Even Southerners who have never set foot in New Orleans have romantic notions about it. Just say "French Quarter," and images of iron balconies, tall shuttered windows, and hidden courtyards with splashing fountains start dancing in our heads.
If you’re wondering what to do on your next (or first) trip to the French Quarter, don’t overlook the classics, from breakfast at Brennan’s to a Pimm’s Cup in the courtyard at Napoleon House; antiquing on Royal Street; live music on Frenchmen Street, just a few blocks from the Quarter; the “best cheeseburger on the planet” from Port of Call (per our resident NOLA aficionado Travel Editor Hannah Hayes).
Here are some newer must-stops to add to your list:
Jewel of the South (1026 St. Louis Street)
This nod to a 19th century bar represents a collaboration between two of NOLA’s favorite bartenders, Chris Hannah and Nick Detrich, who were also behind Manolito (see below). The two are bringing back classic libations of New Orleans, while incorporating their own inventions and serving a seasonal dinner menu.
Manolito (508 Dumaine St.)
This Cuban bar and café channels a Hemingway haunt, Floridita in Havana, with drinks like Cuban daiquiris and the Papa Doble (reportedly Papa H’s favorite from the Floridita).
Cane and Table (1113 Decatur St.)
A Caribbean-inspired bar and restaurant that defines itself as "proto Tiki," Cane and Table serves such craft cocktails as Hashtag Mai Tai, made with three (count 'em three) rums. It's housed in an 1830 building and accompanying courtyard. Diners enjoy small plates like Coctel De Mariscos—Gulf shrimp, crawfish, avocado, and fried saltines—and hearty entrees like arroz con pollo.
Sylvain (625 Chartres Street)
This rustic-elegant restaurant aims to serve elevated food and cocktails in a laugh-out-loud environment. First hint: You can order an appetizer of champagne and fries. Cocktails include the classics but also creations like the Maria Felix: Cimmaron Blanco tequila, St. Germain, lime, Ancho Reyes Verde, and Tajin Mexican seasoning.
Bar Tonique (820 N. Rampart St.)
A cozy spot on the edge of the French Quarter, Bar Tonique bills itself as “craft cocktails without the pretense.” They’re serious about the drinks they craft, with a menu that groups them into eight categories, from true cocktails to slings to possets, along with beer, wine, aperitifs/digestifs, and more. You will not leave thirsty.
And now for some French Quarter trivia so you can quiz your friends:
New Orleans is just beyond its 300th birthday, founded by the French in 1718.
The French Quarter is also called the Vieux Carré. Translation: “old square.”
It’s legal for bars to operate 24/7 in New Orleans.
It’s NOT legal to ride a Mardi Gras float without a mask.
Bourbon Street, natural habitat of the "go cup," isn’t named for the spirit that flows there with the reckless abandon of the Mighty Mississippi. It’s named for the House of Bourbon, which ruled France when NOLA was founded.
Much of the architecture that distinguishes the French Quarter is actually Spanish—and represents the city's response to fires that destroyed most of NOLA's original wooden French structures in 1788 and 1794.
Some sources say the tomb of Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is visited more than Elvis's grave. Others say she trails him, but not by much. And they probably don’t say that out loud.
WATCH: This New Orleans Institution Invented Bananas Foster
Even the food puts on a show in the Big Easy. And when you see fruit and flames in the same elegant environs, you know you're at ground zero for Bananas Foster.