THE HANDS-DOWN BEST TIME TO VISIT NEW ORLEANS
Leave Mardi Gras to the Amatuers: Halloween in New Orleans is the hauntingly good party of the year.
Few cities revel in the macabre and dearly departed as New Orleans does. A slew of haunted houses, vampire tours and ghost-themed excursions run year-round, and a popular bumper sticker boasts a rare skill: “New Orleans: We Put the FUN in Funeral.” So it’s no surprise that locals excel at Halloween-specific festivities, which begin soon after September’s lethargy-inducing humidity lifts; by mid-October, the city is back in party mode. And this year, thanks to new restaurant and hotel openings, New Orleans is even more equipped to bring weary visitors back from the dead.
The two biggest annual Halloween events are the Krewe of Boo parade (Oct. 22) and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience festival (Oct. 28-30). Warning: Both are maddeningly popular. Find a spot early. At the parade, which rolls through the French Quarter, with all its hidden gardens and Anne Rice-inspiring alleyways, participants with skeleton face-paint and monster-themed floats rival Mexico City’s Day of the Dead for eerie eye-candy.
A week later, in New Orleans’s City Park, multiple stages will draw 100,000 or more concertgoers to the three-night Voodoo fest. Set amid stone bridges and 600-year-old live oaks, the concert attracts marquee names like this year’s headliners, Arcade Fire, the Weeknd and Tool. After the show, cross a bayou footbridge and peek inside Esplanade Ridge’s St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, one of the creepiest in the city.
Even the tony Garden District rises to the All Hallows occasion, when the stately antebellum and Greek Revival manors on St. Charles Avenue are spookily transformed—their facades and wrought-iron work swathed with cobwebs and giant spider props almost the size of the “Alien” that inconvenienced Sigourney Weaver in the 1979 film. Ambitiously landscaped grounds are dotted with tombstones, crawling with skeletons and lurching mechanical zombies. Witches on brooms swing from oaks, magnolias and banana palms.
Daylight hours can prove gleefully menacing too. Gussy up to enter the turreted Victorian sprawl that is the Commander’s Palace restaurant for its boisterous Haute Creole jazz brunch and 25-cent Martinis, then walk it off in the decrepit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 across the street, peeking into crumbling mausoleums and getting lost in its labyrinthine maze of tombs.
When night falls, visitors have a dizzying array of dining options. Since Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, nearly 700 restaurants have opened in the city. Many ushered in an adventurous foodie renaissance and established themselves in once-blighted or storm-ravaged corridors where tourists previously seldom ventured.
Nearly 60 restaurants debuted this past year alone, including standouts such as Shaya, an Israeli restaurant in the city’s Uptown section, that nabbed this year’s “Best New Restaurant” award from the James Beard Foundation. Others worth seeking out: Seaworthy, an airy oyster and seafood bar situated in a historic townhouse in the Warehouse District; Cavan, a seafood spot nestled in an old Victorian on Magazine Street; and Primitivo, a smoking-and-grilling meat-lover’s fantasy. Celebrated chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Bayona chef Susan Spicer are debuting new gustatory outposts too. All these newcomers are keeping the iconic white-tablecloth French-Creole mainstays—now dusted off—on their toes, including power-lunch and party-palace stronghold Galatoire’s, the handsomely renovated Brennan’s, and Tujague’s, which turns 160 this year and houses one of the country’s most colorful stand-up bars.
Speaking of watering holes, the walking dead can now find Corpse Reviver cocktails in hopping nightlife neighborhoods like Mid-City, Broadmoor, St. Roch, Carrollton and the Central City district’s Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
The tipsy, the spooked or the lazy will soon find it easier to get from Point A to Point B with the city’s new streetcar line expected to be in operation later this fall. Meanwhile, stretches of new bicycle paths, unheard of just a few years ago, now make the inaccessible a breeze. Rent a gear-free cruiser at Bicycle Michael’s in the Faubourg Marigny or Uptown at Mike the Bike Guy and catch all those architectural details and hideaway bars you might miss from a car window.
WALL STREET JOURNAL