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I consider New Year’s Eve to be a pretty take-it-or-leave-it holiday, but in the last few years my December 31st game has been tight. In fact, I really didn’t think anything could top the fiery celebrations of the previous year in Baños, Ecuador, and I didn’t plan to try. I’d just stay in New York and do something low key, and fly out the next week when flights returned to reasonable level, I thought.

And then my sister invited me to New Orleans, and my best friend announced she was Louisiana-bound. And as it turned out, New Year’s Eve would be the cherry on top of an altogether unbeatable trip.

New-Orleans_004

Things started out pretty darn strong. For Christmas, my spa-loving sister had gifted us massages at ! Well, technically, she gifted us massages as a much cheaper spa, and her lovely boyfriend Oliver cancelled those reservations and rebooked us at The Ritz, making the difference his own generous gift. (Actually, The Ritz has a 20% weekday massage discount for Louisiana residents that they were so kind as to honor even on a holiday. Huzzah, Ritz spa!)

We arrived early to take advantage of the sauna, steam room, and pool — and, despite what our sporty outfits might portray, not the gym.

Ritz Spa New Orleans

Ritz Spa New Orleans

Ritz Spa New Orleans

The massages were absolutely fabulous, and the genius of my sister’s plan was revealed when we returned to the h ladies lounge to start primping. We were downtown, we had free valet parking, and there were complimentary glasses of champagne in our hands. It was the perfect kick off to any New Year’s Eve.

Ritz Spa New Orleans

Properly beautified, we sauntered across the street to , the acclaimed pizza restaurant inside The Waldorf. There, we were joined by , Emma, and Oliver for our collective last meal of 2014.

Domenica New Orleans

Domenica New Orleans

Like The Ritz, Dominica honored their standard happy hour of half price pizzas and drinks from 2-5pm. We couldn’t have asked for a better evening — the food was perfect, our waiter was amused by our antics, and we enthusiastically recapped and ranked our highlights and lowlights of the closing year, and our hopes and plans for the upcoming one.

Domenica New Orleans

Somehow — and I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, which I’m going to blame on the mojito special — I ended up telling our waiter that we had all met through a group for people whose birthdays fell on December 31st, and thus it was currently all of our birthdays.

We doubled over when he delivered a complimentary birthday dessert with a wink — but Zoe had the last laugh when she left him her number on the receipt, unbeknownst to the rest of us (and yup, he called.)

Domenica New Orleans

Domenica New Orleans

At this point, our nights split off in two directions. Olivia and Oliver headed off to a swank house party in the suburbs — the perfect thing for two New Orleans residents to do, while Emma and Zoe and I headed off to Bourbon Street — the perfect thing for three bumbling New Orleans tourists to do.

Despite being several days into their trip, it was Zoe and Emma’s first time walking down the infamous road — and what a night to be introduced to New Orleans’ most debaucherous drag.

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

Thrilled not to be tied to a club or party with a ridiculous entrance fee, we mostly roamed the streets people-gawking, and occasionally dipping into roadside stalls to refill on the most ridiculous drinks we could find. Eventually we needed a break from the body slamming of the streets and ducked into , which was being serenaded by a soul-filled live band. It was the perfect Bourbon Street find, despite the debacle at the bar.

In an only-in-New-Orleans moment, I was served, sloppily, by a middle-aged bartender who was so drunk her supervisor had to step in for her to complete the transaction. Sober Bartender returned my card saying it was blocked, which I later learned was because Drunk Bartender had swiped it eleven times. I handed over a new card to Sober Bartender, which I’d regret later when I realized I was charged on two separate credit cards, launching a months-long dispute between my credit card companies in the bar.

But all that was in the future. In the moment, we laughed off Drunk Bartender’s antics and cheers-ed to live music, good friends, and drinkin’ straight from mini-champagne bottles.

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

At one point, I went to take a picture with my iPhone and realized it was almost midnight. “Where do we want to be for the start of 2015?!,” I asked frantically. Emma reminded us that there were fireworks in Jackson Square, though Zoe and I were skeptical we’d be able to get anywhere near it.

We quickly agreed — what the hell, let’s give it a shot. And it was with surprising ease that we made our way to the Square, pushed our way to the riverfront, and were standing with front row views as fireworks erupted over the Mississippi.

New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street

New Year's Eve Fireworks New Orleans

New Year's Eve Fireworks New Orleans

One word of constructive criticism, NOLA — a countdown would have been nice. But that aside, it was a magical moment. The huge, awe-inspiring show was complemented by smaller colorful bursts going off as far as the eye could see across the river. It was a great feeling of community — tonight, everyone was celebrating.

