By SHAHRZAD JAVID
The excitement that is the Kentucky Derby is so close, yet so far away. So to feed my Derby craving, I took a trip down to New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby at Fairgrounds! A long weekend was not long enough in the Big Easy with so many attractions, incredible eateries, and the people watching – forget about it! Louisville and New Orleans not only have the fleur de lis in common, but also the various city names; you have New Orleans, NOLA, Nawlins, the Big Easy, and I used each one of them. The city never sleeps and is filled with that wonderful southern hospitality, accents that make you smile and beautiful European architecture!
With many amazing hotels to stay at, we chose the W on Poydras, right next to Harrah’s, just blocks away from Canal Street, the fabulous Shops on Canal and our favorite, Betsey Johnson! Also within walking distance was Bourbon Street, which lived up to all the stories I had heard about! There are always big events to look out for in NOLA, and not only was it the Louisiana Derby and the NCAA tournaments, it was also NOLA Fashion Week!
In my eyes, nothing can top the Kentucky Derby, but the Louisiana Derby brought its own charm! The laid back, casual atmosphere of Fairgrounds matched the city of Nawlins, and they kicked it up a notch for the Louisiana Derby on Saturday, March 26. Familiar faces from Churchill Downs and people I met at Breeders Cup from across the nation were in attendance, seersucker was in abundance and I was thrilled to see the fabulous hats sported by men and women; I felt right at home! The horse racing rush hit me and I handicapped a few races, placed my bets and enjoyed the races; it was my lucky day and I hit two trifectas in a row! Coincidentally one of the co-owners of Mucho Macho Man, appropriately wearing silver fleur de lis cuff links from Rodes, was staying in our hotel and was from Louisville! While in the middle of the paddock before the Louisiana Derby my excitement jumped to a level 10 seeing the Louisiana Derby favorite Mucho Man Man and Pants on Fire, who will both run for the coveted roses in the Kentucky Derby. Pants on Fire was the big winner of the day, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Louisiana Derby winners Black Gold (1924) and Risen Star (1988), who both won the Kentucky Derby. One thing missing was a special Louisiana Derby cocktail – so I settled for a deliciously spicy Bloody Mary!
Although my UofL Cardinals weren’t playing, I still had the March Madness fever and attended the NCAA tournament games on that Thursday and of course hit up Bourbon Street! We ventured to the world famous Pat O’Brien’s for a Hurricane, not my favorite, but had to have one in the spirit of NOLA. Taking our drinks with us, which is surprisingly allowed throughout the entire city, we walked through Jackson Square at night, which is vastly different than Jackson Square during the day. The perception of the voodoo priestess luring you in to give your palm and tarot card readings came to fruition when my friend and I paid a visit to Madam Jada who claimed that she followed her elders’ career path, and her Grandmother was the one who started the trend in Jackson Square – it was too real. One of my favorite must-go-to places we stopped in was Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, which was built around 1772 and is one of the oldest and only remaining examples of French architecture on the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip. Walking down Canal Street we saw a newly wed couple, umbrellas in hand, with their bridal party, family and friends and an entire band playing songs like “When the Saints Go Marching In”, while dancing in the street, and randomly ran into an old friend from Louisville who has lived down there for six years!
My number one must have while in New Orleans was spicy crawfish, and after a $30 cab ride completely out of the way and arguing with the cab driver who nearly drove us to the 9th Ward, he finally got us back to the French Quarters where we found all the crawfish we wanted by the Riverwalk Marketplace, and went back the next day to have more at Montrel’s, where pictures of A-list celebrities decorated the walls and mantles. Unfortunately Café du Monde had ridiculously long lines, so we did not try the beignets or chicory coffee, so we bought the mix to try at home!
Muriel’s at Jackson Square is a well known restaurant where I tried the traditional blackened redfish on a crab cake and added crab meat, and we shared the most amazing bread pudding I’ve ever had in my life; after every bite I couldn’t help but close my eyes and say mmm. A long weekend is not nearly enough for what the magical city of New Orleans has to offer! The people, atmosphere, cuisine, history, mystery and fun made it hard to leave, but I’ll definitely go back!