Halloween in New Orleans 2015: Spooky fun, awesome food, Frenchmen Street, Voodoo Musuem, Garden District, the French Quarter, and a vampire ball
Our first trip to New Orleans was ten years ago, in the spring before Hurricane Katrina. We stayed a week and fell head over heals in love with the city. We’d always dreamed of coming back for Halloween, and this year, we finally pulled the trigger and spent Halloween in New Orleans.
Halloween in New Orleans is probably second to Mardi Gras as far as a big city-wide event. It’s not just Halloween night, it is several nights of events and costumed revelry. There are masquerade balls, witches’ balls, vampire balls, parades, haunted history tours, and the annual Voodoo Fest music festival all at once. It is a bit overwhelming, and there isn’t a way to possibly do it all.
If you want to spend Halloween in New Orleans, I recommend planning ahead. Book your plane tickets and hotel early (9 months in advance is a good idea) and do some research to figure out which events are going on in your time frame an what is most important. If tickets are required, purchase early.
Also, bring at least two costumes. New Orleans is serious about costumes, so bring some good ones.
Our flight from Seattle arrived into humid New Orleans at 5:30, and getting a taxi to our hotel was a breeze. The taxi line was long, but it moved quickly. There is a mandated flat rate for all taxi fares for two passengers of $36.00 for most parts of New Orleans. The rate increases $15 per extra passenger after that.
We arrived at the Frenchmen 519 condos, where we had booked a two bedroom condo to share with our friend Keith from New York. The location couldn’t have been better–right on Frenchmen Street and in walking distance to everything in the French Quarter. The condo was spacious, had AC, and the beds were comfortable. The front desk is open 24 hours and the desk agent was extremely nice. There is an outside gate with a pass code as well for security. We found the best rate on Booking.com at $250/night.
There was also a pool and hot tub in the back courtyard, but we never had time to use it.
We had three other friends who flew down with us staying a few blocks away at the Lamothe House hotel on Esplanade, which they were very happy with as well.
Our front desk clerk recommended Coop’s Place for dinner, only a few blocks away on Decatur Street. We didn’t have to wait long for a table for 5, but a long line began building after we were seated. I walked by this restaurant a few times during our stay and there was usually a big line for dinner. The menu is a smorgasbord of Cajun/Creole fare and the prices are reasonable.
Paddy and I couldn’t decide, so we both went with the sampler platter which had fried chicken, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice with okra, and a cup of gumbo. It was a good sampling of New Orleans cooking, and the fried chicken was excellent.
After dinner, we walked down Decatur Street and poked around in the little shops that were still open. Then we turned up towards Bourbon Street.
The first time you see Bourbon Street, it’s kind of exciting. Lots of neon, lots of people, live music pouring out of every bar up and of course the Huge Ass Beers guy selling beers to go.
For most people in the US coming from states with strict liquor laws, being able to get a beer in a to-go cup and walk around is a novelty in itself. When we first came to New Orleans, we didn’t know much about the city and spent most of our nights on Bourbon.
This time, all we saw was tourists. Tourists on balconies trying to get other tourists to show their boobs for beads (wrong holiday, guys), tourists doing bad karaoke, drunk bachelor parties, and most of the music we heard blaring out of the bars were cover bands doing covers of classic rock songs. Our friends hadn’t been to New Orleans before, so we did a thorough walk up and down Bourbon to get a taste, but everyone was over it pretty quickly.
We headed back towards Frenchmen Street on Bourbon, past the very well-decorated gay bars to our favorite bar from our last visit, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is reportedly the oldest building used as a bar in the US, dating back to 1722. It is dark, using mostly candles as light. The decor is minimal with only old wooden tables and a piano player in the back. The only electric lights are over the bar and over the piano music. There is also a nice outdoor courtyard. We were extremely disappointed this time to see that a digital juke box with neon lights had been added to the wall across from the bar. It’s music competed with the piano player in the back and the neon light was a major eyesore in a dark, historical, candlelit bar.
We still had a good time, and were early enough to get table service. I recommend the local Abita Blackened Voodoo beer or Dixie for something lighter.
Our friend Keith from New York finally arrived at our condo back on Frenchmen Street, so we headed back there to see what was going on. We met up with Keith and spent some time watching the jazz band on the street corner playing for tips. The crowd was growing, people were dancing, and some dude was walking around selling beers out of a cooler duct-taped to a hand truck. It was a refreshing change from the adult Disneyland that is Bourbon Street.
