NEW ORLEANS - My love for New Orleans first bloomed in the Garden District. When I think of my first time in NOLA, what I remember most won’t be the historic neighborhoods or incredible food and drinks. It will be the culture of absolute kindness that permeates the city. From our first round of drinks — the bartender said, “love you guys, first one’s on me” when she dropped off the check — to the many strangers we met who enthusiastically shared their love for their hometown and the best spots for a po’ boy. I've never experienced anything like it.
We arrived at the best time of day — happy hour on a Friday — to check into the newest shining star of the city’s hospitality scene, Hotel Saint Vincent. The centuries-old building has been rehabilitated by Austin chefs Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman and their new partner, pioneering hotelier Liz Lambert, in her first project after leaving Bunkhouse Group, into a hotel with two restaurants, three bars, and a pool in the center. The classic Southern porch wrapping around the building was the perfect place for a pre-dinner cocktail (and is also ideal for a coffee on your balcony, should you book such a room, and you should). So too was a seat at the bar in San Lorenzo, the ornately tiled, Italian coast-inspired bar serving zesty cocktails, or a cozy table in the “for hotel guests only” Chapel Club, a dimly lit speakeasy that often hosts live jazz.
The entire property is a nod to the transportive power of design — from the soaring ceiling and the brightly colored guest rooms with statement patterns to the historic wrought iron railings and the grand wooden staircase, visitors will experience the history and color that make New Orleans such an unforgettable place. It’s the perfect capsule of the city. Inside our room, we were greeted with a plush, king-sized bed adorned with colorful marbled linens, a fluffy antique rug, a large armoire, shuttered windows, and the best bathroom ever: marbled wallpaper, a retro yellow glass chandelier, red-tiled walk-in shower, a gloriously oversized bathtub, and D.S. & Durga bath products.
The hotel is perfectly located in the Garden District, a neighborhood ideal for the ambling traveler. In our three-day stay, we walked 30 miles along the winding streets, taking in the splendor of the old homes, pastel facades, and lush gardens. Neighbors sat, chatting on their front porches over morning coffee and evening wine, and offered enthusiastic greetings. Historic homes to seek out are the Joseph Caroll House on 1315 First Street, where Mark Twain attended legendary parties in 1886; the Brevard House, where notorious vampire novelist Anne Rice lives; and the towering Walter Grinnan Robinson House, built by famed architect Henry Howard.
Magazine Street offers a charming array of cafés serving ice cold chicory coffee and piping hot beignets. The Vintage beignets were our favorites, both the fluffy classics and the inventively-flavored, like blueberry cheesecake-filled. By noon every day, the shop fronts come to life: luxury vintage finds at Saint Claude Social Club, inspired local art and products at The Good Shop, and darling home decor at Sunday Shop. The friendliness pervades even the highest of high-end of shops: the lovely shopkeeper Petricia Thompson Antiques encouraged me to take photos, a rare experience in a shop full of delicate heirlooms.
The benefit of walking so much? An insatiable appetite. We enjoyed vegan chocolate chip cookies from Levee Baking Co., a collard green grilled cheese from Turkey and the Wolf, an unforgettable late-night lobster po’ boy at Fat Boy Pantry, a spicy fried chicken biscuit at Molly’s Rise and Shine, and a crisp, cool beer tasting at Miel Brewery, which was also hosting a crawfish boil. What can I say? We like to eat, and New Orleans was more than happy to feed us.
On our way out of town, we got a ride from a wonderful woman named Tammy, who told us, “we’ve just got bigger fish to fry here. We’ve been through it all, from hurricanes to tornadoes, so when the sun is shining, we just want to share good food with you, get a little drunk, and dance.”
Here’s to the spirit of the amazing people who make this city so colorful. Tammy’s parting prediction? Everyone she drops off at the airport starts planning their next trip back before their suitcase hits the sidewalk.
She was right. We’ll be back soon.