Furthering our quest to visit all 50 states, Rick and I spent Veteran’s Day weekend with my sister and brother-in-law, enjoying live music, sideways sunsets, and a gratuitous amount of Waffle Houses.
We flew into New Orleans on a freaking freezing cold Saturday. We stayed at the AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon/French Quarter, where everything was lovely and new except the elevators. Rick and I got upgraded to a suite (gotta love that Platinum status).
Very cute! Except for the bathroom door, which for some reason was translucent. No one needs to see a silhouette of their partner on the toilet, thankyouverymuch.
But we changed into everything we owned and set out for dinner. We walked to Balise, a charming restaurant just down the street, and were told that they had no tables available. It was Parent’s Weekend at Tulane, and this was every freshman’s last chance for a nice meal before the holidays. But we sat at the bar and ordered very good food and very cold martinis.
Art in Balise
We weren’t really looking forward to tramping down Bourbon Street—we’d all been to New Orleans before—and asked our bartender where we should go that had a high amount of fun and a low amount of people puking on our shoes. He recommended the bars on Frenchmen Street.
Frenchmen Street was perfect. We got dropped off in front of a night market, and spent time wandering through all the craft vendors. Some things were our speed—hair clips and postcards—and some things were frightening—macabre art and paint-splattered suits.
After making our purchases, we walked Frenchmen, listening to live music both indoors and out.
We settled on drinks at Bamboula’s, a crowded brick building with no cover.
Next we tramped over to Maison, where the soul band was so good we never even sat down. Sierra Green and the Soul Machine was energetic, upbeat, engaging … my sister and I died of happiness while the bouncer relegated the guys to the back row (we felt bad—but not bad enough to join them until the set was over). Knowing we had a road trip ahead of us, we left around midnight, still asking each other to sing a little bit softer now, a little bit softer now.
The next morning we spent much time on the Brunch Conversation. Every place had live music, and every place had Creole food. How to choose? Too cold to do a boat tour, too old to wait in line outside a restaurant. Thanks to a deep dive on Yelp, we settled on the absolute most incredibly perfect brunch place ever: Messina’s Runway Café. The four of us all work for airports or airlines, and having mimosas in an airport seemed like something we were born to do.
Lakefront Airport. So cute!
A warning for when you go (because you should): this place is at the end of a terrible neighborhood. Broken-playgrounds-under-freeway-overpasses, abandoned-cars-with-their-tires-missing, “holla at your people!” law-office-billboards kind of neighborhood.
Once you get to the airport, though, you forget who you’re supposed to holla at. Set inside a gorgeous Art Deco terminal, Messina’s Runway Café is a delight. The ceilings! The barstools! The bottomless mimosas! It’s the kind of place where you immediately wish you had your hair set in pin curls and had arrived in a biplane.
We ate our faces off, indulging in crab omelettes and shrimp and grits and biscuits bigger than my dog. We toured the terminal, taking in the huge paintings upstairs and the historic information provided. This terminal does a lot of weddings and you can see why. The place is a dream.
The cafe spills out into the terminal on the weekends.
Thus satiated, we aimed the car for Gulfport and hit the road. It’s an easy, 90 minute drive from New Orleans on the scenic I-90. We passed through swampland and national wildlife preserves, and then the 90 becomes Beach Boulevard, with mile after mile of incredible Southern homes. There was probably a beach there, too, but I’ve seen sand. I hadn’t seen these amazing houses, up on stilts or standing defiantly, waiting for the next hurricane. Trust me, they’re gorgeous, and deserve better than having a photo taken from a phone behind a window while driving down the road for proof.
Turns out, beautiful houses aren’t the only thing in abundance on Beach Boulevard. There are also an absurd amount of Waffle Houses. Like, you need to use both hands to count them. Why? Why does the universe need that many identical restaurants on the same street? We imagined the difficult conversations that must occur daily. “Let’s meet at the Waffle House on Beach. No, the other one. No, not that one, either. The one by the giant shark, No, the…ah, forget it. Let’s just go to the casino.”
We overshot Gulfport by a bit so we could check out Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. A friend’s wife was on the architectural team when it was built (the basis for the Bellagio in Vegas!) and so we stopped to pay homage. Literally, it turns out, because I don’t win on slot machines. Very pretty but they still allow the ancient practice of cigarette smoking in the casino, so we didn’t stay too long.
Caution: locations in images are smokier than they appear
We drove back down Beach Boulevard to our hotel, counting the Waffle Houses. We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott Gulfport Beachfront. We’re pleased to confirm that it was indeed beachfront. We ran outside and spent a happy hour taking pictures and watching the sun set and drinking wine. Being a California girl, it always trips me out when the sun doesn’t set in the water. That’s what the ocean is for, to catch the sun! It’s too hot for land! That’s just science.
Very pretty, but sideways.
All that nature made us hungry. We went to The Rack House Steak and Spirits in downtown Gulfport and got exactly that: order-by-the-ounce, bone-in filets and smoky bourbons. Our hotel had given us appetizer coupons, so we also got the world’s largest charcuterie board (charcuterie: as fun to say as it is to eat!). With dark lighting and industrial, slippery floors, it’s part delicious restaurant and part exercise in not dying. But, for bone-in filets, it’s probably worth it.
After eating all the food in the world we went back to our hotel and sat around the fire pit. The hotel was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, when it was a Holiday Inn. One guest recommended we find the video on YouTube. It’s heavy, and fascinating, and like staring at a car accident as you drive by. There are still markers in the Courtyard lobby reminding people of the water line. The whole stay was a reminder of the resilience of the people who live there, and who choose to rebuild.
Then again, with all those Waffle Houses, maybe it just makes good sense to stay.