Every year, right in the middle of summer, locals know to expect the daily rains. But unwarned visitors to the Crescent City can look a bit shell shocked, if not betrayed by the sudden thunder and surprise precipitation. It’s not the vision of New Orleans that makes the endlessly sunny postcards or inspires a second line or even meandering the Quarter with a frozen daiquiri. The summer rains can downright confuse visitors. Take for example, a haunted history tour group I saw huddled together just a few days ago. The dilemma was plainly visible on their faces: get soaked or don their plastic ponchos? Meanwhile a seasoned palm reader appeared unphased as she simply pulled her cards and incense to wait out the storm under a balcony.
While a heavy rain in the Quarter might drive some to stay inside their hotel rooms, armed with a little knowledge and an umbrella, a stormy Vieux Carre can become just as enchanting as during the sunshine. This is especially true at night. The easter egg colors of the masonry buildings become muted as the shadows and greys of film noir emerge and the rain pelts the roofs. On Royal as well as along the more residential streets, the Quarter’s French architectural roots become even more noticeable without the competing bustle of the crowds. Saint Louis Cathedral, may in fact, appear most dramatic during a storm.
So rather than see rain as an obstacle, accept a summer pouring as part of an authentic New Orleans experience and duck into one of the following spots to revel in the moodiness of the tempest. And even better, none of these places will dampen your pocketbook.
French 75 Bar
815 Bienville Street
With a dimly lit seductive ambiance and old-school carefully crafted classic cocktails, this bar, humbly adjacent to Arnaud’s Restaurant, is the perfect place to hide away and take a virtual step back in time. Visitors will love the charming barkeepers, delicious drinks and cigar-friendly atmosphere.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe
622 Pirate’s Alley
Even during the rain, it’s likely that the four sets of arched french doors will remain open in this superlatively quaint and tiny corner establishment. Friendly barmaids sport stomachers and headscarves. Sit at the bar or corner table and stare at the backlit walls of St. Louis rising up through the storm. Note: cash only.
Fritzel’s European Jazz Club
733 Bourbon Street
Locals know Fritzel’s as a haven from the neon strip of Bourbon. Located in an an 1831 masonry building that looks like it came straight out a Monmartre backalley, Fritzel’s has been serving up drinks and Dixie style jazz since 1969 –without the lines that plague Preservation Hall. Check their website for the music calendar and a sample of the swinging house band.
Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur Street
The iconic big tent might not be your first instinct, but how satisfying to indulge in beignets and cafe au lait while watching the downpour. Grab a center table and let the powdered sugar fuel your run back to the hotel or the next round.
Cane and Table
1113 Decatur Street
This tropical spot offers romantic respite from not only the rain, but typical bar food. This tiki-inspired cocktail bar features a rum-heavy drink list with a Caribbean island flavored menu in a rustic lounge for when it’s raining, or a lush and spacious back patio for when there’s clear skies.
M.S. Rau Antiques
630 Royal Street
If rain strikes during the daylight hours, M.S. Rau Antiques is a labyrinth of old trinkets ans corresponding history. From self-playing pianos to enigma machines to the beds of Egyptian kings, this treasure trove keeps going and going, offering a place to explore indoors.