“Don’t you just love those long afternoons in New Orleans,” Tennessee Williams wrote in A Streetcar Named Desire, “when an hour isn’t just an hour–but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands—and who knows what to do with it?”
The pandemic certainly dealt a blow to the famed Crescent City, where the Covid-19 rates in March were among the highest in the world. The mayor and governor, alongside the citizens, worked tirelessly to mask-up and partially lockdown. Rates fell, but then a staggering eight major storms, including six hurricanes, arrived in early fall.
Despite it all, New Orleans has come out on top, and she’s now a fine destination for responsible travelers.
The city, as always, is a dream of dripping bougainvillea, soft notes on a trumpet, and the sound of ice clinking in a glass. There’s gumbo on the stove, jugglers in Jackson Square, and streetcars clanging up the avenues.
The best place to experience New Orleans is in one of her famed courtyards. It’s in these enclaves, both large and small, scented with flowering jasmine or dazzling with marquee bulbs, that the city worms her way into your soul.
They are settings both timeless and festively new, filled with seersucker suits, intoxicating gossip, historic architecture, and ice-cold absinthe, like always.
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Brennan’s has been open since 1946, and the courtyard, with its pink and green tropical motif, is always the coveted option. Famous for inventing Banana’s Foster and for their breakfast that goes all day, they recently introduced a Champagne-sabering Happy Hour. At 5 p.m., a sommelier wields a sword and whacks off corks, before pouring glasses of France’s finest. It’s a beautiful, bubbly accent to the sweet-tea-brined chicken wings and the oysters with a cornbread crumble. Always dress to impress.
On the edge of the 9th Ward in a curve of the Mississippi River, this funky wine shop has racks and racks of bottles, cases of cheese, and a sommelier staff. Select a few, toss them in a provided cooler, and head out to the backyard, where mismatched tables sit beneath trees full of twinkly lights. Live music is free every night Bacchanal is open, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. They have an outstanding dinner menu and craft cocktails, as well. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made via bacchanalwine.com
Every food magazine worth a damn has sung the praises of this cottage restaurant in the French Quarter. Owner and Chef Susan Spicer’s menu changes daily, and you come for the massive, icy Martinis, the perfectly rare lamb rack, and the French Quarter charm of Bayona’s dreamy courtyard—where white tablecloths gleam in the light of Edison bulbs and fragrant jasmine blooms on brick walls.
The Country Club
A sprawling, Southern, yellow mansion invites you into the green front door, past avant-garde, glittery art, to a courtyard and swimming pool, and you don’t need to be a member to enjoy it all. Sadly, however, you cannot splash right now, due to COVID-19 regulations, but new round tables with bright-green umbrellas are a perfect place to enjoy unforgettable chilaquiles with poached eggs. Don’t forget to grab your picture with the two menacing, plastic alligators that are still utilizing the pool.
Eliza Jane Hotel
Wes Anderson could easily film a scene in this hotel, from the intricate tile floors of the reception area to the aubergine velvet sofas and towering fireplaces in the lounge. The 1,000-square-foot, brick paver courtyard is divided into small sections, leading you to discover an Italian fountain lit in purple neon, a sofa tucked behind a crumbling brick wall, or an armchair nook, perfect for plotting your next screenplay.
Jewel of the South
The cocktail creativity here puts London and New York on blast. The drinks come hyper-local, thanks to citrus plucked from the fig, loquat, and blood orange trees in the courtyard, and the white tables and French chairs quickly fill with regulars when this aptly named “Jewel” opens each evening.
Originally a stable, then a tire shop, the enchanting, antiquated building is now N7—a quirky fine-dining French restaurant with a low-key vibe. The gravel patio is filled with plants—oleander, bird of paradise, box hedges, and bougainvillea—and it’s hard to remember if you’re in Europe or still in the Bywater neighborhood after a few pastis, some steamed mussels, and pomme frites.
The courtyard is on the third floor of the historic, 1908, Beaux-Arts building, a mere two blocks from Bourbon Street. Yet, as you alight from the sparkling, white-marble lobby, you are transported to Italy in fountains and foliage. The Ritz-Carlton courtyard has been the scene of hundreds of weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and simple coffee conversations over the decades, and come spring, there is usually a crawfish boil afoot.
Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar
You might lift an eyebrow at the front of this new Warehouse District bar and restaurant, located directly beneath the freeway overpass. The massive patio is marvelous and strikingly serene, however, filled with palm trees and big screens on NFL game days. Plus, up on Sidecar’s roof deck, you can enjoy a sunset over the city’s rooftops.
The best courtyards in New Orleans feel like a discovery; like something from another era, where the ghost of Tennessee Williams might waltz in, calling for a sazerac. This is that courtyard. Find the French Quarter, narrow passageway off Chartres, and follow it down to sexy red and amber lighting, a curving exterior staircase, and one of the city’s best fried chicken sandwiches.