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For Beignets, Bourbon Street, and the Bayou - The Essentials

I haven't been to New Orleans since 2009. I am WAY overdue for a visit and I hope to go sometime soon although I have no actual plans in the works. 

But as soon as I do return I know what my immediate plans will look like. They include all of the following.

Hotel Monteleone

I have always and will always stay at the Hotel Monteleone. For me it now signifies that I am in New Orleans. Besides the luxury and amazing service, it is right in the heart of the French Quarter on Royal Street, only one block over from Bourbon Street where all of the action is. 

Owner Antonio Monteleone came to New Orleans from Sicily in 1880. He opened up a cobbler shop on Royal Street which was located in the heart of the city even back then. Senior Monteleone purchased the hotel in 1886 which at the time only had sixty-four rooms. Now all of these generations later, Hotel Monteleone still is family own and run. Despite the passage of time and upgrades made, nothing else much has changed.

But like much of New Orleans there is more to this hotel than meets the eye.

I will start with the historical stories because those are my favorite. This was where Truman Capote spent a lot of his childhood, aside from where he was raised in Monroeville, Alabama. Truman’s mother lived here while she was pregnant with him and he spent time with her here when he visited. 

Many other famed authors from Tennessee Williams to Anne Rice have stayed at Hotel Monteleone. In fact because of its popular association with the literary community the hotel was granted the honor of being designated an official literally landmark by the Friends of the Library Association in June of 1999. Fellow members of prestige are The Plaza Hotel and the Algonquin Hotel in New York City are the only other U.S. hotels to have been bestowed this honor. 

Lastly there is the kind of legacy that is not for the faint of heart. 

Hotel Monteleone has guests that seem to not want to check out. And who can really blame them?

According to their website: “This haunted hotel in New Orleans had a restaurant door that opens almost every evening and then closes again, even though it is locked. An elevator that stops on the wrong floor, leading a curious couple down a hallway that grows chilly and reveals the ghostly images of children playing.”

I have never had these experiences although the first time I stayed there I had a bit of an interesting encounter. I was in bed falling asleep and trying to find the energy to get up and shut the lights. Just as I was about to get up all of the lights shut off. I wasn't scared. I figured if it was a ghost as least they were being helpful. 

The next morning I went into the bathroom and saw fog across the mirror as if the shower was on hot full blast. Of course it was not. All things considered these were mild, possible spiritual encounters. But neither of them will stop me from checking in the next time I am in town. 

Cafe Beignet

Cafe Beignet is my breakfast spot, usually everyday. There is a location only two doors down from Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street. There are two additional locations within the French Quarter. 

What I love about this unassuming cafe is the high quality of their food and coffee. There are seats in and outside and never much of a wait despite its popularity.

As the name details this cafe also specializes in a New Orleans delicacy; the beignet. Beignets are fried doughnuts covered in powered sugar and they are the best thing since sliced bread. Sure you can get imitations around the globe and even buy the mix to make at home but NOTHING compares to having them right after they have been prepared. That being said I have never had any here. I save those for another location which I will tackle below. 

Rather Cafe Beignet is where I get French toast, the best I have ever ate, fried eggs on a croissant, and coffee in flavors like Banana’s Foster and Caramel Hazelnut. Of course I always bring a bag or two home. 

They also serve an array of sandwiches and specialties you can only find in this city like a muffuletta or a po’ boy, but more about food later on. 

All you need to know is that after a breakfast from Cafe Beignet you will be all revved up and ready to go out and conquer of one the best places on Earth. 

Every time I have visited Cafe Beignet there has been a black and white cat I have become quite found of and I am not a cat person. I have named him Beignet, naturally! I hope whenever I go there next I will still see him laying around outside taking a nap in the sun.

Cafe du Monde

Ah, Cafe du Monde. If for no other reason this is why you need to visit New Orleans at least once in your life. After you do it will top the reasons why you need to go back. This infamous cafe has been around twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week since it opened in 1862. The only day it is not open is Christmas Day or if a hurricane gets too close. It is after all located on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. 

