Romancing the French Quarter

January 30, 2013
We're a little biased in the Big Easy - we tend to think our beloved city offers the best of everything, which is why it came as no surprise when New Orleans was ranked #1 in CNN Travel's 2012 list, "The World's Most Really, Truly Romantic Cities." Take a leisurely walk through the French Quarter, with its legendary restaurants, luxury shopping, picturesque courtyards, and the lazy sounds of jazz spilling from all corners - and you'll know why there's no better place in the U.S. for couples to canoodle.

Treats for your sweet
Give your sweetheart a sparkling memento from Maison Royale (501 Royal Street, 504.524.5045), a French Quarter exquisite jewelry store specializing in diamonds, rare gems and fanciful gemstones. These aren't just any diamonds. The store's tremendous display is hand selected by owners Jack Adams, third generation jeweler from a renowned family of jewelers in New York City on Madison Avenue and The Hotel Waldorf Astoria, and Rick Sutton, third generation of jewelry, art & antiques in New Orleans.

The rustic, sugary praline may be the city's most famous Creole confection, but if you want the Rolls-Royce of sweetheart candies, head to Bittersweet Confections' (725 Magazine Street, 504.523.2626), for unique, hand-crafted truffles. These bonbon-sized sweets are made with fine Swiss chocolate and locally-sourced ingredients. Choose your own mix from Bittersweet's extensive selection (we love the classic NOLA flavors Bananas Foster, Pecan, Praline, Sazerac, and Cafe au Lait), or check out the sweet shop's truffle collections, named for local landmarks and neighborhoods.

A night on the town
When the moon crests over the Crescent City, the French Quarter comes alive with the sounds of the New Orleans. You'll hear everything from tipsy tourists belting out karaoke tunes on Bourbon Street to some of the finest blues, brass and traditional jazz on the planet. For a romantic night on the town, a few clubs in the French Quarter stand out.

If there's one reason to brave the crowds of Hand Grenade drinkers on Bourbon Street, it's to make your way to Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta (300 Bourbon Street, 504.553.2299). Every night, the Playhouse lures a grownup mix of locals and visitors past the neon lights of Bourbon to its swanky sanctuary - a lounge that serves sophisticated cocktails, bar snacks and live music seven nights a week. Legendary musicians play weekly standing gigs, including Gerald French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band (a 100-year-old institution in New Orleans music) and the club's namesake, Grammy award-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield. Night owls take note: the club hosts midnight shows every Friday (Burlesque Ballroom featuring Trixie Minx) and Saturday (Brass Band Jam).

Plenty of bars shake up trendy craft cocktails these days, but the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street, 504.523.3341), has been the home of classic cocktails in the French Quarter for decades. A complete makeover in 2012 transformed the back room of the bar into a bright, open lounge, where a rotating cast of notable New Orleans musicians play several nights a week.

The cozy, clubby atmosphere and extensive martini list are just part of the draw at Bombay Club at the Prince Conti Hotel (830 Conti Street, 504.586.0972). Name a martini and you'll find it here - from the classic Vesper to contemporary "skinny" cocktails - created (and often served) by the club's celebrated bartender, Cheryl Charming. Tie in Executive Chef Rick Cheramie's Nouveau Creole/French menu and live music seven nights a week and you've got the makings of a perfect evening for two.

Romantic dining for duos
Maximo's Italian Grill (1117 Decatur Street, 504.586.8883), is the consummate date-night spot - the kind of restaurant that feels upscale and special occasion worthy without the stuffy, awkward formality of fine dining. The menu is built around Italian fundamentals: salami and cheese, antipasti that stretches well beyond the standard (don't miss the Carpaccio), indulgent pastas designed for sharing or making a meal of, and hearty entrees like Osso Buco and roasted lamb. Fire-roasted seafood - sauteed in the restaurant's signature habanero olive oil - is the house specialty and a must for heat seekers. Local tip: Seasoned lovebirds reserve a cozy booth for two in the front dining room; if you're on a first date, opt for the "grill-bar" seating and watch the chef prepare your meal in the open kitchen.

Or, escape the restaurant crowds for a romantic moonlit cruise on the Mississippi River. The Steamboat Natchez Valentine's Day Cruise (400 N. Peters Street, 800.233.2628, 504.569.1401), features dining and dancing under a canopy of balloons to the sweet sounds of DJ Anthony Graziano, Mobile Music. The historic riverboat is decked out for the holiday and guests receive a commemorative Champagne flute. When you make a reservation, be sure to let the staff know if you're planning to pop the question - there are a few proposals on board this cruise every year!