After a little while we were in need of more beers, but our entrepreneur with the hand truck cooler was lost among the crowd. We headed over to Dat Dog for drinks and ended up staying for the best hot dogs we’ve ever had. I had the crawfish etouffee dog which was crawfish sausage covered in creole mustard, tarter sauce, relish, tomatoes, and onions. Paddy had the Guinness special which was a Guinness sausage with yellow mustard, bacon, onions, and I’m not sure what else. He said it was amazing.
Also on the menu was duck sausage, alligator sausage, vegan sausage, turducken sausage, Polish sausage, German bratwurst, chili cheese fries, and crawfish etouffee fries, among other items. It was ridiculously good.
After our late-night munchies were satisfied, most of us turned in for the night. Paddy went across the street to watch a jazz band for awhile.
Thursday we slept in a bit, and then Paddy, Keith, and I headed for brunch at the New Orleans Cake Cafe. Located further into the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, it is a little local hidden gem.
It is seat-yourself and order at the counter, and the food is delicious. We weren’t in the mood for sweets but the baked goods in the counter display case looked amazing. Paddy and Keith both had the boudin and eggs, which was a fried cake of boudin sausage, grits, eggs, and a buttery home-baked biscuit. I had the crab sandwich, which had crab, bacon, and brie on challah bread.
After brunch we met up with our other friends to explore the French Quarter. We found a lot of interesting antique shops on Decatur Street, and a witchcraft store selling books, soaps, potions, oils, voodoo dolls, and other witchy items. The antiques in New Orleans are a lot older than in the stores we have been in back in Seattle. There are a lot of old turn of the century furniture and collectibles in New Orleans if you are looking for that sort of thing.
We also explored the French Market, which reminded us a lot of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Lots of vendors selling art, jewelry, crafts, souvenirs, food, and produce. I didn’t take any photos in the French Market because a lot of art vendors had “no photos” signs at their booths and I didn’t want to be an asshole. So you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
After walking around for a few hours, we needed a little break, and Paddy needed to have some oysters. We walked into the glaring tourist trap French Market Cafe on Decatur and headed to the upstairs bar. It was mid afternoon and fairly empty. We all had some overpriced drinks (the “sex on the bayou” was refreshing), rested our feet, and Paddy and I shared a dozen oysters. We love oysters, but couldn’t get our squeamish friends to give them a go.
After we were rested up, we walked through the French Quarter some more and then checked out the Voodoo Museum.
The Voodoo Museum is small, and is a $5.00 entry. We were told we could take photos. It was really interesting to learn about the symbolism and history of voodoo.
After learning all about voodoo and hoodoo, we took a look at the famous LaLaurie Mansion nearby on Royal Street. It is where Madame Delphine LaLaurie resided in the early 1800’s. There are stories of her deplorable treatment of slaves in the mansion, including a mysterious death of a slave girl falling from the window of one of the upper floors. In 1834 a fire broke out in the mansion, and Madame LaLaurie reportedly ran out into the street in a frenzy asking bystanders to assist her with her saving her valuables. Firemen inquired about the slaves and Madame LaLaurie refused to give them the keys to the attic slave quarters. The fire was put out, but seven tortured and mutilated slaves were found chained in the attic when the firemen broke down the door. Madame LaLaurie was driven out of town and an angry mob destroyed everything in the mansion.
Madame LaLaurie was featured as a character in the fictional TV show American Horror Story: Coven. The show was fictional, but the character and her horrific treatment of her slaves was based on real history.
We walked around the French Quarter a bit more, admiring the Halloween decorations. Locals really get into Halloween in New Orleans, and there were quite a few decorated houses and apartments.
Later, we all re-convened for dinner. I had made a reservation (definitely recommended for larger groups) at Sobou, a new and hip subsidiary of the long-standing New Orleans institution Commander’s Palace. The name Sobou is short for “south of Bourbon.”
The menu was more tapas style than big plates, meant to order small plates to share. The cuisine was modern New Orleans fare, and everything looked amazing. The meal started off great, with cocktails and a few small bites including a smokey gumbo with mashed potatoes instead of rice, ahi tuna cones with avocado ice cream, fried pork rinds with honey-whipped bacon fat and 24-hour smoked pork rillette.
