The Business of Pleasure in the Crescent City
BY Loann Halden
January 05 2009 1:00 AM ET
Time was that when work called for a trip to New Orleans, thoughts of ditching the convention center in order to join beaded revelers in their pursuit of live music, beignets, and Sazeracs popped into one's mind. While that characterization is a bit simplistic, New Orleans has always had all that -- and much more -- to offer. Since 2005, thoughts about the city have centered on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Most everyone knows that the city is far from closed -- but it's also worth mentioning that it's not under water, flattened, or overrun with more crime scenes than a season's worth of CSI . It takes more than Mother Nature in diva-gone-mad mode to crush a city that rose from the Louisiana swamp in 1718 and went up in flames twice before the close of the 18th century.
New Orleans is on the rise again. In fact, the city's tourism bureau projects a 10% uptake in corporate confabs in 2009. Considering that, and all the incentives being offered by area hotels, chances are likely that your job may again be taking you to the Big Easy sometime soon. And this city, perhaps more than any other, is custom-made for travelers who want to tack a couple of extra days onto that business trip -- no matter how you want to spend your slip into Southern-style decadence.
Extended Stay There's no need to swap addresses when you're switching from business to pleasure at the Wyndham-operated Bourbon Orleans (717 Orleans St.; 866-513-9744), which first opened in 1817 as the Orleans Ballroom. There are less traditional hotels with a higher coolness factor (International House springs to mind), but none are this close to NOLA's best-known gay clubs, 24-7 Bourbon Pub Parade -- which has a weekly lesbian night on Tuesdays -- and Oz. The smoke-free gay lounge Napoleon's Itch has its own street entrance on the ground floor.
Unwind in the Faubourg Marigny district at the affordable, gay-owned Lions Inn (2517 Chartres St.; 800-485-6846), a rambling 10-room B&B set in two historic residences. The convivial mixed clientele often nudges the tropical poolside wine hour from afternoon into the night.
Convention Exit Strategy Skip that panel on Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance and discover the New Orleans beckoning beyond the conference center. As the architectural anchor of the French Quarter and oldest continuously operating Catholic church in the country, the triple-spired St. Louis Cathedral deserves a look-both by day, when it's surrounded by street artists, and after dark, when the spotlighted statue in the courtyard, known locally as "Touchdown Jesus," casts a huge shadow across the facade.