After a morning exploring other parts of the French Quarter, enjoying coffee at Café du Monde and then the French Market, we spent the rest of the day and evening completely immersed in Jackson Square and its history. Street musicians, artists and landmark buildings like the nearly 150 year old St Louis Cathedral and the incredibly cool Pirate’s Alley filled our time, while jazz in Preservation Hall and Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes filled our senses. New Orleans Jackson Square in the French Quarter; the heart of the Crescent City.
Pirate’s Alley New Orleans
Rob was pretty insistent that he wanted to try absinthe so we found the original absinthe bar, Pirate’s Alley Cafe and Olde Absinth House, and he ordered one while I watched. It’s quite a process, I’ll let him tell you about it. I just liked the old bar and the fact it used to be a jailhouse for pirates back in the old days. Pirate’s Alley itself is really interesting and on a weekend you’ll find artists around the fence in behind the cathedral.
Jackson Square in New Orleans French Quarter
Finally we stopped to rest in Jackson Square, which is THE place to hang out in the French Quarter. You’ll usually find street musicians, artists, skateboarders, fortune tellers, magicians, people dancing, buskers and all sorts of interesting things going on at any given time. The square was originally called Plaza de Armas, and was renamed Jackson Square after the Battle of New Orleans in honor of General Andrew Jackson. It was also declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. In the middle of the square is a statue of the general on a horse dating back to 1856.
Jackson Square Landmark Buildings
Jackson Square has many landmark buildings around it as well, and the history in the area is astounding. The finalization of the Louisiana Purchase was done nearby in the Cabildo (old city hall) and opposite that building is The Presbytere which was used for both commercial purposes and even housed the Louisiana Supreme Court. Both buildings were built in the 1790s and are registered National Historic Landmarks.
Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans French Quarter
The St. Louis Cathedral is one of New Orleans’ most notable landmarks, standing tall with it’s triple steeples that look down on Jackson Square and the statue of General Jackson. The landmark building was completed in 1727 and has gone through many disasters, both natural and “man made” in the years since. We noticed that a pope had presided over mass in the St Louis Cathedral recently, but for the life of me, can’t find the details about it. We remember seeing it though.
Television and Movies Filmed in Jackson Square
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, disobedient slaves were executed in Jackson Square. More recently it has been featured in many a TV show and movie including: Angel Heart, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the HBO TV series Tremé (which we managed to walk through a set of, more on that later) and even an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
As we stood on the corner of the square, we overheard a tour guide telling his clients that part of a scene from Interview With a Vampire was filmed inside and the building was used for the fire scene as they burned the French Quarter and left by boat for Paris.
Anyway, after watching a band play in Jackson Square for a while, Rob went to go find somewhere to sit and have a cold drink while I wandered around some more and took photographs. I also popped into a gallery near the cathedral that featured some great local photography.
There are many different tours available in the French Quarter, one of them being by mule or horse buggy. While we didn’t do one this time, I did on my last trip to the city and it was well worth it. Comfort of sitting, a local guide and you can pick which places you can stop and get out at like one of the cemeteries.
You can practically find musicians on almost every street corner in the French Quarter at almost any time of day or night. If you stop to listen please support them by tossing in a few dollars, this is how they make their living. In fact, Rob suggests everyone have a wad of single dollar bills for just this purpose. Stop, listen, and leave a tip.
Iconic Places You MUST SEE in the French Quarter
The French Quarter is a place of history. There are some things you simply MUST do when you’re here. These are are top “things to do in the French Quarter”
When I was in New Orleans in 2005 Pat O’Brien’s was on our Must See list and we were told to have the Pat O’Brien’s world famous Hurricane drink. Little did I know then in that 8oz drink was 4oz of rum! Three Hurricanes later and finding the bathroom become an issue (you have to climb a winding spiral staircase to get to the bathroom). My advice: drink slowly, make sure you have a DD or someone to watch over your drunk ass after having a few, and be aware of your drink count. They are very tasty and go down way to fast like Koolaid – don’t say I didn’t warn you. They also have some other great specialty drinks like the Cyclone and they sell the Hurricane drink mix in powder and liquid form to make at home. We bought some and had a Hurricane party for friends which was a big hit. Their piano bar is usually hoppin’ too and one night we witnessed a marriage proposal and engagement of a young couple.
