Friday, May 13, 2011

Laissez le bons temps rouler!

Yes, let the good times roll!! Ron and I spent the morning walking through the Garden District, admiring the blocks of gorgeous homes tucked in among stately live-oak trees and lush adjoining gardens. Originally the site of larger plantations, during the 1800s land was sold off in smaller parcels to wealthy American newcomers who were eager to take advantage of the booming Mississippi river trade. The Creole residents of the already crowded French Quarter resented the newcomers; the French and the Spanish could live together, but they refused to live near the English or the Americans, so the "snubbed" Americans created their own residential district uptown. 
A gorgeous home in the Garden District
Distinctly different from the homes of the French Quarter, many of the Garden District mansions were built in the classic Greek Revival style, the more ornate Italianate style, and later, in the Queen Anne Victorian style of architecture. All reflect the opulence and wealth of the city during that era, with incredible details and elegant workmanship. With the heavily wooded streets providing shade, it's totally charming and an interesting place to walk and explore!
Street names are often embedded in the sidewalk in metal work
or ornate tile
Even the street names reflect the division between the two residential areas: none of the French Quarter street names cross Canal Street: Bourbon Street becomes Carondelet, Royal becomes St. Charles, Decatur becomes Magazine. In the American sector uptown, streets from this era still bear the names of the nine Greek muses in keeping with the fascination with things Greek. One of the main streets along the Garden District is Prytania, ("invincible queen of the dead") a fitting name, since the street which borders the famous Lafayette Cemetery No. 1! Above-ground tombs are common here due to the high-water table, and many of the vaults look like miniature houses, complete with fences! They gave rise to the term, "cities of the dead", and we could see why! Again, very fascinating to explore and experience!
Many of the New Orlean family vaults are above ground
Some are more ornate and house-like than others
You would think that after walking in the Garden District all morning and in the French Quarter all afternoon (with a lunch stop at Cafe Beignet for jazz and a muffaletta), that Ron and I would kick back, but instead...we continued our exploration of the French Quarter of the Big Easy by taking a tour! While we aren't normally "tour people", not being overly fond of big structured excursions, I did find a tour that we couldn't resist: "The Cocktail Tour"! What better introduction to the party atmosphere of the French Quarter than that?? 

The tour had a novel approach, teaching the history of the Quarter through its famous bars and their signature drinks, such as the Pimm's Cup, the Sazerac and the Fleur de Lis. Each tour apparently has its own flavor, so to speak, because not every guide takes you to the same bar at the same time. Our first stop was at Muriel's Bistro on Jackson Square for a  round at their Courtyard Bar, where I sampled the ubiquitous New Orleans Pimm's Cup and Ron the Muriel's signature Fleur de Lis (a champagne, Chambord and vodka concoction). A Pimm's Cup is a British cocktail, made with a shot of  Pimm's No 1, (a gin-based liqueur made from dry gin, fruit juices and spices) mixed with lemonade and Sprite, then topped with a cucumber slice. Thankfully, it wasn't that strong, but was quite light and refreshing!

From there it was onto the Court of Two Sisters for their signature Bayou Bash cocktail, a sort of sangria-like concoction made with with Southern Comfort, sweet and sour mix, fruit juice and red wine. (It rather sweet for my taste, so after a small sample, I abstained, as did Ron.) From was to the Hermes Bar at Antoine's for a Sazerac. Now, the Sazerac is New Orleans official cocktail, and its devotees are maniacal about them. It has a lengthy history, with several ingredient changes over the years, but basically it's a mix of Old Overholt rye whiskey, a tiny amount of absinthe (or Herbsaint, a New Orleans brand of anise liqueur) to coat the sides of the glass, then a bit of simple syrup, and a dash of Peychaud's Bitters (also made in New Orleans, as opposed to Angostura bitters). 

I admit, by this time, I wasn't up to adding any more liquor to the mix, so settled in with a basic vodka martini, and enjoyed nibbling on the Hermes' yummy Creole appetizers, Cajun popcorn and perusing all the fun Mardi Gras memorabilia on the walls!  We rounded up the evening at the Bombay Club, where of course their signature drink is a Bombay gin martini! By this time too, both Ron and I were exhausted from all our walking (and sampling!), so headed back to the hotel -- admittedly, an early night! Tomorrow? Laissez le bons temps rouler!  

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