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Escape: New Orleans
Professional sybarite Niven Morgan shares his formula for the perfect New Orleans weekend
By Brittany Edwards
Born on the bayou: Tour guide Niven Morgan
At least once a month, Niven Morgan closes the door on his Dallas-based bath, body and home fragrance business and catches a Fridaymorning Southwest Airlines flight out of Love Field.
Destination: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
“I visited New Orleans for the first time in the eighth grade,” says Morgan, who was born and raised in Shreveport. “I was in Catholic school, and they let us run loose on Bourbon Street. I’ve been in love with the city ever since.”
For the past three decades, Morgan has visited the Big Easy more times than he can count, for pleasure and for business. Six years ago, he gave up his favorite suite at the Ritz-Carlton (one of half a dozen New Orleans spots that sell his products) and rented a cozy French Quarter pied-a`-terre complete with fern-filled courtyard. Although he keeps a tight grip on his Southern roots, Morgan has come a long way from his humble childhood roaming Shreveport’s sleepy bayous and the family farm. Today, his 10-yearold line covers the country and has a celeb-studded clientele that includes fellow Louisianan Britney Spears, who gave his candles as party favors at her nuptials to Kevin Federline.
This spring, Morgan rolls out two new lines: a culinary-inspired kitchen collection that includes velvety soaps and lotions, and a luxury candle collection based on his travels. Among the tributes — to Paris, London, Marrakesh, San Miguel — is a gardenia-and-jasmine- scented homage to his beloved New Orleans. Next month comes the Jean Baptiste 1717 collection, named for the city’s founding father.
Could there be a better tour guide?
8:15 a.m. Arrive on the 6:55 a.m. Southwest Airlines flight out of Love Field. If traffic goes your way, a 25-minute drive from Louis Armstrong International Airport will get you to the historic French Quarter.
10 a.m. Drop off your bags. Morgan is a big fan of the pet-friendly Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans (921 Canal St., 504-524-1331; ritzcarlton.com). Expect true Southern hospitality, especially if you splurge on a Concierge Level suite, which includes complimentary appetizers and Champagne around the clock. Looking for something luxe, but a tad more boutique? Hole up in the darling Soniat House (1133 Chartres St., 800-544-8808; soniathouse.com), with period antiques, cozy private courtyards and a friendly resident cat named Clarice.
11:30 a.m.Toast your arrival New Orleans-style at Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon St., 504-525-2021; galatoires.com). Scoring a table for Friday lunch is as difficult as bagging an Hermès Birkin. Instead, hike the stairs to the second-floor bar and order an aperitif. (Morgan likes the Bloody Mary.) Plan to stand, as there won’t be an empty seat in the house.
1 p.m. For lunch, hit Mr. B’s Bistro (201 Royal St., 504-523-2078; mrbsbistro.com), a traditional Creole eatery famous for the best barbecue shrimp in town. Don’t skip the complimentary warm French baguette served in a paper bag with a side of salty butter for starters.
2:30 p.m. Walk off lunch (well, maybe just the baguette) with a French Quarter shopping spree. Morgan starts at the Michalopoulos Gallery (617 Bienville St., 504-558-0505; michalopoulos.com). New Orleans-themed works by artist-owner James Michalopoulos that used to go for $100 to $200 on the street now bring in five figures. Morgan was lucky enough to score a piece during the early days, and hangs the prize in his pied-à-terre. Believe in witchcraft? Even if you don’t, swoop into Marie Laveau (739 Bourbon St., 504-581-3751), named for New Orleans’ infamous “Queen of Voodoo.” The place is packed with superstitious wares; there’s even a tarot-card reader tucked in the back room. Morgan recently took home a rosary that now dangles from his front doorknob for good luck. Feel like an insider at hidden-gem home shop Nadine Blake (1036 Royal St., 504-529-4913, nadineblake.com). Morgan scored a vintage turquoise glass lamp and navy-and-white striped pillow for his master bedroom here. Uncover unique antique treasures — brass jewelry boxes, hand-painted ceramic dishes — along with whimsical stationery and Les Indiennes bedding handmade in India. n Get a jump on Mardi Gras at Fifi Mahony’s (934 Royal St., 504-525-4343; fifi-mahony.com), one of the city’s most fabulous dress-up shops. From a fake-eyelash bar to costume jewelry and an impressive wig boutique in back, there’s something for every diva. Niven Morgan rarely visits town without popping into Tommy’s Flowers (933 Royal St., 504-522-6563) for an armload of hydrangeas to decorate his digs. The glass decanters, birdcage candleholders, ceramic vases and blue-and-white Chinese planters are worth the visit — not to mention the intoxicating aroma of stargazer lilies that greets you at the door. Before freshening up for dinner, swing by Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St., 504-523-3341; hotelmonteleone.com) for cocktails at the revolving, circus-themed Carousel Bar. If the decor doesn’t make your head spin, a Southern Belle — Southern Comfort, peach puree, Champagne and black raspberry liquer — should do the trick.
