For the 1.7 million business travelers who have flocked to New Orleans for a convention or a trade show this year, Bourbon Street beckons like an out-of-work college pal, the one with the six-figure severance. Have a few hours to kill before the plastics panel? Come over and check out my toys: speakeasies blaring old-time jazz; cabarets straight out of Bob Fosse's filmography; and the local favorite, the Hurricane, a fruit cocktail that masks the rum you're downing like Kool-Aid.
But if you're speaking at a business round table, where slurred words don't win points, the Big Easy thankfully offers more than just decadence. Try Bourbon Street when a noon wake-up won't get you fired. The scene is worth surveying just once. But if your time in Nawlins is short, missing the cultural, musical and epicurean delights outside the French Quarter will feel worse than an afternoon hangover.
One sober attraction is the city's burgeoning art scene. Two new museums have recently opened: the Sculpture Garden, adjacent to the New Orleans Museum of Art; and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, in the city's warehouse district. From downtown, spend $1.25 for a 25-minute trip north on the new Canal Street cable car to the bucolic Sculpture Garden. More than 50 bronze and stainless steel pieces--including Venus Victorious, by French impressionist Pierre Renoir--adorn the garden's lagoons and pine groves.
After that, you can take the cable car back toward the Mississippi River and transfer to the St. Charles Avenue line south to the Ogden Museum, home of the largest collection of Southern-themed art in the U.S. (It's a dense city; from downtown, it won't take more than 10 minutes to get there.) The museum's five floors narrate Southern history through paintings and photography. A highlight is a painting called Trinity,which depicts Jesus flanked by two other radiant "gods" of the South, Elvis Presley and Robert E. Lee.
Digesting aesthetic New Orleans will make you hungry. Hop back on the St. Charles car and travel about 10 minutes to the garden district, where mid--19th century aristocrats settled in the Victorian mansions that line the picturesque streets. Although Emeril's grabs the headlines, here you will find Commander's Palace, which the prestigious James Beard Foundation has namedbest restaurant in the country. Try the Louisiana court bouillon, a fish soup with crabmeat, shrimp and oysters simmered in a white wine broth. For dessert, don't miss the chocolate fudge Sheba, a double mousse pie dipped in white chocolate with toasted pecans.
After lunch and some antique shopping along nearby Magazine Street, it's time to move on to some jazz. A classic combo is dinner at Jacques Imo's, an uptown neighborhood shack with some of the best food in the city (its mouth-watering fried chicken is served with the house salad), and music at the Maple Leaf Bar next door. Don't expect to lounge at the Maple Leaf; it's packed by 11 on most nights. But if favorites like the Rebirth Brass Band, a group of ex--street musicians, are playing, you'll be dancing anyway.