NEW ORLEANS — This resilient enclave is abuzz with anticipation over the tourists and international recognition Super Bowl 47 will bring to New Orleans on Feb. 3.
And New O is ready for her close-up.
We visited the Big Easy, as New Orleans is nicknamed, about two years after Hurricane Katrina’s August 2005 devastation, and many French Quarter shops and restaurants were still shuttered or struggling. Again, the next year, New O hadn’t quite bounced back touristically.
But on a very recent visit, America’s “European” city appears to have a full recovery.
If you seek pre- or postgame diversion — or if you are one of those whose significant other is a football fanatic and you aren’t — The Big Easy has alternative activities to offer.
Magazine Street and the French Quarter have tiny shops, often owned by the same family for generations, offering unique, high-quality jewelry, clothes and antiques you can’t usually find in America’s malls.
I always make a bee line for 523 Royal St., home of Le Fleur de Paris, one of the world’s famous millinery shops.
Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna and other public figures have been customers, according to the shop’s website fleurdeparis.net.
Opened in 1980 by Joseph Parrino Sr., Le Fleur specializes in custom millinery, accessories, ball gowns and spirited attire you wear to a social event when you aspire to capture every eye in the room.
I bought a shawl doused with hundreds of multicolored feathers — each hand sewn into the silk.
I’ve collected and worn vintage hats for decades. Le Fleur has the second-largest and best collection I have seen anywhere in the world, except for Apparel from the Past — 269-422-1382 — in the rural woods surrounding Baroda, Mich., on the Indiana border.
Jewelry stores along Royal and nearby streets offering one-of-a-kind antique jewelry pieces are good for an entire afternoon browsing.
In addition to unique shops with European ambience, New Orleans has world-renowned restaurants.
We tried Luke’s, 333 St. Charles St. Native son and former U.S. Marine Chef John Besh describes his cozy restaurant as an “homage to Franco-German brasseries that once reigned in New O.”
A stop at the concierge desk of any NOLA hotel will yield handfuls of day trip brochures: Cajunencounters.com offers an array of guided tours through the city; to nearby plantations such as Oak Alley, Night Swamp tours to view nocturnal animals; steamboat rides on the mighty Mississippi River with live jazz and Calliope concerts, steambatnatchez.com; Bicycle Tours, 504-210-8339; walking tours of NOLA’s lush antebellum Garden District, including an evening ghost, vampire and voodoo tour, hauntedhistorytours.com; and a cemetery history tour.
If you’re bound for the Super Bowl, there are plenty of places to sneak off to. Maybe the rest of your party, distracted by the hoopla, won’t notice your absence.