Yes, New Orleans is a party town with bars and music on every corner and a festival – or three – in the streets just about every weekend.
But “The Big Easy” is also a serious destination for business.
New Orleans welcomed more than 18.5 million visitors in 2018, with more than 660,000 of those guests arriving for major conventions.
Others head to New Orleans for meetings with companies in the energy, oil and gas industries, such as Chevron and Shell, and for space-related projects underway at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Plant, where tenants include Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and General Electric’s LM Wind Power, which produces rotor blades for the wind industry.
“We also have booming new business in technology and a growing gaming sector,” said Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans, the economic development agency for southeast Louisiana. “In fact, Testronic, a London-based video game company, is expanding to New Orleans with a new 150-job office.”
Business travelers with a limited amount of free time in New Orleans will certainly enjoy the traditional attractions of music, food and the carefree culture of Bourbon Street, said Hecht. “But get off that street and there’s an enormous world beyond it that’s incredibly rich.”
Here are some New Orleans’ best-bets that we gathered from Hecht and others to help you make the most of your time in the Crescent City.
If a downtown meeting or convention session wraps up early, take off your nametag and head to the French Quarter to check off some of the classics, such as coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde in the French Market or, if that’s too crowded, at one of the Cafe Beignet shops nearby.
Stroll along Royal Street, where you’ll find at galleries, souvenir shops and boutiques, including Fleur de Paris (523 Royal St.), a colorful custom millinery and couture shop that boasts of being the largest millinery shop in the country.
At 630 Royal St., M.S. Rau Antiques has been selling high-end art, antiques, jewelry and exotic other items for more than a century. The 25,000-square-foot gallery feels more like a museum than a shop, with an ever-changing display of odd and eclectic items. If you’re a serious shopper, you may be invited into a secret room to see rare treasures.
The Historic New Orleans Collection is nearby at 520 Royal St., with free exhibitions, a gift shop and Cafe Cour, a courtyard bistro. Additional exhibits are at 533 Royal St. and at the Williams Research Center is housed at 410 Chartres, with hundreds of thousands of photographs, prints and drawings. Free organ tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday at 520 Royal at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. There also are free tours available via the museum’s smartphone tours and app.
Some of Hecht’s favorite places for lunch include Cochon, serving a modern, unpretentious take on Cajun food (in the Warehouse Arts District about three blocks from the Convention Center); Compere Lapin (French for ‘brother rabbit’; also in the Warehouse Arts District), which has a Caribbean-inspired menu; and Domenica, an Italian restaurant in the elegantly restored downtown Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans.
After lunch, stop at the new Sazerac House museum (and working distillery) at Canal and Magazine St. for a free self-guided, multimedia tour exploring the history of New Orleans through the Sazerac and other cocktails. Admission is free, but reservations are encouraged for busy times. Complimentary samples of three cocktails are included.
If you can, squeeze in a mid-to-late afternoon in-town visit to another of New Orleans’ many museums. Some top-rated ones include the New Orleans Jazz Museum (400 Esplanade, in the historic U.S. Mint; Admission $8); the National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St.; Admission: $28.50, $18 for military with ID and free for WWII veterans).
Or grab a taxi, Uber or street car (Fare $1.25; $3 for a day pass) and head out to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), which has a permanent collection of almost 50,000 objects. Museum admission is $15, but there is no fee to tour the museum’s 12-acre Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which has more than 90 sculptures in a lush Southern landscape of magnolias, camellias and 200-year-old moss-laden live oaks.
For a classic New Orleans dinner experience, call or go online and get a reservation at Commander’s Palace, in the Garden District. “It’s the archetype of a fine dining restaurant,” said Hecht, “with a sense of sense of playfulness and fine French service.”
Pay attention to the dress code (business attire, jackets for men, no flip flops, jeans discouraged) and consider this also as a lunch option weekdays, when 2-course specials and 25-cent martinis (limited to 3 per person) are served, or for the weekend Jazz Brunch.
For something more casual, try Coop’s Place in the French Quarter, where the house specialties are seafood gumbo and a rabbit and sausage jambalaya.
You can ease into the evening with a cocktail just about anywhere. Some popular options in the French Quarter include the historic French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s Restaurant (813 Rue Bienville); the rotating Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St.) and the intimate wine-centric Patrick’s Bar Vin (730 Bienville St.) at the Hotel Mazarin.
For live music of all stripes and a “not Bourbon Street-crazy” street scene, locals point visitors to the clubs on Frenchmen Street, in the Marigny neighborhood, not far from the French Quarter. Some popular venues there include Snug Harbor, d.b.a, The Maison, the Spotted Cat, Blue Nile and the Apple Barrel.
When it comes time to leave town, be sure to head for the airport early.
Cab or ride-hailed (Uber or Lyft) journeys to the airport start at about $36 and can take upwards of half an hour, depending on traffic and time of day.
The good news is that the city just opened a brand new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport that features several stages for live music and many restaurants that represent New Orleans’ celebrity chefs and cuisine, including Emeril’s Table, The Munch Factory, Lucky Dogs and Leah’s Kitchen. This way you can give yourself enough time to check-in but still enjoy the New Orleans vibe.
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