7:30 p.m. Leave your heels at the hotel and head to Adolfo’s (611 Frenchmen St., 504-948-3800). The cash-only, Faubourg Marigny district eatery serves no-frills Italian, including a couple of mean cannelloni dishes. Don’t mind the gritty atmosphere, advises Morgan, “That’s part of its charm.”
9:30 p.m. Not ready to call it a night? Morgan loves to put back a Pimm’s Cup at 200-year-old landmark bar Napoleon House (500 Chartres St., 504-524-9752; napoleonhouse.com). Another favorite is the legendary Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., 504-525-4544; cafedumonde.com) for the requisite café au lait and beignets.
10:30 p.m. Wired on caffeine? Get another kind of buzz at the Old Absinthe House (240 Bourbon St., 504-523-3181; oldabsinthehouse.com), which serves absinthe cocktails with baskets of free buttery popcorn. If you’re not a fan of the liquor’s anise flavor, the blueberry option does a good job of masking the bitter taste, if not the green fairy effect. Tout sweet: a Lilette dessert by pastry chef and SMU grad Beth Biundo After a celebratory cocktail at Galatoire’s (above), Morgan gets a Creole cooking fix at Mr. B’s Bistro (left). Post-lunch shopping kicks off at Michalopoulos Gallery (below).
9 a.m. Work off a fraction of last night’s sins at the New Orleans Athletic Club (222 N. Rampart St., 504-525-2375; neworleans athleticclub.com). A $20 multiple-access day pass grants admission to the historic landmark’s indoor marble pool, ballroom yoga classes, boxing ring and cardio rooms, still outfitted with the original crown moldings, Venetian plaster, vintage fireplaces and chandeliers. Even if you’re not in the mood to sweat, a tour (don’t miss the full-service bar, barber shop and impressive library) is worth the visit.
11 a.m. Indulge your senses with a formal jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221; commanders palace.com), which serves wicked butter-drenched garlic toast for starters. Morgan never leaves without ordering the house’s famous turtle soup (“so good it makes my hair stand up”), and requesting a side of “You Are My Sunshine” and “Jambalaya” from the Joe Simon jazz trio. Try to score a table in the second-floor Garden Room, with views of the manicured courtyard.
Tip: No jeans allowed. Not in the mood for fancy fare? Hit Theo’s (4218 Magazine St., 504-894-8554; theospizza.com) for an early lunch instead. The neighborhood joint is known for its thin-crust pizza and Greek salad with homemade Romano cheese dressing. Antique treasures at Magazine Street’s Bremermann Designs Commander’s Palace serves brunch with a side of jazz. Artisan tarts at Sucré 42 | fdluxe.com | May 2009
12:30 p.m. If you have the will to skip dessert at Commander’s, satisfy your sweet tooth at Lilette (3637 Magazine St., 504-895-1636; liletterestaurant.com), a charming French bistro in the heart of Magazine Street’s antique district. In-house pastry chef and SMU grad Beth Biundo dishes a heavenly Nutella custard, as well as beautiful artisan ice creams, which are Morgan’s favorite. Locals stop in for her famous double-chocolate
1 p.m. Spend the afternoon exploring Magazine Street, which packs nearly 300 shops into a six-mile stretch from Canal Street to the meandering Mississippi River. There’s no right way to scour the shops, but here are some suggestions starting at the eastern end. Tip: Sidewalks are wobbly, so wear walking shoes. n Home shop Source (2103 Magazine St., 504-561-7558; sourcenola.com) is a survivor. After opening the same weekend Hurricane Gustav hit last August, it’s moved full speed ahead. Locals flock here for upscale Swedish antiques, on-trend home accessories, abstract artwork by co-owner Evie Clinton and, yes, Niven Morgan candles. Inexpensive glassware, contemporary table linens and Moroccan cookware are abundant at Quince (2115 Magazine St., 504-556-9668), where the display cases and messy concrete floors are as cool as the unique merchandise. From gift items to big home purchases, Perch Home (2844 Magazine St., 504-899-2122; perch-home.com) has a leg to stand on. The six-room shop with soaring ceilings brims with unique finds, including reworked vintage furniture, Missoni chairs by Kartell, iron chandeliers, salvaged doors and pretty paper goods. Take five at Sucré (3025 Magazine St., 504-520-8311; shopsucre.com), an artisan bakery and gelato boutique known for its macaroons and signature “Tiffany” chocolate and raspberry mousse dessert. Morgan’s crazy