When Marcus Grayson proposed to Cindy Haverfield in upstate New York a few years ago, he did everything he was supposed to do, as Cindy recalls.
He found a secluded spot in a local park, got down on one knee, held Cindy’s hand in his, looked lovingly into her eyes, and said: “Cindy, will you marry me….?”
“Everything was so perfect,” Cindy says. But then he finished his proposal by saying: “….in New Orleans, the last weekend of April, so we can kill two birds with one stone, by getting married and going to the Jazz Fest?”
“I was sort of flabbergasted,” Cindy says, “but Marcus has this thing about New Orleans and it really didn’t shock me. I wasn’t too crazy about the ‘two birds with one stone’ being inserted into my marriage proposal, but you’d have to know Marcus to understand.”
Or you would have to know New Orleans. On the very short list of most romantic cities in the world – Paris, Rome, Athens, San Francisco – to name a few – New Orleans is perhaps the only one that might inspire a couple born and raised in Buffalo to ask their entire families and friends to travel such great distance to witness their nuptials. But they did, and surprisingly, almost everyone they invited made the trip. The wedding was on a Friday night. Saturday, the whole entourage spent the day at Jazz Fest.
New Orleans is one part fantasy, one part mystical metropolis, and several parts sweet romance. Couples fall under the same spell today, in the same singularly romantic locations as they did in the New Orleans of the 18thor 19th centuries. Brides and grooms exchange their pledge of forever love under centuries old oak trees that have shaded generations of Crescent City lovers.
Some of the romantic highlights of New Orleans have become traditional, even legendary, while others reflect the tastes of today. Some are sublime, like the most elegantly presented martinis at the Polo Lounge of the world-renowned Windsor Court Hotel, while others are more raucous and energizing, like high stakes gaming at Harrah’s Casino downtown. A romantic moment in New Orleans can happen in a light, late afternoon rain, on a street corner under an oversized umbrella, or dressed to the nines at well-known Chef Emeril Lagasse’s urban-chic eatery in the Warehouse District. Romance is to New Orleans as sunsets are to the Caribbean – warm, dependable and radiant.
Herewith is a list of some of New Orleans’ top romantic experiences:
An Evening by the River
They say the New Orleans moon makes the mighty Mississippi River the golden seaway of the South. An evening by the Mississippi begins with a carriage-ride to the French Market, followed by dinner at Bella Luna, an elegant contemporary restaurant with massive windows overlooking the river. Watch the ocean-liners sashay around the bend in the river, or contemplate the rooftops of the French Quarter as you dine on Chef/Owner Horst Pfeifer’s roasted corn and smoked shrimp bisque and herb crusted lamp loin. The chef grows the herbs in a convent garden just two blocks away. After sharing double fudge ice cream topped with Jack Daniels, take a leisurely stroll down the golden-lighted Moonwalk along the River. Have coffee at the historic Café du Monde and decide where the rest of the evening will take you.
St. Charles Avenue Streetcar
No trip to New Orleans, honeymoons included, is complete without a streetcar ride up the Avenue, with stops at all the great New Orleans haunts you’ve heard so much about. In fact, disembark in the Garden District and stroll among some of the city’s most magnificent mansions.
See if you can spot Anne Rice’s former digs, or at least find where one well known rock star has a house nearby. Probably so. Then have a “sloppy” roast beef “po-boy” at one of the neighborhood joints, and once you’re back on board the streetcar, ride up to the University area and spend some time in world-famous Audubon Park, especially at the Audubon Zoo. As the sun sets, the mansions on St. Charles take on a new glow, particularly those with massive diamond-cut glass doorways. The view outside the trolley is only matched by the people-watching opportunities in the car. It is an adventure.
An Afternoon at City Park
New Orleans’ City Park offers an expansive combination of urban sophistication and natural beauty. There aren’t many cities that can boast l00-year old oak trees with Spanish moss cascading over tranquil lagoons. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in the city, and home to the majestic New Orleans Museum of Art. Once inside the park, walk hand-in-hand until you find the perfect shady spot for a long afternoon picnic. Rent a canoe or a paddle-wheel boat and work off that lunch while seeing the beauty of the park at the same time. It’s a glorious way to spend a day.
The Nightclub Scene
How about a full-fledged date, just the two of you, club-hopping through the City that Care Forgot?
