New Orleans should come with a warning label. No, no, not about hurricanes. Forget that. That’s like solely identifying Hawaii with erupting volcanoes. No, this is about the city itself. See, there’s this group of residents known as the “never lefts.” They are the people who come to New Orleans as tourists, and the city worked its magic on them.
They become spellbound by the beauty of the French Quarter and the Garden District, and marvel that history is alive right beneath their feet. They listen to music flowing from random doorways and street corners—jazz, Cajun, blues, whatever—and find themselves moving to a languorous rhythm. They kiss beneath flickering gas lamps, and groove to a brass band in a crowded club long past their usual bedtime. They eat sumptuous, indulgent meals, and scandalously indulge yet again hours later, with 3am beignets at Café du Monde, where they watch the passing human parade. They’ll catch the scent of jasmine and sweet olive (with a whiff of the Caribbean, and a garlic topnote, perhaps) wafting through the moist, honeyed air.
The air . . . aah the New Orleans air. People say romance is in the air here. It’s true, of course, because the air is dreamy. It’s the dewy ingénue who grows up fast in the first act, softly whispering your name. And if you’re meant to be together, you’ll feel that undeniable flutter, the high-voltage spark that says I’m in your heart forever.
That’s what happens to the never lefts. They came for Mardi Gras, for a festival, a conference, a tryst, a reunion—just came—and fell hard. New Orleans does that to people.
What is it about this place? Well, for one thing, New Orleans is where centuries commingle, perhaps not effortlessly but nowhere more fruitfully, as if nothing essential has passed between them. It’s where a barstool or a park bench becomes the opening salvo in a conversation you may never forget—for raconteurship thrives here. It’s where a masquerade party of old masters, modernists, and bohemian street artists fill the city’s stunning mélange of museums and galleries. It’s a city that actually has an official cocktail—which speaks volumes to its state of mind. It’s where gumbo—the savory Creole stew that is often (over) used in describing the city’s multicultural tableau—is actually an apt metaphor: It speaks of a place that’s deep and mysterious, rich with flavor and plenty spicy, and so much more than the sum of its many disparate parts.
New Orleans, the most unique city in the United States, works its charms like a spell. But don’t take our word for it. Go. See, hear, and taste for yourself. The best way to get inside New Orleans is to plunge right in. Don’t just go for the obvious. Sure, we’ve met people who never left Bourbon Street and had a terrific time, but the city has so much more to offer. Look over the advice that follows, and see if New Orleans casts its seductive spell on you. Perhaps you’ll come to understand the never lefts. Perhaps you’ll even become one.