So many attractions in New Orleans have such wonderful history! Here you will find some of our favorite historic hot spots in the city where the sense of history is special and palpable. If these walls, streets and sidewalks could talk, they’d share stories of fascinating characters and events going back hundreds of years. Discover where you can go to be connected to some of New Orleans’ most interesting history.
The St. Charles Streetcar Line
They’re not the oldest thing in the city, but the 1923-vintage arch roof streetcars are one of the most visible symbols of New Orleans. Get a day-pass from the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, and ride the same streetcars that writers and musicians have written about for generations, from Tennessee Williams to the Doobie Brothers. Riding the St. Charles Avenue line from Canal Street to the terminal at S. Claiborne Avenue is one of the best ways to see the city.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
Arguably the oldest bar in New Orleans, this building dates back to 1772, making it one of the few French-built buildings that survived the great fires of 1788 and 1794. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop was reputedly one of the gathering places for pirates such as the Lafitte brothers and Dominique Youx, when they came up to the city from Barataria Bay. Today, the bar is a regular stop on French Quarter walking tours. Whether you’re on a guided tour or just wandering the Quarter on your own, come down to Bourbon and St. Phillip streets for a taste of pirates, scoundrels, and adventure!
Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone
Located at 214 Royal Street, the Monteleone is steeped in New Orleans history and tradition. The hotel, in operation since 1886, opened a revolving bar in the lobby in 1949. The Carousel Bar seats 25, and opens out to the larger lobby bar. Enjoy a cocktail and just imagine what it was like to wait for performers to finish up their sets in the Swan Room next door, or for literary greats like Faulkner, Eudora Welty, or Truman Capote to come in for a nightcap.
St. Louis Cemetery Number One
The city’s oldest cemetery, located just north of the French Quarter, at Basin and Conti Streets. The cemetery, opened in 1789, is the resting place of many famous and infamous New Orleans, as well as thousands of less-well-known people. The cemetery is reputed to be the burial place of “voodoo queen” Marie Laveau, in addition to Etienne de Bore, sugar cane planter and New Orleans’ first mayor. The city’s first black mayor, Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial, also rests here. In the back of the cemetery is the “Protestant Section,” an area set aside for non-Catholic burials.
Located in Faubourg Marigny, the city’s first subdivision, Frenchmen Street and the surrounding neighborhood were originally part of the Marigny family plantation. Bernard Marigny subdivided the plantation and sold the property off as residential lots. Frenchmen Street, from Esplanade Avenue to Washington Square, is home to a number of restaurants and music clubs, such as The Blue Nile and Three Muses. The neighborhood was one of the focal points of the HBO series, “Treme,” and continues to be popular as a “more-local” alternative to the French Quarter.
Originally part of the Allard Plantation, City Park in Mid-City provides New Orleanians with a vast amount of green space, along with a number of recreational facilities. The park includes historic outdoor architecture, such as the Peristyle and Popp Bandstand. City Park also features the New Orleans Museum of Art, the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, tennis courts, softball diamonds, golf courses, miniature golf, and a driving range. The park is also a great stop to get traditional cafe au lait and beignets at the Morning Call Coffee Stand.
Antoine’s and Tujague’s Restaurants
Enjoy classic Creole-French cuisine in New Orleans’ two oldest restaurants. Antoine Alciatore opened his namesake restaurant on Rue St. Louis, between Royal and Bourbon, in 1840. Madame Begue opened the restaurant that’s now Tujague’s in 1847. Antoine’s is well-known for its magnificent private rooms, as well as the two main dining rooms on the first floor. There’s also the Hermes Bar, where you can stop in for a cocktail and appetizers, as well as live music on the weekends. Tujague’s, located on Decatur Street, across from the French Market, serves classic New Orleans cuisine, along with their signature boiled beef brisket as a small-plate course between appetizer and entree. The bar at Tujague’s features a large mirror that was imported from France in the 1850s. Even if you don’t have time to stop for a full meal, check out the bars at both restaurants for a flashback into antebellum New Orleans, Creole-style.
The “Red Streetcars”
Prior to the Great Depression, there were over 200 miles of street rail trackage in New Orleans. Of the last two streetcar lines in the city, the Canal Street line was discontinued in favor of bus service in 1964. In 2004, streetcars returned to Canal Street. The red-painted “VonDullen” streetcars (named by local streetcar historians after their chief designer, Elmer VonDullen), now run the 4.3-mile route from the river to the cemeteries, as well as along North Carrollton Avenue to City Park. While the ride may be modern (the VonDullen cars are air-conditioned and have modern propulsion systems), they still give the rider a sense of what it was like at a time when street railways ruled the city.
The Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel
While the Hotel Monteleone attracted musicians, artists and writers. The Roosevelt Hotel on Canal Street was a nexus of power and politics. Legendary Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey P. Long maintained a regular suite in the hotel, and would often conduct business in the hotel’s bars, particularly the Sazerac Bar. The bar is named after the drink considered by many to be the first cocktail ever invented. Every September, the bar celebrates 1949’s “Storming of the Sazerac” – the first time when women were allowed to drink in the bar (other than Mardi Gras Day).
Located in Faubourg Treme, just north of the French Quarter, Louis Armstrong Park is part of the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, operated by the National Park Service. Armstrong Park includes several landmarks of early jazz, most notably Congo Square. Also known as Place Congo and Place de Negres, Congo Square was an early gathering point for African slaves, free peoples of color and their descendants.
The Garden District
The Anglo-Americans that came to the city in numbers after the Louisiana Purchase were not warmly welcomed by the French-Spanish Creoles who lived in the French Quarter. They also didn’t like the old city’s architecture, so they moved further up the river, where they could build traditional English-style homes, with front lawns rather than interior courtyards. A walking tour of the Garden District, which is the neighborhood bounded by Louisiana, St. Charles, Jackson Avenues, and Magazine Street, is a great way to relax on a lazy afternoon.
Enjoy these wonderful places!
Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, and Maison Blanche Department Stores, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. He is also author of Legendary Locals of New Orleans. Branley’s latest book, New Orleans Jazz, is now available in bookstores and online. Edward is also the NOLA History Guy, online and on Twitter @NOLAHistoryGuy)