Preservation Hall, home of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – this is a definite MUST DO! Blink and you’ll miss it as Preservation Hall is a very unassuming, hole in the wall place and if it wasn’t right next to Pat O’Brien’s it would be almost impossible to find. No flashing lights. No billboard. Just an old sign that notifies you that you’re there. Oh that, and the line up will give it away any time after 6pm too. Preservation Hall is all about the music and nothing else. There’s no food or drinks and not even bathrooms. It’s a small $12 cover fee to get in and you can stay for one or all three sets if you get in to the 8pm show. Inside there’s about 6 wooden benches, pillows in the floor and the rest is standing room only. Get there early to line up, usually by 6pm and if you get in for the 8pm show you can choose how long you stay, then it’s all done by 11pm. Buy a CD too! I didn’t the first time and regretted it the whole five years until I was back this time. The music is old-time jazz at it’s finest – just go!
[Rob’s note: I requested they play Happy Birthday for Darlene. We went there on her birthday]
I’ve already mentioned it once but it’s worth another. Pirate’s Alley is located right beside and behind the cathedral. Pirate’s alley is a treasure trove of neat little places to discover. On weekends artists often display their work around the fence behind the cathedral. You can pop into the Faulkner Book shop which was the home of Nobel prize winner writer William Faulkner. It’s crammed with books of all kinds literally from floor to ceiling and is almost overflowing. Upstairs is still a private residence and I’d loved to have had a peak up there, but that was not in the cards this day.
Central Grocery is home of the original Muffuletta, a sandwich of mammoth proportions made out of a whole ciabatta bread. Although we didn’t have one here on this trip, I did partake of the grocery’s sandwich last time. It’s a big sandwich so either bring a big appetite, only get 1/2 or 1/4 or one, or share with friends like I did. It’s full of Italian meats and cheese and a wonderful olive spread that’s to die for! They have a little eating counter at the back – grab a drink and take a load off for a while.
So after cruising around on my own for a while I went and found Rob and we headed to Coop’s Place for a really fast dinner. We wanted to catch the last shuttle back to the RV park and had less than an hour by the time we got to the restaurant and got a table. It’s a dark tiny little place and we picked the dishes that would be delivered to us the quickest so it wasn’t the best opportunity to sample their wares. It is recommended highly by most locals and is another of the little hide-aways that make this city so unique. We vowed to come back and give it a full chance to impress us. What we did have was very good but too rushed to enjoy it. We’ll be back! Besides, we had to eat here – Coop is Rob’s nickname from his days at Peak Potentials.
Café du Monde
As I described in an earlier post about Café du Monde, this is THE place for coffee in New Orleans. Their café au lait and beignet are New Orleans in a cup and a pastry. Serving the French Quarter for 150 years, everyone and their dog has been into this place. Expect to hear “Don’t line up. There is no line up. Find a seat and sit down.” over and over again as the line up’s begin. There ARE NO LINE UPS. Find a seat. Make a new friend at a table and have a coffee. Highly recommended.
New Orleans French Quarter Restaurants
If you’re looking for suggestions for New Orleans French Quarter Restaurants, we’d easily recommend Coop’s Place, the Central Grocery and without a doubt, hands down, the place to find clean food in New Orleans is Meals From the Heart, just a little down Decatur street in the French Market.
Another restaurant in the French Quarter is Mother’s. Absolutely fantastic place to eat. It’s just on the outside edge of the French Quarter, over near Harrahs Casino
Returning to the RV park we had a chance to see a free show from a Neil Diamond impersonator. Apparently he was traveling by RV also and did the show for the park in exchange for their parking fees – very smart! His 2 year old son came out and did an Elvis impersonation to open the show and Neil himself was very good. Had to remind myself a couple times it wasn’t actually the real singer. We didn’t take any photos of it, we just enjoyed the show.
The French Quarter of New Orleans offers the visitor many restaurants, music, art and landmark buildings like the Saint Louis Cathedral. Of the places you must see in New Orleans, make absolute sure you line up and hear a set or two in Preservation Hall. Get a drink from a walk up bar and then get in line. Just do it! Make sure you check out Pirate’s Alley and if you decide to sit in one of the chairs in the photographs above, know that a scene from Treme was filmed there where you sat. Check out the old bookstore next door too. Jackson Square in the French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans. Imagine hundreds of years of musicians, poets, artists, generals and lovers as you stroll the area.