Ladies, break out the little black dress, and gentlemen, go casual but cool. Start off by catching the show at the legendary Chris Owens Club on Bourbon Street. Ms. Owens is one of the city’s premier entertainers, and the show is a must-see for all. Just blocks away you can enjoy Pat O’Brien’s and sip hurricanes. As the evening wears on, work your way to House of Blues, on Chartres Street, where the music menu is about as eclectic as the appetizer selection. Find a quiet corner where you can sway to the rhythms together, but remember as the evening progresses, you need to be in midtown to catch the late show at Le Chat Noir, New Orleans’ one and only real cabaret. Right this way, your table awaits. Around midnight, hail a cab and head uptown to the world famous Tipitina’s on Napoleon Avenue. You never know if the night’s rhythmic fare might be Bonnie Rait, or Jimmy Buffet, or maybe the Neville Brothers. After the show, you may want to wind your way back to the Quarter, over to the Royal Sonesta, for some late night jazz and a night-cap. Don’t forget to find jazz crooner Jeremy Davenport play at the Ritz Carlton New Orleans. Then begin with his show tomorrow night. Where did the time go? Is that the sun coming up east of the river?
Now About that Wedding?
More than one couple has decided impulsively and lovingly to get married in New Orleans. The trick is finding the perfect spot for the ceremony. While the city boasts of nearly nine hundred churches and nine synagogues, here are just a few imaginative ideas:
The Botanical Garden at City Park is an idyllic setting for the ceremony, followed by a reception in the park’s Pavilion of Two Sisters. Uptown, hundreds of couples get married inside the grounds of the Audubon Zoo, with their reception also among the exotic animal exhibits. Ceremonies also happen at the zoo’s Tea Garden, followed by a reception in the Audubon Tea Room, one of the city’s elegant reception facilities. It’s not unheard of to recite vows on a steamboat on the great river, with a party following on board, or on land in one of the elegant riverside hotels. Speaking of hotels, consider the fabulous Crystal Room of the Le Pavilion Hotel, an authentic downtown gem in the business district. And reopening in summer of 2009 is the fabulous Roosevelt Hotel on University Place, a Waldorf Astoria property.
What appear to be private mansions along St. Charles Avenue are sometimes really venues for weddings and receptions, complete with lush formal gardens. One of the finest is the Elms Mansion, a gorgeous 19th century structure with marble fireplaces and stained glass windows that once counted Confederate President Jefferson Davis as a regular guest. On nearby Prytania Street in the Garden District is Magnolia Mansion and the Opera Guild House, two exquisitely appointed mansions that can be rented for wedding ceremonies and receptions. And while couples may not be accustomed to royal treatment in their own cities, here in New Orleans their wedding party will receive a police escort from the site of the ceremonies to the reception destination. Brides and grooms are very important people in our City.
The French Quarter Honeymoon
A surprising number of local citizens opt for honeymooning in the French Quarter over the more conventional destinations such as Jamaica, Cancun or the Bahamas. Many ask themselves the same question: Why leave? As for accommodations, they may be as elegant as the Hotel Monteleone, the grande dame of Vieux Carre hotels, or the magnificent Omni Royal Orleans, with its rooftop pool and stellar view of the French Quarter. Others might take the Royal Sonesta, positioned amidst the non-stop activity of Bourbon Street, but with rooms as private as any quiet country inn. The Friday lunchtime seafood buffet at the hotel restaurant, Begue’s, is among the best in the city.
In the morning, no matter what hotel has been selected, it’s a short and altogether necessary walk to the legendary Brennan’s on Royal Street for breakfast, where they do things with an egg even an artist couldn’t conceive. The afternoon includes shopping leisurely down Royal, with stops at some of the very best antique stores and galleries in the world. Just behind the St. Louis Cathedral is an upscale European-style boutique, Fleur de Paris, internationally famed for its ever-changing collection of hats and wedding gowns, as well as the place to find the perfect honeymoon peignoir set or sexy couture dinner dress. After late afternoon cocktails at the famous Napoleon House, dinner is always waiting at the Court of Two Sisters, where the magical outdoor courtyard is naturally sheltered by aged wisteria.
New Orleans has always been about romance. Those who live here already know that, and those who visit discover something special in the air the first time they see a crescent shaped moon lingering over the river. Whether it’s an all day sailing excursion on Lake Pontchartrain, a lazy afternoon canoe trip through City Park, or just café au lait at an uptown sidewalk café, the city speaks the language of love through its ambience, its history, and most of all, through its own love affair with romance.
New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. www.neworleanscvb.com.