A Modern Guide to the Best of New Orleans
By, Ada Polla
The world is small - very small. Small enough that my business partner and Director of PR is BFF with a BFF who is BFF and Founding Creative Director of my favorite design magazine, Domino. Yes, it is no longer in print - yet I have the first 12 issues and treat them like treasures, and I own The Domino Book of Decorating (and leaf through it lovingly at least once a month). Two degrees of separation through BFFs. Better than six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, if you ask me.
Getting back to the point... when I realized I was two BFFs away from Sara Ruffin Costello, and that she recently moved from The Big Apple to The Big Easy, how could I resist interviewing her about her new city, which I partly consider my city (I live half my life there since my husband lives there; I live the other half of my life in Georgetown, Washington DC). And just in case I needed more signs from the Universe that somehow we are meant to connect, my brother-in-laws who manage marketing and social media for Paris Parker Salons were recently doing a photo-shoot at Sara’s home. Like I said, the world is small.
I couldn’t help myself and had to ask her about New Orleans.
AP: What is your favorite thing about New Orleans, or the thing you find most unique about this city? SRC: New Orleans is a complicated spot. There is no one favorite or unique thing, but rather a collection of contradictions that complete the puzzle. Lets start with the notion of living in a BIG small town — the Crescent City has a population between 300 and 400,000 people, but the city is also a magnet, drawing about 10 million tourists a year; on the one hand, you’re an integral member of a small community that depends on your participation civically, and on the other, you play the role of hostess to a grab bag of friends and friends-of-friends from all over the world who not only bring a desire to consume alcohol, but are actually a fun delivery system of new ideas. Second, preservation and advancement duke it out on a daily basis here. Locals would lie down in the streets if Friday lunch at Galatoire’s went the way of the horse drawn carriage (in fact they haven’t let go of those either), but at the same time the city has fought hard to maintain its foodie status and accordingly chefs like Donald Link and Alon Shaya, who have stepped up with inventive twists on Southern (and not so Southern) fare. And third, the weather - our achilles heel. While we adore our mostly tropical, languid porch time, fierce thunder storms and regular flooding obviously make for ENORMOUS challenges. Finally and most importantly, you can let your freak flag fly here. To quote The Daily Picayune back in 1851, “Everyone in this good city enjoys the full right to pursue his own inclinations in all reasonable and unreasonable ways.”
AP: What do you miss most about not being in NYC anymore? SRC: Absolutely nothing. I relish the quiet here, especially not being bombarded by corporate advertising. I see my New York friends in New Orleans more than I saw them in New York. And we have Uber.
AP: What is a well kept secret of New Orleans that you were pleased to discover? SRC: The New Orleans Museum of Art situated in glorious City Park (larger even than Central Park). The building itself is stunning, the permanent art collection serious and surprising, and Director Susan Taylor has interesting taste - the exhibits always have to do with something special about New Orleans... like right now its Bob Dylan’s oil paintings from when he lived here - who knew? And this November, I can’t wait to see Abstract Expressionists George Dunbar’s retrospective which will be shown alongside inspirational paintings by some of his pals like Franz Kline and Agnes Martin. Plus, the sculpture garden is truly extraordinary —all the bests are in it- like Anish Kapoor’s mirrored box surrounded by live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Architect Lee Ledbetter, who actually designed the sculpture garden jokingly described the NOMA as a fine example of tropical classicism and he’s right.
AP: What are your favorite beauty addresses? SRC: For nails: Out of towners like Buff Beauty Bar in the CBD (nails, hair, eyelash extensions), and with local pals, I hit Serenity on Tchoupitoulas. For hair, I send folks to Chris at Paris Parker (on Prytania) or to Daniel at the Color Bar (on Magazine). When India Hicks was here recently she ordered a blow out to her hotel room off of Yelp! I don’t get facials but if I were to recommend a most excellent dermatologist that would be Dr. Deirdre Hooper at Audobon Dermatology - she is an artist. I don’t wax either, but my friend gets them at the Waxing Bar (on Magazine). I have another pal who concocts the most delightful homemade skin care and balms out of her kitchen, just like a witch - her line is called Oxallis.
