When I recently joined the teeming masses of music lovers descending on New Orleans for the 2013 Jazz And Heritage Festival, my ignorance of the city weighed more than my backpack. I had a (very) limited budget, no knowledge of how to get around, and zero insight into where to find the non-tourist trap action.

Thankfully, sometimes the saints who watch over travelers are in good spirits, and weight the dice in our favor. Here are some gems:


India House Hostel — Located in Mid City with convenient access to all that New Orleans has to offer, India House is hands down the place to stay when visiting the Crescent City. When I got the enthusiastic recommendation to check out the place, there was only a week before I was to board my southbound train, so I wasn’t terribly optimistic about being able to get a bed. To my surprise, I was able to get in for the stupidly cheap rate of $20 per weeknight, despite the throngs of travelers seeking accommodations.

Delicious and affordable meals are available in the courtyard most of the day, served up by grillmaster Max Stevens. My personal favorite was the B.O.T.Ch (bacon, onion, tomato, and cheese), a $4 masterpiece of a sandwich that became my go-to lunch choice. The staff is supremely competent and dedicated, fostering a positive, friendly vibe that permeates the atmosphere and makes you feel like you could just hang out at the hostel the whole time, lounging by the pool, periodically jumping in the water to escape the heat. Of course, that would be a shame, because less than a block from the hostel, $1.25 will get you on…


The Streetcar — The streetcars of New Orleans are an iconic image of the city, immortalized by Tennessee Williams and eagerly sought out by camera phone wielding tourists. They also happen to be a bomb-ass manifestation of public transit done right. You can get on board the streetcar for what amounts to pocket change—$3 buys you an unlimited ride day pass—and get within walking distance of virtually any desirable destination, including the French Quarter, which is where you’ll find…


Cafe Rose Nicaud — Named in honor of Rose Nicaud, a 19th century slave who worked the streets of the French Quarter selling coffee for her master, saving her tiny cut of the day’s earnings until she was able to purchase her freedom. Known as the original New Orleans coffee vendor, the free woman continued to serve her loyal customers their caffeine fix, eventually setting up a permanent stand in the French Market. The cafe inspired by Nicaud’s life story makes a fitting tribute to the java pioneer.

The selection of iced and hot coffee is extensive and will satisfy even the most discerning coffee aficionados. The menu contains a collection of mouth-watering (and inexpensive!) breakfast and lunch offerings that will give you a full belly and a taste of why the phrase “eat well” is so popular down here. The staff was friendly and quick, dishing up an epic breakfast burrito packed with eggs, cheese, and alligator sausage. My bill would have been less than $10, but I decided to follow-up the burrito with a dirty chai, taking my time to relax and take advantage of the fast and reliable Wi-Fi. Upon leaving the cafe, I took some time to explore…


Frenchmen Street — The place to be for music in New Orleans, Frenchmen Street is home to some of the best venues in the city, including the Blue Nile, the Maison, and d.b.a. bar. Highlights of jazz fest week included a round-robin improvisational session in the upper room of the Blue Nile featuring the crème of the local music scene, an absolute tour-de-force of a performance by Brooklyn-based Snarky Puppy at the Maison that left showgoers ecstatic and speechless, and a vigorous late night Karl Denson set on the Blue Nile’s main stage that went almost to sunrise.

If you’re into real music, do yourself a favor and spend a few nights taking in the Frenchmen Street scene, especially the Open Ears Music Series on Tuesday nights in the Blue Nile’s upper room. Your ears will thank you. Should you find yourself feeling desirous of a respite from all the excitement, however, just a couple of blocks away you’ll discover…


Art Klub — The home base for Artist Inc., an artistic cooperative non-profit that features the Reese Johanson Collective, “a multidisciplinary performing arts ensemble with a mission to challenge artists to work outside of their comfort zone, and collaboratively create works of performance that are innovative, poignant, risky, and human.”

A modular dance floor beautifully crafted by the members of Artist Inc. dominates the space in front of the large stage, inviting members and guests alike to express themselves through motion and rhythm. I grabbed a spot in the comfortable theater seating and watched some extremely talented folks perform interpretive dance to the musical stylings of Bodhi3, a local experimental jazz group. If you find your way to Art Klub, enjoy the food and drink, and let yourself feel inspired by the creative vibe. A monthly trial membership will run you $5, and an annual membership is available for $35.


Alex Benson can be reached at alexb@theaquarian.com.

One Response

  1. Alex Benson

    CLARIFICATION: Frenchmen Street is adjacent to the French Quarter, not actually in the French Quarter.


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