[Wanderlust] The Food, Music, and Smell of New Orleans

Updated: Sep 29, 2019

By Kira Star


New Orleans is a stink, a song, a jazzy, vomit scented cesspool of beauty, sweltering humidity, and an odd history that lends the city its reputation for debauchery. And although I had heard conflicting stories from friends regarding traveling there, I still was optimistic of it’s mythical, legendary notoriety. Jazz, Cajun food, Voodoo, The French Quarter, Bourbon Street, Beignets from Cafe Du Mond. The mighty Mississippi’s island of hedonism with centuries of infamous history. I couldn’t wait to see it all, and after two nights, I couldn’t wait to leave.


My boyfriend, Buck, and I arrived in New Orleans in the early afternoon and stayed just on the edge of the French Quarter. From our hotel, we walked the famed Bourbon street where, true to its word, there was an abundance of establishments selling cheap alcohol.


Swarms of tourists moseyed through densely crowded corridors drinking some neon green concoction called a “Grenade” served in a yard tall plastic cup. Within two blocks of moseying along ourselves, we were asked by a dozen homeless for money. A half dozen people tried to sell us cocaine. Three people fell down flat on their asses obviously blitzed out of their minds. And a really drunk man proposed to his even more intoxicated girlfriend. She ecstatically said yes, then proceeded to jump on him and knocked him to the cobblestone street where they laughed and rolled. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon.


We ate at a restaurant without doing much research and it was disappointing, to say the least. Don’t you think of bold, spicy flavors when you think Cajun? The dish I was initially most excited about trying was an authentic Cajun version of Gumbo. Round one lacked much flavor at all and round two was more like eating a bowl of brown gravy with shrimp. We ended up getting fried chicken from Willie’s Chicken Shack to save the day! But, by nightfall, all the flashing lights became an overwhelming sensory overload. Somewhere, between the Vegas-style stimulation, prostitute catcalls, and beautiful Jazz music wafting from nearly every bar and restaurant, I found myself “bourbon faced on shit street”, as a t-shirt I passed by so eloquently put it. Buck and I headed back to the hotel where I slept off my over imbibed and underfed state. By morning, I was ready to try again.


We started at Café Du Monde. I, after waiting an hour in line, realized that beignets taste like thick corn tortillas fried and tossed in powdered sugar. I am decidedly not a fan. We struck out on several more restaurants that day as well.


The saving grace to the trip was most definitely the music. We took a lovely guided evening tour of The French Quarter (A Voodoo themed one, I highly recommend this) and we passed a bar with Aleister Crowley’s actual “haunted” mirror. It is located upstairs at The Dragon’s Den. If you scroll through photos you can see me standing in front of the mirror in my red dress, as well as the spooky translucent glow over the Jazz/Swing band who was playing at the venue. It was eerily romantic and we danced the night away here. By far, the greatest highlight of the entire trip.


That is, except for the BBQ chicken we got from Clyde’s Chicken King in Opelousas on our way into town. That is and remains the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life and gave me a false pretense for the rest of the food I was about to encounter, which is why I mention it last.


I’m not saying I won’t ever give New Orleans another shot. I already know if I find myself wandering that area again, I’m going to go out of my way to get my favorite BBQ chicken. And I’m most definitely listening to fantastic music while dancing the night away in front of Aleister Crowley’s haunted mirror again. And if possible, experience some better Cajun/Creole food. The best Cajun food I’ve had to date, was actually in Alabama.


New Orleans wasn’t anything I expected it to be, but it was definitely an experience, and a smell I will never forget.




© 2023 by Kelp Journal