New Orleans mojo that’s impossible to put a finger on. There’s no denying, New Orleans is a special place.
Of course, those lucky enough to call the Crescent City home know all of these characteristics well. Some things about the city are well known even outside of New Orleans, such as where to grab the best beignets the city has to offer (ahem, Café Beignet). However, for those who aren’t local, it isn’t necessarily easy navigating (and sampling) the city’s tastiest bites.
The city is divided into eight NOPD Districts, also referred to as neighborhoods. The French Quarter, District One, is the most well-known out of the eight. However, the Garden District, District Two, is another neighborhood not to be missed.
The picturesque Garden District is filled with old-world Victorian charm merged with the modern society comforts of food, entertainment, shopping, and seasonal festivals. In other words, it should definitely go on your must-visit list.
Ready to plan a trip? Good Grit Magazine got the tasty travel scoop from a lifelong Louisianan—a man who truly knows the ins and outs of the Garden District like a soul food chef knows his jambalaya recipe.
His name is Cody Bertone, and he is the General Manager at the Pontchartrain Hotel, located right outside of the beautiful Garden District. A born-and-raised Louisianan who grew up in Hammond, he has lived in the Big Easy for three years, including some time on the Garden District’s Prytania Street. Cody says there is something fairy-tale like about the District.
“I’ve worked in hotels outside of New Orleans, but nothing matches the authentic grit and charm of the city,” Cody says. “The Garden District remains the city’s most prestigious neighborhood, completely different from the French Quarter in design and space. Early Americans settled on the upriver side of Canal street, and wealthy families planned and constructed larger lots with massive Victorian homes and beautiful gardens.”
He noted that the atmosphere is a complete contrast to the Spanish and French designed French Quarter. “Now, this area is where locals and in-the-know tourists go when they want to experience the city's best restaurants, bars, shops, and attractions,” he says.
For those who flock to Instagrammable locations, the Garden District is double-tap-worthy. These Victorian manors come in an array of styles and personalities—tourists might even spot fancy, pink brick mansions.
While the Garden District is known for its historic charm, in the past five years the district has seen an uptick in small business owners and entrepreneurs leading the way. Cody says, “The Garden District has done a wonderful job of retaining its Southern charm and historic appearance, but in the past couple of years we've seen more and more local business owners moving into the neighborhood to open unique boutique stores and remarkable restaurants."
The perfect mix of historical style and modern comforts makes the district ideal for visitors. Cody says, “The French Quarter has long been identified as the place to visit when in New Orleans, but more and more people are opting to stay in the Garden District instead, because it provides a uniquely New Orleans experience that other neighborhoods can't compete with.”
The words unique and experiences are two words that the 2020 traveler is searching for when traveling to new places. Cody insists that the Garden District does not skimp on things to do, see, experience, and eat—all the while immersing yourself in the New Orleans lifestyle.
“There is a ridiculous amount of good food in New Orleans, and it just so happens the Garden District has some of the best restaurants in the city,” says Cody.
Here are a few of Cody’s favorite places to grab a bite:
· Jack Rose at the Pontchartrain Hotel opened less than two years ago, and it offers incredible dishes inspired by New Orleans' love for food and drink. It's a great spot to dine with friends thanks to its eclectic menu and jovial atmosphere. The restaurant also has a portrait of New Orleans native Lil Wayne created by Ashley Longshore that is always a hit among diners.
· Turkey & the Wolf has made enormous waves among locals and the entire nation. Approachable, quirky, and delicious, there is usually a wait. They don't take reservations, but the fried bologna sandwich is absolutely worth the time in line.
· Coquette is a perfect destination for a romantic night out. The restaurant was created by a husband and wife team who is churning out contemporary Southern cuisine coupled with warm service.
New Orleans is a city that loves a party, and St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras are popular to celebrate. “St. Patrick's Day is always a big day for the Garden District. It's perfect for anyone wanting to experience New Orleans' parade culture without the masses Mardi Gras brings in,” says Cody.
Cody also spilled the tea (or rather, bourbon) about Mardi Gras in the Garden District. “Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the biggest moment of the year, but even bigger for the Garden District since most of the parade routes follow St. Charles Avenue. During that time of year, you can find St. Charles Avenue lined with families, friends, locals, and travelers, all enjoying the intricate parade floats. New Orleans is always a feast for the senses, but Mardi Gras has a way of revving up the city's energy even more.”
If an evening of easy listening is more your speed, Cody recommends this year’s Jazzfest. “Jazzfest is another hugely popular event in New Orleans that extends over two weekends in late April and early May,” he says. This year, Jazzfest is April 23-26th and April 30th May 3rd .
The Garden District is more than food, music, and fun—it’s a destination for those who aren’t afraid of the dark… or a few ghosts. Cody says, “The district is also home to the eerie Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which is very popular with tourists. Another popular attraction is the Buckner Mansion, which appeared in the show American Horror Story: Coven.”
It's hard not to be jazzed about experiencing the Garden District, but how do you pack it all into one day? Cody gave us the rundown:
· Morning: Depart from your room at the Pontchartrain Hotel, located on the edge of the Garden District and only minutes from the neighborhood's best attractions. Head to District Donuts on Magazine Street and try one (or two) of the cafe's delicious options. Then walk along Magazine Street exploring the numerous boutique stores—I recommend Saint Claude Social and NOLA Couture.
· Noon: Head to Turkey & the Wolf with an appetite and order the fried bologna sandwich, along with any of their other menu items that intrigue you.
· Afternoon: Enjoy a walk along tree-lined streets and take in the views of magnificent houses as you head to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
· Evening: Return to the Pontchartrain Hotel and grab a drink at the hotel's bustling rooftop bar Hot Tin, then take in views of downtown New Orleans at sunset. Finish the night with a satisfying meal at the hotel's restaurant Jack Rose.
We can smell the beignets from here!