New Orleans, like Las Vegas, is a party town, known more for the madness of Mardi Gras and frivolity of the French Quarter than pretty much anything else.
But monkey business isn’t the only kind of business going on in the Big Easy.
In fact, earlier this year the readers of Conde Nast Traveler named it the number one “U.S. City for Business Travelers.”
So the next time anyone is scheduled to attend a convention, a company retreat, or a client meeting in the States, it might just land them in the Crescent City.
If and when it does, here’s a handy guide to help conquer the city when the purpose of the visit is more professional than playful.
Of the city’s more than 100 hotels, top picks for business travelers include the luxe Windsor Court (300 Gravier Street, New Orleans; +1 504 523 6000), which underwent a multimillion-dollar makeover in 2011.
Guests flock here for features like the business center, full-service spa, rooftop pool, and twice-daily housekeeping.
Those who want something a little closer to the action should consider a French Quarter property like the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street, New Orleans; +1 504 523 3341). A member of the Historic Hotels of America (it opened its doors in 1886), its guest registry reads like a veritable who’s who.
Convention goers should opt for a Morial Convention Center-adjacent accommodation like the Hyatt Regency New Orleans (601 Loyola Avenue, New Orleans; +1 504 561 1234). This four-diamond property has its own meeting space — the most of any hotel in the city — as well as amenities like express check-in kiosks, an on-site FedEx office, and one of local-boy John Besh’s award-winning restaurants.
Dazzle your clients
Many a deal has gone down over drinks at the legendary Carousel Bar (Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street, New Orleans; +1 504 523 3341; open daily 11 a.m.- late). The revolving lounge makes a complete loop every 15 minutes, and is where the classic cognac-and-rye Vieux Carre cocktail was born.
Those who have access should show off their insider status with a decadent meal at the Foundation Room (225 Decatur St., New Orleans; +1 504 310 4976; open Tuesday- Thursday, 5 p.m.- midnight, Friday- Saturday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.), a members-only dining room secretly tucked away above the House of Blues.
For something a little more out of the ordinary, clients — the male ones, at least — could be treated to an old-fashioned razor shave at Aidan Gill for men (see the addresses and opening hours for the two locations in New Orleans on its official website), hailed as one of best barbershops in the country.
When Tabasco sauce gets spilled on a Brooks Brothers and there’s a need to look snazzy for the big presentation, it’s time to head to Rubensteins (102 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans; +1 504 581 6666; Monday- Thursday, 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.).
This is the city’s preeminent menswear shop, where designer attire from brands like Armani and Brioni can be picked up and custom-made shirts or suits tailored to exact fit and taste.
There are plentiful selections for both ladies and gents among the racks of hip threads at the Billy Reid (3927 Magazine St., New Orleans; +1 504 208 1200; Monday- Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday, noon- 6 p.m.) Magazine Street outpost.
Goorin Bros (check out its multiple locations on its website), a legendary chapeau-maker established back in 1895, can supply hats to finish off the look.
An ideal place for a jog or brisk stroll is the riverfront Woldenberg Park, offering art installations and views of the ship traffic along the way.
City Park’s miles of paved paths are another scenic choice.
Those who want to get out on the water, should consider renting a kayak or paddleboard from an outfitter like Bayou Paddlesports and take a spin around Bayou St. John.
Exercise fanatics might want to make the Hilton New Orleans Riverside (Two Poydras Street, New Orleans; +1 504 561 0500) their home base. Its health club measures 90,000 square feet and includes racquetball, basketball, and volleyball courts, plus it boasts the city’s only air-conditioned tennis courts.
Unlimited credit card access? That calls for a splurge on a meal at one of the signature restaurants from noted area chefs like Susan Spicer, Emeril Lagasse, or Paul Prudhomme. Spicer’s top-rated Bayona (430 Dauphine St., New Orleans; +1 504 525 4455; Wednesday- Saturday, 11:30 a.m.- 1:30 p.m., Monday- Thursday, 6-9:30 p.m., Friday- Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m.) serves what she calls “New Southern” cuisine, resulting in innovative menu items like smoked quail salad with pears and bourbon molasses.
Much newer to the scene but already garnering stalwart fans is Doris Metropolitan (620 Charles St., New Orleans; +1 504 267 3500; open daily 5:30-10:30 p.m., Friday- Sunday, noon-2:30 p.m.), which puts a new spin on steaks by using international cuts like picanha and shpondra. Plus it has its own temperature-controlled dry-aging room.
A more casual dining experience is on offer at Jacques-Imo’s(8324 Oak St., New Orleans; +1 504 861 0886; Monday- Thursday 1-10 p.m., Friday- Saturday, 5-10:30 p.m.), a funky dinner spot serving po’ boys, boudin balls, and a little something called alligator cheesecake.
Or there’s Central Grocery’s(+1 504 523 1620) overstuffed muffulettta sandwiches, which people happily stand in line for.
Snag some souvenirs
It’s possible to pick up a box of beignet mix from Cafe du Monde, but let’s face, the ones made at home aren’t going to be near as good as the original. A few doors down, Aunt Sally’s (multiple locations) and pick up a box of delicious Creole pralines.
Another culinary treat would be a New Orleans cookbook from Kitchen Witch (631 Toulouse St. between Royal St. and Chartres St.; +1 504 528 8382), a cozy bookshop run a pair of local chefs.
For more of the flavor of N’Awlins, there’s indie record shop Louisiana Music Factory (421 Frenchmen St., New Orleans; +1 504 586 1094) for snagging some hot jazz licks.
A doll from a voodoo shop like Marie Laveau’s (739 Bourbon St., New Orleans) may be just what’s needed to help deal with that ornery co-worker or maniacal boss.
Choice diversions when you have some downtime
Exploring the ancient above ground crypts at some of the city’s 30-plus historic cemeteries is a popular pastime.
New regulations mean that the oldest and most famous, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, is only viewable via tour group these days. Tours of the area’s magnificent homes and gardens are also popular, but a compelling alternative would be to drive through the Lower 9th Ward to check out the colorful and eco-friendly designer homes built post-Katrina through Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation.
A cruise along the Mississippi on an old-fashioned paddle wheeler draws crowds as well, although a cheaper and less touristy option is to take the $2 ferry that shuttles folks across the river to Algiers Point, a quiet neighborhood brimming with charm and old world architecture.
It’s worth stopping in for a drink and a game of pool at the Old Point Bar (545 Patterson Street Algiers Point, New Orleans; +1 504 364 0950).
If that big deal gets closed while in the Big Easy, windfalls can be celebrated — or squandered — by hitting the gaming tables at Harrah’s New Orleans casino (228 Poydras St., New Orleans; +1 800 427 7247).