Bon temps, part deux

Your cares will disappear

When you hear

Hallelujah St. Nicholas is here

When it’s Christmas time

In New Orleans

In a column last March, I summarized my travelogue recollections from prior visits to the city not for spectators, but for participants. Taking advantage of my college freshman’s holiday break, I joined Maya a few weeks ago in an easy pursuit of “bon temps” in New Orleans.

Day 1 we started in the Bywater District with an outdoor table at Alma Café. Waiting on lunch, I heard an incredible sound system loudly pumping out “Pick up the Pieces” by the Average White Band. I turned expecting to view a decked-out monster SUV navigating the pot-holed streets. Instead, it was an older, nicely dressed gentleman whizzing down Louisa Street on his mobility scooter in style. Lunch arrived and the red beans and rice and Spanish Migas were delicious. I’ve been following chef Melissa Araujo since meeting her as my Uber driver during a prior visit in 2016, and she opened her Honduran eatery back in the fall of 2020.

Post lunch we strolled through Bywater with its colorful cottages and thriving art scene. We hit Jamnola. an immersive 12-room exhibit celebrating New Orleans art, music and culture. Making our way back to the Quarter, we caught a holiday jazz concert by the Original Tuxedo Band in St. Louis Cathedral. From there, we grabbed a late dinner at Cochon Butcher for the city’s best muffaletta.

Day 2 we grabbed coffee and beignets at Café du Monde, then took the St. Charles streetcar, hopping off for lunch at La Boulangerie on Magazine, followed by Beard Papa’s amazing cream puffs. We toured Loyola New Orleans and Tulane in the late afternoon, then made our way back to Baru Bistro & Tapas for dinner. We took in holiday decorations of the beautiful homes in the Lower Garden district along St. Charles, then ended at the Roosevelt Hotel, strolling the lobby fully decked out in holiday lights.

Day 3 we hit Napoleon House for lunch and a Pimm’s Cup. Later, we strolled up Frenchman Street, then caught a late afternoon Rebirth Brass Band concert at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. We stopped by the New Orleans Historic Collection on Royal for insight into the city’s Spanish and French influence and history. We finished with a late dinner at Carmo in the Warehouse District.

Day 4 we popped into French Truck for morning coffee, then had lunch @ Acme (a half dozen raw and half dozen chargrilled oysters). We ended our trip with people watching from an outside table at the Chart Room on Chartres.

The city is still not fully back since the pandemic, but it was nice to maneuver without crowds (no waiting for beignets). The “joie de vivre” remains ingrained here like no other place, and as always, the locals were nice — except for the one guy who asked me if Maya was my nurse. Even this old guy can appreciate a well-delivered stinging insult like that.

— Bret Conway of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].