The meal went south after the first round. We ordered more food and drinks, and our waitress took our order and completely disappeared for half an hour. Finally we inquired about our food with the bartender who said he would check on it. A few minutes later another cup of gumbo was brought out without a spoon, with an explanation that our food was put in on separate tickets. We had to go back to the bartender to get a spoon. Waitress still nowhere in site. We inquired again a few minutes later and our drinks were brought by another server, who said he would check on the rest of our food. We waited a bit longer, and then some more dishes were brought but we were still missing two, and the second gumbo was also brought by a food runner without a spoon. We asked if the rest was coming and he said he would check, that (again) it must have all been put on separate tickets. Waitress still nowhere in site.
We’ve all worked in the service industry, and we’ve all had off-nights. However, this was a little ridiculous. Finally, news of our multiple inquiries with the bartender on our food (and spoons) reached a manager, who came over and apologized profusely, had some shots sent over to our table and made sure the rest of our food came out. She promised some complimentary dessert as well. Our waitress came back finally, looking very sheepish and apologized for the confusion. We received a complimentary round of the bananas foster on the half shell and the “pecan pie not pie” which was served in a jar with peanut butter whipped cream and a chocolate covered pork cracklin’. It was delicious.
When we received our bill, in addition to the complimentary dessert and shots, the manager comped the first round of appetizers. I’d chock the service issues up to a bad night for the waitress, and would definitely go back. All of the food was outstanding, and the manager made it right by taking some things off of our bill. A class act all the way. Paddy is still raving about the foie gras burger he had.
After dinner we walked back towards Frenchmen Street on Bourbon Street, which was rowdier than the night before and smelled of vomit and farts. It was only 9:30, but you still had to watch where you stepped to avoid random splatters of puke on the street. Aside from a stop for Paddy and Devin to get some cigars, we hurried through.
Back on Frenchmen Street, the same group of musicians were playing on the corner for tips again, and had drawn an even bigger crowd. We went up to the balcony of Dat Dog and watched from above with drinks.
Dat Dog might be an unassuming fluorescently-lit hot dog restaurant, but it is a great spot to get some drinks and watch the action.
While we were watching the jazz band, a man and his wife set up some folding tables and table-top BBQs on the opposite corner of the street and started grilling. After the band ended, we couldn’t resist checking out what they had going on.
The cook’s name was Steve and he had gone to college in Seattle, so when he found out we were from Seattle he made a big to-do about it and we all got our photos taken with him.
The BBQ platter was huge, so we got a couple to share. It was $20, and well worth it. It included a sausage, some corn on the cobb, amazing mac and cheese, jambalaya, a piece of chicken, and the best sauteed garlic bacon cabbage I’ve ever had. If you see this man on Frenchmen Street–drop your dinner plans and get his food.
On Friday morning Cassandra and I were up and ready to go get beignets and coffee at Cafe Du Monde at 10:00 AM, but we were only able to get two of the guys out of bed to come with us.
The line was long, but moved fairly quickly. There was another line for to-go coffee and beignets around the back that moved a bit faster, but we wanted to sit down.
It was worth the wait. There are only beignets and coffee on the menu, and it is cash only. The floor is covered in powdered sugar and the dining area is open-air.
After beignets and cafe au lait with chicory, we walked across the street to Jackson Square and admired the St Louis Cathedral, and checked out the art being sold on the edges of the park by local artists.
Walking back to our hotels we walked by a house decorated in various mutilated baby dolls.
We were able to rouse Paddy when we got back to the condo, but Keith was still sleeping off a late night. We took an uber over to the Garden District where we had a 1:15 PM brunch reservation at Atchafalaya. We were a bit early, so we went up to the bar to order some drinks. The poor harried bartender was obviously on the tail end of a very busy brunch rush and it took awhile to get our vodka on ice for the bloody mary bar, but we were patient.
Bloody mary bar? Yes–a bloody mary bar!! With standard bloody mary mix and a green tomato bloody mary mix. There was also an entire array of pickled veggies, hot sauces, pepper, and lime wedges to customize your bloody mary.
Everything on the menu looked delicious. I finally narrowed it down to the duck confit hash, and Paddy had the shrimp with cream cheese grits. This was probably my favorite meal our whole trip, and if you plan on going to the Garden District while in New Orleans, make a reservation here and get brunch. It’s the best.
After we were full of brunch, we waddled around the Garden District and admired the houses and Layfayette Cemetery.
I had heard that the reason people are buried in above-ground tombs in New Orleans is due to New Orleans being below sea level, causing bodies buried below ground to rise back up in the event of a flood. According to the Lafayette Cemetery website, however, the tombs are primarily a cultural tradition from the French and Spanish colonists.
In any event, the tombs are beautiful and intriguing.
