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The Singular Pleasures Of New Orleans

Upon arrival at the Ace Hotel,  I can’t help but notice that the check-in desk is flanked by bars.

To the left, the bar and lounge attached to its osteria, Josephine Estelle, and to the right, between desk and elevator, the bustling Lobby Bar. Up in my room I find a full selection of rums, whiskies and bourbons (in flasks, not minis) set up for my mixing pleasure on a cabinet near the foot of the bed. Beside the bed, in place of the expected mini-bar fridge, there is a full-sized refrigerator, full to bursting with mixers and a few cases of various different beers, along with enough white wine to host a party.

There is a message here, I’m starting to think. But I can’t quite put my finger on it, so I pour myself a drink, unpack, and then head up to the rooftop to the poolside bar, Alto, for happy hour to rendezvous with my friends.

Alto has its own doorman; it is a scene. So is everything here. That’s why we’ve come.

For our first dinner we have booked Compère Lapin, whose chef, Nina Compton, hails from Saint Lucia and cooks a compelling mix of Caribbean and local cuisine with big, lively flavours, turned out with solid technique. We share oysters, marinated shrimp with roast jalapeño, broiled shrimp with chili butter and a curry of tender goat with sweet potato gnocchi and a sprinkling of chopped cashew, as well as adobo-spiced pork with charred okra. Simple, pleasurable food, cooked with finesse. Be warned, though: brother rabbit keeps a noisy house.

Almost as noisy is the scene we find playing out the next day in a local party ritual called Friday Lunch at Galatoire’s (founded in 1905). This boozy end-of-week celebration unfolds only on the main floor, where tourists are seldom admitted. But if you poke your head in and find that this noisy, joyous spectacle has you yearning for a proper taste of the local tradition, nip upstairs to the second-floor dining room for some French food, New Orleans-style. It’s not so good -heavy and tasting of a bygone era (think gluey oysters Rockefeller and greasy pommes soufflés) -but it’s a unique experience and fun.

For something lighter and more contemporary, try Seaworthy, alongside the Ace on Carondelet Street, a casual oyster bar and seafood restaurant set in an early 19th-century cottage of considerable charm. The oyster selection (from the Gulf Coast to Canada) is excellent. Seafood dishes are locally inspired, with a hint of Asia to go with the French tradition in the mix (think tempura- battered popcorn shrimp with corn-spiked rémoulade, or a crab and shrimp roll with hijiki-dusted fries).

And don’t forget to drink a lot. If you venture over to the Garden District, be sure to have an afternoon cocktail on the front patio of The Columns Hotel. In the French Quarter, stop in at Napoleon House, which has been keeping local drinkers happy since prohibition. And for a nightcap or three, be advised that there is no better place to close out your evening than at a French Quarter dive bar of unusual quality, very aptly named The Dungeon.

— Jacob Richler

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