But here in the dead of summer in the depths of the South, all’s quiet. If you were looking to visit New Orleans without tourists, your moment is now.
In spite of the sweltering heat and very real hurricane potential, late-summer New Orleans can offer the intrepid visitor deals you can’t get the rest of the year, festivals unlike any other and a glimpse at an overlooked phase in the life of the city.
Take advantage of tasting menus
August is notorious among service industry workers here: It’s the month their tips collapse to a fraction of what they see in spring or fall. I experienced this firsthand when I waitressed on Bourbon in a former life. I remember spending August stressed, delivering redfish platters and frozen milk punches to my one or two lunch tables, pining for the flush days of May, when tips paid the rent.
There aren’t any big spenders around because the corporate conferences aren’t in town, and the regulars are absent because football season hasn’t started — and it’s damn hot. The restaurant workers of one of the country’s best eating cities are in crisis every year right about now.
Enter COOLinary, the restaurant week-style event that spans the entire month, offering rarely-seen discounts at many of the city’s top restaurants, with two-course lunches for $25, or multi-course dinners for $45. At Compere Lapin, by award-winning Chef Nina Compton of Top Chef fame, a three-course dinner of chilled corn soup, pork belly and peach galette sees a deep discount off the usual $57.
At the elegant, seafood-forward GW Fins, a trio of tempura red snapper, parmesan-crusted sheepshead and bourbon pecan pie with ice cream costs $15 less than usual. And there was never a better time to try the cocktails at Jewel of the South, which was recently declared Best Restaurant Bar in the U.S. and co-founder Chris Hannah named U.S. Bartender of the Year, and where a $45 four-course dinner gets you everything from smoked trout roe to Wagyu beef tongue.
Escape the heat in museums
When all you want to do is get inside and into the air conditioning, the museums and art galleries of New Orleans deliver, and they make it an outright bargain to do so this time of year.
A collaboration among many of the city’s museums results in Museum Month, an August special where the cost of membership to any one of the participating museums gets you access to all of the others. This year, the long list includes the Louisiana Children’s Museum, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the multi-day (if not multi-week) worthy National WWII Museum, a must visit. Don’t miss “Louisiana Contemporary” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, an annual juried exhibition from the state’s artists.
Celebrate Pride at Southern Decadence
Like most cities around the United States, New Orleans has an LGBTQ+ Pride festival in June. But in keeping with its spirit of excess, New Orleans has for the past 50 years also celebrated Southern Decadence, a six-day celebration of all thingscolorful and gay at the summer’s end.
On one Sunday, the day before Labor Day, the French Quarter fills with hundreds of thousands of people wrapped in leather, lace and feather boas for a finale parade and street parties. And as inevitably happens on hot afternoons in New Orleans, there’s a rainstorm — soaking the celebration and turning it into an even more rowdy show, exactly what the crowds want. The people-watching is unparalleled.
Southern Decadence has been on hiatus since the pandemic began, and while it’s back this year, organizers are urging people to take precautions due to monkeypox concerns. The Bourbon Street Extravaganza, a free concert that’s one of the festival’s biggest events, has been canceled.
Get a head start on oyster season
There’s an old-timey rule in Louisiana that says that you’re supposed to eat Gulf oysters only during the months that have an “r” in their name: September through April. From May to August, it was thought better to avoid the local delicacy, or else risk serious food poisoning.
“That had more to do with the fact that when this rule came out there wasn’t refrigeration at the time, so they didn’t want people to get sick,” explains champion oyster shucker Jay Gallet, who reigns over the curved marble oyster bar at Superior Seafood and Oyster Barin the Uptown neighborhood. “It’s just an old saying,” confirms Carolina Bourque, Oyster Program Manager at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Today it’s possible to safely eat Gulf oysters year-round in Louisiana, but Bourque and Gallet both add that the non-”r” months are when the bivalves are reproducing, which can lead to milky, unappetizing oysters.
That makes September a great time for oysters, but last year the month ended up a disaster for the industry. Hurricane Ida rolled through the region on August 29, 2021, destroying oyster beds and damaging the homes and boats of the local oyster harvesters. This year, they’re back and open for business. Try them raw at happy hour for $1 each at Superior, shucked by Gallet himself. He points to Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar, Seaworthy and Cooter Brown’s as other spots to find a cleanly shucked, salty delight.
Shed some layers at the Burlesque Festival
The sultry air of New Orleans summer may make people want to take their clothes off, but it’s in late September when the real de-robing happens, at the annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Leveraging Bourbon Street’s reputation for the risque, the event showcases performers from around the world and includes an all-male revue and a peppering of live music and comedy interludes. The three days are highlighted by a main event that crowns the “Queen of Burlesque” to traditional jazz. What better way is there to kick off the impending bachelor and bachelorette party season?