Swept away by the crowd as the last firework fell, we noted a distinct drop in temperature, and sought refuge (and snacks) in a bodega while we planned our next move.

New Year's Eve on Frenchman's Street

Bourbon Street seemed too hectic to return to, and so we pointed ourselves in the direction of Bourbon’s cool, hipster, skinny-jean wearing older sister Frenchman’s Street, where we sought more live music and good vibes. And we found them.

Inevitably though, our dying batteries and the dropping temperatures (we’d packed for the mid-seventies of just a few days prior, and were unprepared when things took an unexpected turn for the low forties) caught up with us, and we found ourselves yawning and shivering with increasing frequency. But that was just fine — the day had been perfect. We were satisfied to call it a night.

New Year's Eve on Frenchman's Street

New Year's Eve on Frenchman's Street

But there was one more stop in store for us. In my zombie-like state, I was focused on food, and rather than navigate the group home, I led us towards , where earlier, the post-firework lines had snaked around the block.

At this point it was rounding 2:30am and we were greeted by a radiant smile and a warm welcome from the man behind the takeaway counter. “Sir, I am so sorry you have to work right now!,” Emma said, mind wandering to the late hour, the chaotic crowds and the cold. “Oh ma’am,” he laughed but looked his voice was full of sincerity as he promised, “I just say… thank God we able to work.” He nodded, quietly confident, and handed us our beignets.

Something clicked, and I just felt completely overwhelmed by emotion. That, I thought, is the positive and grateful attitude I want to bring with me into 2015. Damn. It was the most beautiful interaction to end the night on.

(So was the interaction of those beignets with my mouth, but that kind of goes without saying.)

Cafe du Monde New Year's Eve

Cafe du Monde New Year's Evethankfully Zoe never outgrew disposable cameras

The next morning we woke up feeling surprisingly fresh and set off to explore the French Quarter. It was a gray day and most businesses were closed, but there was plenty to keep us amused.

French Quarter New Orleans

French Quarter New Orleans

French Quarter New Orleans

French Quarter New Orleans

As Olivia had been unable to add us to her own long-standing brunch reservation (seriously people, make ’em early for the holidays in New Orleans), we found ourselves gravitating to the classic .

I admit I was skeptical — it seemed suspiciously like a tourist trap, and I almost never feel like I get my money’s worth out of a buffet (I’m more of an eat-ten-meals-a-day than eat-one-big-one kind of girl).

Court of Two Sisters Brunch New Orleans

Court of Two Sisters Brunch New Orleans

Court of Two Sisters Brunch New Orleans

And yup — it was touristy, especially on this day when the place was packed with Sugar Bowl fans. But it was also unexpectedly delicious, and I got to try several Southern specialties that I’d never wanted to risk ordering a whole meal of. Plus, I got to sit outside in an airy courtyard. With two sisters. At Two Sisters!

It was perfect.

Court of Two Sisters Brunch New Orleans

Court of Two Sisters Brunch New Orleans

Eventually, we reunited with Olivia and Oliver for some post-brunch fireside cocktails at , recommended by longtime reader . It was the perfect cozy spot to wind down, but we howled with laughter when my sister admitted she’d only come under duress, and we looked up the scathing Yelp review she’d left after her last visit.

And after a much-needed nap, we ended our New Year festivities the same way we do Christmas — a movie. I adored the fancy dine-in and will absolutely be returning on future trips to New Orleans.

Bar Tonique New Orleans

I could not have asked for a better way ring in 2015.

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30 Comments...
  • Whitney
    March 16 2015

    Meihoukai! I love that I had almost the identical New Years to ring in 2014. Bourban street antics, fireworks over the Mississippi, post-midnight dancing on Frenchmen Street and BEIGNETS to cap off the night! Such a fun NYE and it didn’t even break the bank. Great minds think alike 🙂
    Whitney recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 16 2015

      I know! One of the most affordable New Year’s Eves ever. We payed a $5 cover at Sing Sing, and otherwise just bought cheap drinks and food and were able to walk everywhere. Amazing!

  • Marni
    March 16 2015

    I love your expression in almost every picture! Plus a spa day at the Ritz sounds exceptionally lovely. It seems like you had an amazing start to 2015.

