Dispatch, New Orleans: History, Big Easy-style


Destinations Editor Eric Moya was in the Big Easy last week for the grand opening of the Hyatt House New Orleans. His first dispatch follows.

New Orleans gets it: History lessons are more enjoyable on a full stomach or with a cool beverage in hand.

Case in point: my Classic Drinks Tour with New Orleans Culinary History Tours. The two-hour-plus walking tour wound its way through the French Quarter, pointing out former residences of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote as well as offering up facts about the drinks served at each stop. At starting point Tujague's, for instance, we learned that the restaurant lays claim to inventing the Grasshopper.

At iconic eatery Antoine's, our group learned about the Sazerac, the city's official cocktail. Given the drink's potency, we were wisely advised to sip rather than gulp. (The drink size, some in my tour group noted, was noticeably smaller than the norm for a cocktail, but with good reason. There was still more walking to do, after all.)

A tour of the Garden District was refreshment-free but kept my attention all the same. At Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, for instance, our guide discussed how the site's above-ground tombs have made it a go-to for film and TV shoots for years (particularly since St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is essentially off-limits thanks to the infamous acid-trip scene in "Easy Rider").

Hollywood continued to be the topic as we walked by homes occupied, or once occupied, by John Goodman, Sandra Bullock and Nicolas Cage. Like so much of New Orleans, the district was ripe with history -- a few homes notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, when I paid my $10 admission to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum a few days later, I was encouraged to grab a drink before checking out the exhibits. Plus, thanks to the onsite demonstration kitchen, the whole place smelled like barbecue.

The museum was a fascinating look at New Orleans' culinary heritage, with exhibits dedicated to Popeyes founder Al Copeland and "making groceries" (in the local parlance for food shopping). But true to its name, it offered insights about the cuisine of Florida, Georgia and other states (even including Texas, while acknowledging that some might dispute the Lone Star State's presence in a "Southern" museum).

History never went down so easy.

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