AP: What are your favorite wellness addresses? SRC: Health nuts like Satsuma (in the Bywater and uptown on Maple) for fresh juice and anything that has not been fried. High Volt and the French Truck (Lower Garden District) have today’s requisite avocado toast and chicken salad and excellent slow drip or cold brewed coffee. For gyms, spinning and basically all the tough classes at Romney Fitness (on Magazine) and yoga at Reine Studios (CBD).
AP: Given that cocktails were pretty much invented in NOLA, what is your favorite cocktail, and favorite bar? SRC: To start the night, a handmade cocktail at French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s — depending on what drink you order, legendary bartender Chris Hannah will match the perfect ice - crushed or one giant block - to your beverage. Barrel Proof for late night. And I have just discovered delicious jalapeño margaritas at Dick and Jenny’s (on Tchoupitoulas). That said, a freezing cold draft beer from Vaughns in the Bywater is just about heaven.
AP: Given your background in all things house and interior design related, what is your favorite house in NOLA? SRC: Don’t miss a jazz show show at Preservation Hall, the Lincoln Center of the South - Ben Jaffe, whose parents started the place in the 60’s has left this very special venue untouched (a new employee once tried to clean the windows and Ben was like “Stop!!! What are you doing? That’s not dirt, that’s patina!” you can still see a small clean circle on the left front window from when this sad event took place 15 years ago.) Tipitinas is another only-in-New Orleans music venue that sounds as good as it looks. You will likely stumble into both the Napoleon House and the Old Absinthe House at some point during your visit - two old school photogenic bars in the French Quarter- that are worth not only getting a drink at but having your picture taken in.
If you are lucky enough to get invited to either Julia Reed’s for one of her legendary book parties featuring homemade supper or cocktails in the garden at John D and Melissay Gray’s shangri la, GO! And then there is Peter Patout’s very special French Quarter abode situated around a lush courtyard. But there are so many magical spots - private and public - to see. Walk past Allison Kendrick’s magnificent Garden district house on 1st street (and all the other houses in the garden district) or visit the Hermann Grima and Gallier houses for a peek into the past. Just walking around the lower French Quarter and Esplanade Street and biking through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods puts you into a good mood. Finally, New Orleans cemeteries - specifically St Louis Cemetery number 1 and Lafayette Cemetery number 2- beautiful, haunting and historic.
AP: Where do you shop for clothes? SRC: Lily Vintage Boutique on magazine always has something unique - lace dresses as well as 60’s Courreges...there are a few others like U.A.L for discount labels on Chartres in the French Quarter and Revival Outpost, also in the Quarter. Krewe, has the best sunglasses. For antiques, the most original eyes are Ann Koerner, Gerrie Bremmerman, Mac Maison, Karla Katz — all on Magazine. Shops like Sterling Provisions, Perch, and Stella Gray have a more modern mix and Loisel Vintage carries a good collection of mid century. I also dig the Healing Center for Herbal Oils, readings by the high priestess and a little voodoo.
AP: What are your favorite spots for: date night; brunch; a business lunch; happy hour? SRC: Feelings Café in the Marigny, sit in the courtyard; brunch at Commanders in the garden room,; business lunch at Herb Saint; happy hour at Bouligny Tavern or Ace hotel; and Lilette is a standard ladies lunch spot. You can’t miss Galatoires, Casamento’s, Willy Mae’s Scotch house, Domilices, and Killer Po Boys; Peche, Cochon, Shaya and Cavan are also amazing. I could keep going...
AP: Your final word on New Orleans... SRC: In short, there are basically 2 reviews people leave here with: Love it or Hate it. We chose the former on a Spring Break trip to New Orleans and decided to call it home.
AP: I have to agree that I can’t disagree...