The Garden District neighborhood of New Orleans is home to some of the most spectacular old French/Spanish colonial southern houses. The last time we visited New Orleans, Paddy and I walked all over the Garden District looking at houses until we were dead tired. This time, we just did a short tour to check out Anne Rice’s former house (the house she used as the setting for her books about the Mayfair witches) and the houses nearby to the Rice house.
If you are really interested in Garden District houses, most guidebooks for New Orleans will have a self-guided walking tour in them that tells you about some of the most impressive houses and where to find them.
After we were tired of walking, we took an Uber back to Frenchmen Street to take a nap in our rooms.
Later that evening Keith, Paddy, and I ventured out in search of sustenance, and had a solidly mediocre meal at Frank’s on Decatur Street. The food was too bland to recommend, but the price, nearby location, and lack of a wait for a table were all what we were looking for.
On the way back to our condo we passed the dead baby house from earlier, now all lit up and with a host. A middle aged man in a diaper and a baby mask pretended to grind baby dolls up in a “meat grinder” that spit out candy. His cat sat on a chair next to the front steps looking bored.
There were a lot more decorations out on Friday night, it was fun to walk around the French Quarter and see the houses and hotels all decorated for Halloween. Some were really elaborate.
The weather forecast for Halloween in New Orleans was grim–predicting rain and thunderstorms all day and night on Saturday and Sunday. Fortunately, Halloween in New Orleans is not just one night. We had brought multiple costumes for the weekend, and Friday night ended up being the most fun night of our trip.
Well planning our trip, we thought a group costume would be fun and we found some banana costumes for $25 each. Paddy was not enthusiastic about the idea, but we peer pressured him into it.
Keith had his nun costume on earlier, and decided to keep his holy cross on with the banana costume. Ba-nun-a.
We had some beers at our condo, and then ventured out onto Frenchmen Street. We immediately got a lot of attention. Everywhere we went people were yelling “bananas!” Paddy had an attitude change when he saw how much attention we were getting. He has always been a bit of a ham.
There were a lot of other impressive costumes as well. I was particularly impressed with these two ladies dressed as peacocks:
We decided that we had to go back to Bourbon Street to parade around a bit more and see more costumes. We ended up posing in a lot of peoples’ photos.
We came across one of the several Tropical Isle bars on Bourbon, and decided that we needed their famous Shark Attack drink that I saw on Zane Lamprey’s Drinking Made Easy. The Tropical Isle is famous for it’s New Orleans Hand Grenade drink, which you will see people walking around with everywhere in long green souvenir cups. This is not the best drink at the Tropical Isle. The Shark Attack is made with a slurry of booze and other sugary ingredients, but that’s not the attraction.
The best part of the Shark Attack is that it comes with a plastic shark that has grenadine poured in its mouth, overturned into the drink and therefore spilling “blood” into the water. Our bartender also threw in a little plastic alligator for good measure.
Drinks that come with a plastic shark overturned in them? What more could you want. Go to the Tropical Isle. Skip the Hand Grenade. Get the Shark Attack.
Upstairs at the Tropical Isle we found a good balcony view of Bourbon Street, and a photo op.
The next morning our condo living area was strewn with banana costumes and rubber sharks. Keith was still sleeping, so Paddy and I headed out to get some brunch.
We walked over to Horn’s restaurant, which came highly recommended by a friend of ours. There was a wait, but you could put yourself on the self-sign in wait list at the door. It wasn’t too long before we got a nice booth, coffee, and mimosas.
The menu was a touch choice, everything looked amazing. I went with my friend’s suggestion of the Jewish Coonass which was two potato latkes topped with two eggs, grilled spinach, crawfish etouffee, and a biscuit on the side. Paddy had the Eggs Dauphine with jalepeno corn bread, pulled pork, egg, and hollandaise sauce. Both were fabulous.
After breakfast we did some souvenir shopping on Decatur Street and then went back to bed for awhile to rest up for Halloween night.
The late afternoon brought torrents of rain as promised, and New Orleans even had a tornado warning for awhile according to the news.
Every Halloween in New Orleans, there is a small parade on Decatur Street and back down Bourbon Street starting at Molly’s in the Market on Decatur. The parade is Jim Monaghan’s Halloween Parade, not to be confused with the big Halloween parade done by the Krewe of Boo. The big Halloween parade was the weekend prior to Halloween, which we missed. We decided to check out Jim Monaghan’s Halloween Parade, despite the rain.
