There's never a bad time to visit New Orleans, but springtime, with Mardi Gras' 40-day hangover almost over and summer's heat not yet entrenched, is particularly splendid in the Crescent City. The magnolias are in bloom, Easter bonnets are being madly sewn, and the joie de vivre is coming back into play especially when there's money to be saved.
Now through May 31, the Bienville House is offering 20 percent savings on select mid-week dates. As one of the French Quarter's grand dames and sister property of gay-managed Hotel Montelone, I found the hotel to be perfectly situated for whatever type of trip you were looking for: Culinary, party, culture, or, as is what makes NOLA truly great, a combo of the three. The offer isn't valid for city-wide events like Jazz Fest, from May 5 to 8 but it's those regular times when the ebb and flow is more manageable that the true soul of the city shines.
Book into one of the front suites for an atmospheric, plant-filled balcony more suited to contemplative cups of coffee than bead throwing; its block of Decatur is a quiet boon in what can be a raucous portion of the Quarter. Amenities include a leafy flagstone courtyard with saltwater swimming pool, heated in case of any lingering chill; soft, 300-thread count sheets; complimentary breakfast; Wi-Fi; and warm Southern hospitality that matches the classic manor house decor.
To book, call reservations at 800-535-9603 and mention Spring Promotion 2011. And with the extra cash, check out some of the city's best within a few blocks of the property:
- House of Blues: Although the chain started in Cambridge, MA, just off Harvard Square, its spiritual home is here in N'awlins. Rock acts big and small grace the ample stage in a funky art-packed atmosphere. Don't miss the psychedelic bathrooms and voodoo paraphernalia on the walls. 225 Decatur St.; www.houseofblues.com
Brennan's: Synonymous with breakfast, chefs have been cooking up haute New Orleans staples (think very rich; lots of butter) in the sunlight dining room since 1946. Try the Eggs Sardou, poached over artichoke hearts and creamed spinach, slathered with a piquant hollandaise, and served up in a martini glass. And don't forget Bananas Foster for dessert; it was invented here. 417 Royal St.; www.brennansneworleans.com
- Napoleon House: Nothing goes better with a languorous afternoon than a Pimm's Cup, a mix of ruby red Pimm's #3 and lemonade, garnished with a crisp cucumber. And nothing goes better with a Pimm's Cup than a breezy courtyard and an overstuffed olivey muffaletta. For 200 years, Napolean House has had all three. 500 Chartres St.; www.napoleonhouse.com