An idiosyncratic mélange of Native American, African, French, and Spanish cultures, New Orleans venerates voodoo queens, jazz musicians, and enterprising chefs. The defining civic characteristic: resilience. The city has withstood pestilence, war, occupation, and—devastatingly—Hurricane Katrina, which in 2005 flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and exposed stark social and economic inequality. In the decade since, landmarks and homes have been restored or rebuilt, but the storm’s aftermath remains evident. “If New Orleans is not fully in the mainstream of culture, neither is it fully in the mainstream of time. It lives somewhere between its past and its future,” wrote Tom Robbins in 1984, an observation that still rings true as the city marks a momentous anniversary.
Where to stay
Canal Street’s grand Roosevelt, in service since 1893, reopened in 2009 after a $145 million restoration (from $189). For history on a more intimate scale, 18-room Hotel St. Helene dates to the early 1800s (from $119).
Where to eat
In April, St. Roch Market opened in a historic fish market that had been shuttered since Katrina. Vendors include a creperie and a full-service bar for booze—and one for oysters. In an 1880 mansion, Commander’s Palace oozes old-South charm and has launched star chefs like Emeril. Top-notch service provides as much pleasure as the zesty gumbo and decadent crème brûlée. Snag balcony seating at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau, which offers Creole fare and atmosphere to spare.
Where to drink
In a city that eschews open container laws, the better question is, where not to drink? Bourbon Street stands serve 32-ounce Mai Tais, and almost every bar offers cocktails to go. But for real excess, hop on the slowly revolving Carousel Bar & Lounge in the Hotel Monteleone. With its blinking lights and hand-painted animal likenesses, it seems to spin faster the closer you get to the bottom of that Sazerac.
Amtrak’s Crescent runs daily from New York to New Orleans through Atlanta. Board at Brookwood in the morning; exit on Loyola Avenue in time for dinner. Although railway travel takes a few hours longer than driving, it offers the chance to stretch your legs or enjoy lunch or cocktails in the dining car. The 518-mile journey across the Coosa River and through the Talladega National Forest ends with a spectacular finish as you cross Lake Pontchartrain. Tip: Travel there by train and fly back (from $60 one-way).
What to see
Post-Katrina flooding left 95 percent of 1,300-acre City Park submerged in saltwater, causing millions of dollars in damage. One of the largest and oldest U.S. urban parks, it houses waterways, biking trails, an old-fashioned amusement park, and the New Orleans Museum of Art, now exhibiting Ten Years Gone, works by six artists exploring how communities recover after disasters.
A jolt of the java beloved since 1862. cafedumonde.com
This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.