When tiring of chasing trendy destinations, we always retreat to New Orleans, for a timeless escape into the macabre and the decadent. Especially in this Halloween season, when the city decisively rises to the spine-chilling occasion.
It goes without saying, eschew Bourbon Street kitsch for the cobblestone roads less traveled, all darkened by a tenebrous history of the supernatural and enigmatic. But also make sure to catch the unmistakeable NoLa rhythm, by taking time to stroll through Louis Armstrong Park, and connecting with its jazz-filled roots. And be sure to catch the city’s sundry street musicians dotting the corners of the French Quarter on almost any evening – some of them are truly unforgettable.
Since Halloween is indeed upon us, be sure to check out Voodoo Authentica, to learn the real history of the religion and its present day practice (hint: you don’t stick needles in dolls to cause harm).
The Big Easy, of course, is filled with the profane and the sacred, the unusual and the expected – which is exactly what we seek out at this most haunted time of year. Well, that and really good food.
But beware – you just might see a ghost or two…
You can’t beat the convenience of the Aloft New Orleans Downtown, located just steps away from the French Quarter, in the heart of the business district, nestled amongst some fantastic historical buildings. We love Aloft’s tech-driven amenities, outdoor pool, eclectic lobby bar and very friendly staff.
It’s also just down the street from one of our favorite shops, Crescent City Books. Amongst the shop’s intriguing inventory, a vast collection of vintage and antiquarian titles, you’re sure to find something appropriately spooky.
You can’t go to New Orleans without visiting the bayou. Swamp tours do run aplenty here, but booking through Marriott Moments gave us easy access to a professional guide – a fifth-generation Cajun captain no less – on Louisiana Boat Tours. Winding our way along the mossy Cyprus-lined riverway, we spotted plenty of alligators. And our guide’s secret to getting those gators to to swim closer? He tossed marshmallows into the water which they happily devoured. Traveling in and around the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, named for the 19th‐century pirate and smuggler, brought this still vibrant fishing community and its attendant folklore very much alive.
Yes, yes, New Orleans has the best cemeteries. Our personal fave is St. Louise Number 1, the most famous of the three Roman Catholic burial grounds in the city. The above-ground vaults dating back to the 18th century house a few famous (and infamous) residents including New Orleans’ first African-American mayor Dutch Morial and renowned Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Weirdly, short-term Nola resident Nicolas Cage bought two family plots in 2010 and constructed a bizarre pyramid-shaped tomb to be his final resting place.
New Orleans supernatural activity is just about taken for granted, as our scrappy New Yorker-turned-New Orleans-resident tour guide Emily attested. In search of “female serial killers and mad madams”, including the spooky LaLaurie Mansion, there’s no better time than after dark to explore the city’s more gruesome side. Needless to say, with a history so rich with things that go bump in the night, you’ll be looking over your shoulder long after this nocturnal tour has ended.
For a cultural foray into the city’s drug-fueled past, visit The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, on pretty, shop-lined Chartres Street. Delve into the museum’s well-edited collection of tinctures and tourniquets, turn-of-the-century syringes and eye salves, all with pithy explanation provided. On the National Register of Historic Places, and formerly home to America’s first licensed pharmacist Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. (circa 1816), be sure to give yourself time to check out this showcase of superstitious cures and other ghoulish wonders, all in the name of early medical treatment.
There are plenty of po’ boys to be had at old school spots like Johnny’s, muffalettas from hipster local Cochon Butcher, and fresh hot beignets from Cafe Du Monde or Morning Call. All best paired with a refreshing Big Easy Bucha (@bigeasybucha), the city’s family-owned and operated kombucha company. We couldn’t get enough of the tangy, locally-sourced flavors like Voodoo Brew, Streetcar Sipper, and Cajun Kick. However, if you’re seeking to immerse yourself in true southern hospitality with a twist, stick to the city’s historic dining spots.
A Crescent City tradition since 1946 for very good reasons. Chef Slade Rushing’s creole menu puts a modern spin on the local, predominant French and Spanish culinary influences. Seasonal fare abounds, while the brunch is simply to die for. The confectionary-like interior with its pink and green color scheme, features some of the oddest murals we’ve ever seen (dancing frogs, anyone?). This all creates the perfect atmosphere for such ambrosial offerings as roasted oysters, seafood gumbo, vanilla-scented waffles, and our favorite, the crab and chanterelle omelettes.
This Ninth Ward wine laboratory fuses live jazz, backyard dining and barbecue to create an impossibly cool vibe. First come, first served, and no reservations, means get to Bacchanal early to claim your table after you order at the shop counter. You’ll choose your own cheeses and meats from the cold cases – and whatever else inspires your palate. If the spirits move you, there’s also a second floor bar and dining tables indoors. But trust us, outside under the colored strings of lights is definitely the place to be.
There’s so much to say about this stunning French Quarter gem, its history, its delectable weekend brunch, and its otherworldly atmosphere. It’s also believed to be one of the most haunted places in New Orleans. Named for the Creole sisters Emma and Bertha Camors, the two had a notions shop on Rue Royale, outfitting many of the city’s upper-class women with formal wear, imported lace and perfumes from Paris – which gave the site its name, The Court of Two Sisters. Today, locals report the two sisters sitting together at a table late at night, and the women watching over them as they dine. Since their passing within two years of each other in 1858 and 1860, the sisters lie in St. Louis Cemetery #3, as inseparable in death as they were in life.
This invitingly quaint Treme staple since 1957 is famous for its exceptional soul food, even recognized as “America’s Best Fried Chicken” by the Food Channel and Travel Network. Diners can choose between all white or all dark meat, both covered and cooked in the restaurant’s delicious signature batter to absolute crunchy goodness. We went with drumsticks and thighs, complemented by sides of mouth-watering fried okra, mac-n-cheese, and cornbread. Washed down with a giant sweet tea, all felt right with the world, with the late Willie Mae Seaton herself (a James Beard 2005 winner) smiling down upon us from her portrait in the main dining room.
Heralded as the oldest operating bar in the U.S., Lafitte’s was built in the 18th century. The 19th century welcomed pirate, smuggler, diplomat, spy and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte, who set up shop on the site with his equally swashbuckling brother Pierre. It’s said Jean’s ghost still lingers though, lurking in the corners just watching over the bar’s patrons, who down the purple-colored signature Voodoo Daiquiris. His specter is also believed to be joined by the ghosts of residents of the French Quarter who perished in the fires of 1788 and 1794 (which spared the small structure). This is a must stop on any haunted – or boozy – tour.