New Orleans is the coolest city to visit for a music festival, yet it's also the most imposing. After all, you know about the po' boys and local jazz, but how do you separate the legit spots from the tourist traps?
With Voodoo Music Experience 2012 coming up fast, Fuse spoke with NOLA native Ben Jaffe—the director and tuba player in Preservation Hall Jazz Band—and got the lowdown on everything from hidden bars to late-night eats to the most romantic spots in the city.
Best Bar Recommendations
One Eyed Jacks: "A lot of our best bars are associated with venues. One Eyed Jacks is a great bar in front with great music going on in the back room. But if you walk in, you have to know there's a back room with music going on. There's also a hidden, secret speakeasy type of bar, but if you ask them about it they'll look at you weird. You have to figure it out on your own. If you ask, they might even throw you out."
Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop: "There's a great piano bar called Jean Lafitte's that's a lot of fun. It's good to get drawn into that world."
Molly's at the Market: "Molly's has an interesting crowd. It's like a neighborhood bar on a fairly well-traveled strip called Decatur. It's an easy place with great bartenders, a good jukebox and centrally located."
Hearing Local Music
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: "This is something you must do before you lay your head down. Get a drink, wait in line with your girl while people-watching until the show starts. Our shows are from 8-11, which is on the early side for New Orleans. So you can go to Preservation Hall, have that experience, go to dinner, then go to a later show. It's the perfect New Orleans evening."
Spotted Cat: "A lot of younger jazz musicians gather here for sessions and people in the bar come to swing dance. It's on Frenchman Street, which has become the center for late night music in New Orleans."
DBA: "Right across the street from Spotted Cat. It goes late and has good local jazz."
Jackson Square: "You never know who's going to be playing at Jackson Square at 1 am. You could run into a brass band parade. Part of the excitement of New Orleans is being on the street."
Side Stages at Voodoo: "Head to the WWOZ stage, the Bingo! Tent and Preservation Hall's side stage to get real taste of New Orleans within City Park at Voodoo."
Verti Marte: "They have 24-hour delivery. It's like a corner grocery store in the French Quarter. I would only go there to eat if it was the last thing I was doing for that night, because after eating there all you want to do is go to sleep. They have a thing called All That Jazz which is ham, roast beef, turkey and grilled shrimp on fresh French bread. You get something like that—or a shrimp po' boy or oyster po' boy—you're done for the night."
Sylvain: "New Orleans food isn't light fare. But Sylvain is on the lighter side, though it's a bit upscale."
Coop's Place: "It's a late-night food place with probably the best bar food in New Orleans."
Elizabeth's: "For people who are visiting and want something more traditionally New Orleans—but with a new take—go to Elizabeth's."
La Peniche: "If you want good old-fashioned pancakes and eggs and biscuits and grits, go to La Peniche."
Stanley: "It's in Jackson Square but there's no big sign outside so you can walk right by. They have a counter, so even if there's a line you can stand there and get some traditional New Orleans-styled breakfast."
Coffee & Romance
Café Du Monde: "Having beignets late at night with café au laits is a beautiful, romantic way to spend the night. Or watch the sun rise on the levee. The witching hours, between 4:30 pm and 7:30 pm, are such a beautiful time in New Orleans."
Bourbon Street: "First recommendation: Don't go to Bourbon Street. But if you've never been and want to do it, just walk up and down Bourbon. Just know what you're getting yourself into: Watered-down drinks and overpriced strippers."
Stay Clean: "When you're done with Voodoo for the day, the first thing you want to do is find a shower. People in New Orleans start going out around midnight or one on weekends, so you won't be heading out too late."
Drink (Water): "Voodoo is a marathon, so stay hydrated. Beer does not count as a hydrating liquid."
Boozin' in the Streets: "In New Orleans, you can carry drinks on the street. You can carry a drink from one place to another, so the party never actually stops."