The parade was scheduled to start at 6:00 PM, and we ended up standing under umbrellas with a bunch of other spectators near the start of the parade route until 7:00 PM when the parade finally started. I don’t know if the weather had something to do with it, but the parade was pretty much just some people in costumes walking down the street and riding in carriages. A few beads were thrown. It was over within 10 minutes, or at least it appeared to be. Seeing as how you can see people parading around in costumes all over Bourbon Street and Frenchmen Street anyway, we kind of wished we’d skipped waiting in the rain. It was also dark, which made visibility difficult as well. I guess it literally rained on our parade.
We were starving, so we headed back through the rain to Dat Dog for a quick dinner, then back to our condo to get in costume.
Paddy, Keith and I had tickets to the annual Endless Night Vampire Ball at the House of Blues. It is New Orleans, home of Anne Rice, and a vampire ball seemed appropriate. Because the weather was so bad, we were happy that we did our street-partying together with the group the night before, and had a dry indoor venue for tonight.
Our other friends came over to join us and have a few pre-funk drinks before going out. Keith went with a “Lone Ranger” style vampire costume, and Paddy and I went a bit more traditional. They both got some really creepy contact lenses. I was jealous–I need prescription so I couldn’t get them.
The Vampire Ball was full of very serious costumes. They have a strict dress code–no street wear. I did see a few random costumes there as well, so they must not be super strict with the vampire dress code. I’d recommend putting a good vampire costume together, but it seemed like any well-done costume was sufficient. Each year has a different theme, and this year’s theme was Penny Dreadful (1800’s London horror). There were a lot of costumes that went with the theme, and many that didn’t. All of them were interesting.
The House of Blues is a huge venue, and in addition to the main stage, there was a side room with a small stage as well. A vampire belly dancer put on a burlesque performance on the side stage involving eating live worms and drinking blood. I don’t know if the blood was real, but the worms were. Ew.
On the main stage were several musical acts, an aerialist, and more vampire belly dancers, some with live snakes. It was all very entertaining.
Around midnight we decided to head back to Frenchmen Street to see how the Halloween party was going there. Unfortunately, our friends were tired from the night before and sick of walking around in the rain, so they went to bed early. The rain was a disappointment, Frenchmen Street was not nearly as packed with costumed revelers as in the photos I’d seen of previous Halloween in New Orleans.
We had a great time Friday night though, and the Vampire Ball was pretty spectacular. I’m glad we didn’t have only Halloween night to celebrate with the weather being so wet.
On Sunday we had to check out by 11:00 AM, but our flight wasn’t until 6:30 PM. We weren’t able to do a late checkout, but the 519 Frenchmen was happy to store our luggage for us for the day. While we were packing, my blood sugar was taking a steep dive, so I went down the street to Cafe Rose Nicaud for lattes and some delicious biscuit “sammies” to go. The rain was still pouring, and I was glad I’d brought an umbrella on this trip.
At 11:00 we met up with the rest of our friends and went to brunch at Horn’s again. The wait was longer for five of us, but we didn’t have anything better to do and there was a covered area outside the door to shelter us from the rain.
Paddy had the Waffle Couchon, which was a cornbread waffle topped with pulled pork, chimichurri sauce and pickled peppers. I had the Chicken and Waffle, which was a sweet potato waffle with fried chicken and BBQ sauce. I was a little disappointed with my chicken and waffle, I thought it needed some type of light gravy or something other than BBQ sauce, and the waffle was a little on the sweet side for me. Paddy was raving about his Waffle Couchon.
After brunch, we still had a couple hours to kill but we were low on money and it was pouring rain. We figured we should just head to the airport and have some drinks at a bar.
Unfortunately, Alaskan Air only seemed to have one flight that day–ours. This meant that the ticket counter was closed and we couldn’t check our bags until 4:00 PM, so we had to kill two hours sitting in the check in area. There were some limited concessions outside the security area, but there really is only so much you can do with large suitcases. Normally we try not to check bags for domestic flights, but my ballgown for the vampire ball alone took up a whole suitcase in addition to our other costumes.
We made it home on a plane with broken wifi and continuously coughing and farting passengers. All in all, it was a great trip and we would definitely like to do Halloween in New Orleans again. Next time we’d really like to see the big Krewe of Boo Halloween parade, and maybe do a haunted history tour. As for New Orleans in general, if we go back during a time other than Halloween we’d like to explore some neighborhoods outside of the French Quarter a little more and rent a car and get out of the city a bit. We did a swamp tour the first time we went to New Orleans and I’d like to do that again. There is so much to see. We will be back.