Cafe du Monde’s specialities are their chicory coffee and beignets. I prefer the coffee served Au Lait which means the coffee is served with warm milk. Since 1988 soft drinks and iced coffee are also on the menu as well as orange juice and tea. But my second favorite drink there is their white hot chocolate. White hot chocolate is a hard drink to find and I have only ever seen it at Dunkin' Donuts and lets say that version is nothing to write home about. However the Cafe du Monde version is delicious. I am just sorry they do not sell the powder to take home. I do however still have this coffee sent to my house. It is the reason I got my father to part with his former beverage of choice: Chock Full O’Nuts. Gross.

No matter how much I drink at home nothing beats the original, as you sit in the cafe, feeling New Orleans walk by you, as you attack stacks upon stacks of beignets. Those things are addictive and made fresh all day and night. There is no bad time to have them. My only word of caution is do not wear black clothing here. That powdered sugar has a mind of its own!

St. Louis Cathedral

St. Louis Cathedral is always a place I make a pilgrimage to. The church is right in the heart of Jackson Square and is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. No matter the weather or the time of day it will never fail to impress you. The inside is just as gorgeous. 

This site has been a place for prayer since 1727 when the cathedral was first built.  It burned down in a fire in 1788. It took over five years for reconstruction and the cathedral was able to reopen for services on Christmas Eve 1794. 

During the 1800s the clock was placed on the facade and the size of the cathedral was increased on both the left and right sides. Many projects took place to ensure the stability of the building and make improvements as they went along. To this day the longevity of the cathedral remains a priority and public donations are welcomed on their website. 

Today I found out that this cathedral marks the spot where the Louisiana Purchase was made, making Louisiana apart of the U.S.A. in 1803, just endearing it further to me. 

Furthermore, there is a statue of Andrew Jackson that is located in Jackson Square that stares directly at St. Louis Cathedral. Its location too marks a moment in history. It is the exact spot where on Andrew Jackson triumphed against the British during the final battle of the War of 1812; The Battle of New Orleans. In January 1840 Andrew Jackson returned to the site twice. The first for speech given in his honor at the cathedral. The second time he laid the corner stone of the statue we see today. 

In 1960 St. Louis Cathedral became a National Historic Landmark due to the significant role it has played in U.S. history. Officially known as The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France, it is the oldest Catholic cathedral of its kind that remains in use in our country. 

Another special moment in the church’s holy history was when Pope John Paul II visited in 1987. His holiness gave a mass outdoors for over two hundred thousand people. 

Fun fact: Native New Orleans resident Harry Connick Jr. married his wife Jill at St. Louis Cathedral in 1994. 

Jackson Square

If the French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans, than Jackson Square is the heart within that heart. It is a city center within a city center if you will. It is the ideal location for just about anything you desire. It also looks as if you stepped outside of a postcard into real life. The beauty is not only appearance deep. Jackson Square also shows at a quick glance everything that New Orleans is; people, food, music and soul. No wonder it is an image that is made popular on actual post cards, paintings, and photographs. Lord knows I have taken more than my fair share. 

Prior to the 1800s Jackson Square was known as "Place d’Armes" and was later renamed in 1815 for Andrew Jackson, over ten years before he became president. 

No matter the name this has always been a place for merchants to sell goods. Now its also the best place to get a palm reading, take a horse carriage ride, have a caricature done of yourself, and purchase local art. There are so many galleries and stores surrounding the square its impossible not to find a local treasure to take home as a souvenir. 

After the all of that shopping you no doubt will have worked up a great big appetite. The only problem you’ll have is deciding where to eat first. Since mostly all of this city can be seen on foot I would suggest squeezing in a drink or do. 

Up next, we will spend some time exploring my favorite spots within the French Quarter. 

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