    • Meihoukai
      March 16 2015

      I was spoiled! And yes, I was also quite giddy about it 🙂

  • becky hutner
    March 16 2015

    Yaaay, I made the blog! Boooo, it was for a rec your sister hates. Was the negative review perchance for that hilariously awful female bartender who makes you feel bad for ever showing up? I had her my first time there & she was so outrageously cold, I almost admired the girl for thumbing her nose at customer service & just being herself.
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    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      Ha, we may have had the same bartender! Her review DID mention that her boyfriend who has lived in New Orleans for eight years always raves about the place, hence her bottomless disappointment 😉 The Baackeses do disapproving head shakes very well.

  • Ah, New Orleans! One of my favorite cities. Your sister’s boyfriend is definitely a keeper! And beignets at any time of the day is always a good idea! 🙂
    Katelyn @ Diaries of a Wandering Lobster recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      He’s a great tour guide anytime I’m around 🙂

  • Camels & Chocolate
    March 16 2015

    I’m sorry but Olivia and Oliver? That’s just too cute for words.

    And kudos to Olivia for that genius plan! The reason I never go out on NYE is because it’s so pricy, you have to have a reservation to get in anywhere and it’s always an expensive (and filling) prix fixe menu—I like NOLA’s version of New Year’s much better than Nashville’s!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      It was crazy laid back! I mean, we were smart to make reservations well in advance, but I was amazed by how most everything was business as usual — happy hours honored, no covers at the doors, and no nutso prix fixe menus. I loved it!

  • Leah
    March 16 2015

    Meihoukai, this post had me SNORT LAUGHING! I need to hang out with you and Zoe again ASAP! And your sisters, too, for that matter! Looks like an awesome NYE 🙂
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      You are always more than welcome on any trip 🙂 I need backup on the whole Adidas sandal issue with Zoe…

  • Chelsea F. B. Carter
    March 16 2015

    NEW YEARS EVE GOALS.

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      This comment made me laugh. Love it 🙂

  • Dani
    March 16 2015

    Looks like an eventful New Year! With a lovely, bubbly company! 🙂
    Dani recently posted..

  • Sky
    March 16 2015

    Did I mention that you are making me REALLY want to go to New Orleans now? 🙂

    You had a much more exciting NYE than me – I spent it hanging out with my grandma as I have for the past, oh, 20 years 😉 It’s the only family tradition I have and I intend on keeping it as long as possible, even if it means missing a wild party or two!
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      That’s a really sweet tradition, Sky. I’m sure you’ll cherish it for a lifetime.

  • Anna @ shenANNAgans
    March 17 2015

    YES…. What a brilliant reminder from the man behind the takeaway counter at 230am. That gratitude and sincerity seems to be lacking in my workplace this year. Will have stern words with myself to find the great things again. Great post, as always, very inspiring.
    Anna @ shenANNAgans recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      It really stopped me in my tracks. Love humbling reminders like that! It was just what I needed to hear.

  • Justine
    March 17 2015

    This pretty much looks like the best NYE ever! I imagine New Orleans would be the perfect city to ring in the new year in. And bravo for making it to see the fireworks and getting to Café du Monde when there was no line! Is it bad that I never tried a beignet when I was there? I regret that…
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      I didn’t think I was going to be so into beignets, as I didn’t think I was a huge fried dough fan. WRONG. They’re amazing.

  • Julia Nix
    March 17 2015

    How time flies. Here’s to loving people who love you, care about you and just encourage and support you genuinely. Toxic people are aplenty in office environment. If there’s one advice I can give you, is not getting back into mundane office world again. So when things are down during your journey sometimes, be thankful you are not stucked in a cubicle job 12 hours a day & need to face the dreadfuls every single day.

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      I am very grateful for that 90% of the time 🙂 But every once in a while I can use a nice reminder!

  • Sandy Seeks
    March 18 2015

    Absolutely love NOLA and can’t imagine a better place to ring it in, as they have plenty of practice at partying. Everytime I go I find a new hidden hole-in-the-wall bar or a new cocktail to try and like the sign in your other post stated, it truly is on a level of NY and SF, there is just nothing like it.
    Sandy Seeks recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2015

      I’m already angling for my next return… I know how you feel!

  • Chris
    March 22 2015

    It truly looks a wonderful city!

    So glad our NYE experience was sooooo much better than our insipid 4th of July experience in Las Vegas.

    They need to get you there to organise things methinks! 😉
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 23 2015

      Aw, I love Vegas! But I can imagine it might be a nightmare on a big holiday… it’s a little overwhelming on a standard weekend!

  • Uptourist
    March 23 2015

    Sorry if this will be a little off-topic but I love those chalkboard placemats or boards. I am seeing them a lot on Instagram and I think that it is a good simple way to make someone’s day.

    • Meihoukai
      March 24 2015

      It warmed my heart to walk in and see my name there, for sure!