New Orleans: The Real City That Never Sleeps

Never mind Katrina and the Gulf oil spill. There's a reason the rallying cry here is, "Laissez les bon temps rouler." It's all about letting the good times roll -- by any means necessary.

New Orleans is famous for its food, and if you want to eat where civil rights workers gathered to plan strategy and President Obama stopped by to eat some gumbo, sit down for soul food at Dooky Chase, a Creole restaurant across the street from a public housing development torn down after Katrina. If you want to have lunch where black politicians and local celebrities go to network, stop by Lil’ Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue, in the heart of the Treme neighborhood. New Orleans cuisine doesn’t offer much for non-meat eaters, but there are some options. Bennachin, an inexpensive West African spot in the French Quarter, offers meat, fish and vegetarian options.

Live music is a central part of life in New Orleans. You can always find a range of performers, and several bars and restaurants that never close, on Frenchmen Street. On a Saturday night, listen to old-school hip-hop from the upstairs balcony of the Blue Nile, dance to salsa at Lazziza or cram into the cozy Apple Barrel for some live jazz.  If you want to step farther away from the tourist zone, head a few blocks over to St. Bernard Street, where several black-owned clubs, including Sidney’s Saloon — owned by Kermit Ruffins — and Perfect Fit, a more mature spot that often features live R&B, keep the party going till the late hours.

Nearly every Sunday in New Orleans, from September through June, you can find (if you know whom to ask) a second line. What is a second line? It’s a cross between a parade, a giant roving street party and a family barbecue. The larger second lines involve three brass bands and thousands of people traversing several miles over the course of four or five hours, dancing the whole time.

New Orleans has other cultural traditions all its own. One example is the Mardi Gras Indians — black men, predominantly, and some women — who dress in elaborate costumes that they have spent all year designing and constructing. The costuming originated as a tribute to Native American communities to acknowledge the support they provided to black people during the times of slavery. For example, native communities served as stops on the Underground Railroad, offering refuge for those escaping from slavery.