EW ORLEANS is back in the business of luring visitors with a vengeance. Katrina in August 2005 failed to deliver a fatal knockout to the cityís No. One industry, tourism. Recovery projects reportedly costing $100 million, financed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is fueling a rebuilding boom.
Convention business is creeping back, according to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. The year before Katrina, 977,829 room nights were sold. In 2007, some 589,000 room nights were sold. This year expect more than 636,000.
Hollywood has sent a bit of its glamour to the Crescent City. Take a stroll in the fabled French Quarter and youíll see several celebrity homeowners. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie share a luxury nest here. Francis Ford Coppola has a home on Governor Nicholls St.
On the corner of Governor Nicholls St. and Royal St. stands the home of Nicolas Cage. "Thatís the most haunted house in New Orleans," Bonnie Warren said. Cage maintains a second domicile in the Garden District.
Believe it or not, Bonnie is familiar with the spirit side of the Big Easy, having lived in the French Quarter for 14 years above the Moss Antique Shop. Once she got up in the middle of the night, suddenly aware of a presence in the room. "I turned and noticed the indentation of a manís body in the bed next to me," she said. "I found out it was the ghost of a priest named Father Roquette from the 1800s."
Our visit to the Crescent City consisted of art and antique hopping. There are so many museums to explore, among them the National D-Day Museum, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art. See them all at www.NewOrleansMuseums.com.
Board a streetcar in the French Quarter and it will bring you to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), located at City Park.
"We were blessed," said NOMA director John Bullard. "Because we are above sea level, only one sculpture was damaged in the outdoor Sculpture Garden. The rest was easily cleaned. But there was $2 million damage to the garden."
The Sculpture Garden and its reflecting pools showcase 50 masterworks including Claes Oldenburg, the greatest pop art sculptor, as well as Robert Indiana, Henry Moore, Rene Magritte and others.
A tour inside the museum gave us tremendous joy. NOMAís permanent collection numbers more than 40,000 (whoís counting?) worth $240 million. Its strength lies in American and French art, photography and glass, plus African and Japanese art.
One gallery is devoted to the works of Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920), master jeweler to the czars. The photography collection of 7,000 images features gifted Louisiana photographers. See much more at www.noma.org.
Dr. Richard Gruber, director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, welcomed us to his charming palace of Southern art. Whatís really delightful is Ogden After Hours, a series of music programs on Thursday evenings. www.ogdenmusueum.org.
At the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), executive/artistic director Jay Weigel said the building used to be a warehouse. In fact this neighborhood was Bumís Row. An influx of artists transformed the area into the Warehouse District, brimming with galleries and studios and creative activity.
CAC, which showcases modern pop art, devotes a room to a young artist in Indonesia, Eko Nugroho. Itís a space designed to contemplate the vision of an individual spewing venom for America. I found his not-too-subtle project loathsome. He accuses the U.S. of terrorism. This is not art, but propaganda. Then again, this is free speech. And thatís why his work can be displayed here without riots in the streets. Itís the spirit of New Orleans. www.cacno.org.
Where To Stay
Harrahís228 Poydras St.
This luxury hotel, and adjacent casino, in the Business District is conveniently within walking distance to the French Quarter, where we spent most of our time. There are a variety of six restaurants. Enjoy the dramatic art works displayed in public areas as well as in the private rooms.
Where To Eat
New Orleans is rated among the three best cities for food, along with New York and Paris. With 3000 eating places to indulge in this unique cuisine scene, you can choose Creole, Cajun, seafood, vegan and other cooking styles.
Brennanís417 Royal St., French Quarter
Famous for the best breakfast in town.
Murielís801 Chartres St., Jackson Square
Once an elegant private home. Owner Rick Gratia offers contemporary Creole dining. Great Sunday jazz brunch.
Galatoireís209 Bourbon St., French Quarter
Outstanding restaurant that earned many awards for quality and excellence.
Harrahís New Orleans228 Poydras St.
The Gulf Coastís top gaming destination offers excellent eating venues such as the acclaimed Besh Steakhouse; Riche restaurant, a French brasserie; and Bambu, an Asian fusion of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese.
Who To Contact
New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation504 524-4784
New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & visitors Bureau504 566-5011