for the orange and vanilla Dreamsicle gelato. Although most of Magazine is hopping with home shops, Style Lab for Men (3326 Magazine St., 504-304-5072; stylelabformen.com) caters to gents with looks by, among others, John Varvatos, Paul Smith and Jack Spade. Leontine Linens (3806 Magazine St., 504-899-7833; leontinelinens.com) serves Southern hospitality at its best. The cut- and sewn-to-order linens are a staple in these parts for their unparalleled quality and impeccable monograms. Morgan rarely visits the Big Easy without hitting Bremermann Designs (3943 Magazine St., 504-891-7763; bremermanndesigns.com), an exquisite antiques shop that can also be found on 1stdibs.com, the online retailer for collectibles from around the globe. The authentic furnishings and chandeliers put this place on the map both locally and internationally. Stop by sleek apothecary Bamboo (4112 Magazine St., 504-895-1664; bambooapothecary.com) for trendy makeup, skincare, and bath and body products, as well as a relaxing manicure or pedicure. Hazelnut (5515 Magazine St., 504-891-2424; hazelnutneworleans.com) home accessories and small furnishings shop is co-owned by Mad Men star and New Orleans native Bryan Batt. Morgan frequents for gift items, which include crystal book ends, Jonathan Adler ceramics and chic coffee-table hardbacks. If your schedule has room for only a couple of shops, make one Pied Nu (5521 Magazine St., 504-899-4118; piednuneworleans.com). The boutique’s front half is dedicated to chic home curiosities such as vintage Kantha shams, tea glasses, fashionable barware, metallic Moroccan poufs and sheepskin rugs from Kenya. Under-the-radar women’s clothing labels and jewelry dazzle in the pretty back room.
7 p.m. Stash the shopping bags and dress for dinner at Stella (1032 Chartres St., 504-587-0091; restaurantstella.com). Actress Anne Hathawaywas recently spotted at the intimate fine-dining establishment with cozy corner fireplace. Morgan adores it for the exquisite global-modern dishes and impressive wine list. For a more casual dinner, try laid-back neighborhood bistro Clancy’s Restaurant (6100 Annunciation St., 504-895-1111), which dishes innovative twists on traditional Creole cuisine. Request a bistro table in the front living room for prime people-watching.
10 p.m. Whether or not you stay at the Ritz-Carlton, the hotel’s live jazz music by Jeremy Davenport from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. is a must. The cutie crooner fills the dance floor with his Rat Pack-flavored tunes. Jazz not your thing? Morgan advises checking out the entertainment schedule at Harrah’s (4 Canal St., 504-533-6000; harrahsneworleans.com), too. Work up a sweat (and appetite) in the New Orleans Athletic Club’s ballroom gym. Bourbon-lacquered Mississippi quail at Commander’s Aromatherapy at the Ritz-Carlton spa Adonkey-drawncarriage ride
8 a.m. Morgan starts Sundays with café au lait and The Times-Picayune newspaper at Community Coffee House, a.k.a. CCs (communitycoffee.com for multiple locations). Afterward, he likes to roam the French Quarter while it’s slowly waking.
10 a.m. To miss brunch at Cafe Amelie (912 Royal St., 504-412-8965; neworleansrestaurants.com/cafe amelie) would be a sin, Morgan says. Request a white-linen-covered table on the patio, which he praises as the prettiest in town. Nothing disappoints on the seasonal menu, especially the beet salad with goat cheese, and velvety rich coffee poured from an antique silver pot.
Noon Visit with locals at Jackson Square (Decatur Street in front of the St. Louis Cathedral; jackson-square.com), where a mix of artists, street performers, musicians and tarot readers hang. Bring cash; many vendors don’t take credit cards. If there’s time, jump over to the historic French Market (1008 N. Peter’s St., 504-522-2621; frenchmarket.org) at the banks of the Mississippi River. Dubbed America’s oldest public market, the rows of offerings include cheap costume jewelry, hand-knitted hammocks and wooden African masks. Pre-flightWould you believe Popeyes? Morgan never departs New Orleans before downing a plate of fried shrimp, red beans, rice and biscuits from the Louisiana-based fast food joint inside the airport terminal. “Don’t forget the tartar sauce!”
4:20 p.m. Takeoff time. Enjoy one St. Louis Cathedral rises behind a street musician in Jackson Square. last look back at New Orleans. The courtyard entry to Morgan’s French Quarter apartment Cocktails chez Morgan