Trinity Episcopal Church Garden District of New Orleans
Millions of revelers flow through New Orleans for Mardi Gras at Lent’s beginning but far fewer join festivities when the penitential season ends at Easter. Yet at the Pasqual celebration, weather is better, gardens fuller and a different kind of hat rules – the Easter bonnet. It was the perfect time to revisit New Orleans after a 35 year absence.
Preparations for the trip first centered around restaurant reservations. Two months in advance were not enough to secure a table for some NOLA traditional establishments. Arnaud’s website warned they were booked until May. Commodore’s Palace wouldn’t allow online reservations and a call confirmed they were completely full for brunch on Easter Sunday. Amelie’s, a small venue in the French Quarter, apologized for its capacity crowd and could only offer to put us on a waiting list. Fortunately, finding a good restaurant in the Crescent City is easy and I could relax a bit with a confirmed brunch reservation at Coquette’s in the Garden District. It seemed prudent to firm up eating arrangements for other nights of our trip and those came more easily – Bayona on Saturday night and August, a Josh Besh restaurant, on Monday evening.
For accommodations, we used Airbnb for the first time. Our go to favorite home/apartment rental company had been VRBO – Vacation Rental by Owner. But younger friends promoted Airbnb as it advertised not only full apartments and houses but also single rooms or even a shared room. Prices can be as low as $30 a night in the Seventh Ward or $155 a night for a two bedroom spot in the French Quarters or $355 for a four bedroom house in the suburbs.
We booked half of a shotgun house on Magazine Street in the Garden District, complete with front porch for easy street scene viewing. Donuts and coffee were one block to the east and a neighborhood bar one block west. Our landlord lived next door and had coffee, water and cold beer awaiting our arrival. He knew the local scene and could suggest many music venues and local food choices.
Diners at Commodore’s Palace
With Catholic and Episcopal churches within walking distance, we enjoyed our stroll on Easter morning. Men in white and cream colored linen suits and women with large brimmed hats carried on an old Southern tradition. Boys in jackets and girls in pastel dresses skipped into church. A cross covered in wire greeted families who brought flowers from their gardens to fill its spaces – a tradition I remember from my childhood. It felt a step back in time.
Strawberry shortcake with mint ice cream at Coquette’s in Garden District
Easter Brunches are serious business with most restaurants overflowing. At Coquettes, a three course, fixed priced menu offered unusual Easter choices such as lamb stew with potato salad or crawfish salad but included a traditional strawberry short cake. Well dressedfamilies filled the two stories throughout the day. A stroll through the Garden District took us past Commodore’s Palace, a New Orleans classic with its odd blue and white striped exterior. We watched guests arriving in sleek black cars, exiting in high heels and flowered patterned attire. Inside a jazz trio played.
Lafayette Cemetery #1
Across the street, Lafayette Cemetery#1 was open and beckoned to those passing by. New Orleans cemeteries are unique with family crypts holding generations of the departed. Names of the departed dated back into the early 1800s. At one monument, a feral cat relaxed and two strands of black and white beads were draped over an urn. As a walking tour passed by we overheard the guide explain the need to live in a “good cemetery” neighborhood – a concept new to us.
If Mardi Gras parades seem excessive, an alternative is the Easter parade. Three were available in the French Quarter with several neighborhood ones nearby. Bourbon Street Club owner, Chris Owens, was the Grand Duchess of her 32ndannual “patriotic” Easter Parade. Stuffed bunnies are tossed as well as the ever present beads. Another favorite family activity appeared to be picnics in the beautiful Audubon Park and then just cruising St. Charles Avenue with windows open.
New Orleans for the traveler has the feel of a foreign country as well as living in a time capsule. Much of the city has completely recovered from Hurricane Katrina and it has almost recouped its population loss from the storm. Despite recent crime surges due in part to a 30% vacancy rate in the police department, the city feels safe, friendly, and walkable. It certainly was on a beautiful Easter Sunday.