The Ultimate Literary Tour of New Orleans
Playwright Tennessee Williams once said, “In New York, eccentrics, authentic ones, are ignored. In Los Angeles, they’re arrested. Only in New Orleans are they permitted to develop their eccentricities into art.” Indeed, the Big Easy has always been a haven for creatives, who, whether staying for a short stint or the rest of their lives, find inspiration in the destination’s remarkable diversity and rich history. Walt Whitman was an editor at the city’s local newspaper, The Crescent. William Faulkner, who originally thought he would be a poet, found his voice as a fiction writer here. It all makes the city ripe for a literary journey, so read on for intel on the hangouts of some of the country’s most notable members of the literati.
In Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley Kowalski, the explosive factory salesman most famously played by Marlon Brando, says, “I’m not going to no Galatoire’s for supper!” Oddly enough, this atmospheric bistro on the two hundred block of Bourbon Street was Williams’ favorite restaurant; he would sit in a corner seat by the window and observe the boisterous crowd. Cajun John, who has worked at Galatoire’s since 1964, said the playwright liked to order Trout Almondine and Shrimp Remoulade. The menu hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years—so you’ll still find those dishes, along with similar classics like Oysters Rockefeller, Andouille Gumbo, and Eggs Sardou, on offer.
Lafitte’s Guest House
Continue on in the French Quarter to 1014 Dumaine Street, a 19th-century townhouse where Williams lived from 1962 until his death in 1983. Visitors are able to walk by, though it is not open to the public. Five blocks away is the boutique inn, Lafitte’s Guest House, where Williams lived in room 40 for a time.
New Orleans Athletic Club
William Faulkner, as well as Williams, was a member of the historic New Orleans Athletic Club located on North Rampart Street. Established in 1872, the gym was designed to be a swanky, all-male institution and, to this day, houses an impressive, fully stocked bar, as well as pool and workout equipment. People who are not members can buy a $20 day-pass and present their New Orleans hotel room keys at the athletic club’s check in for access.
624 Pirate’s Alley in the Quarter is another Faulkner haunt: The author lived in this 1840s home and wrote his first novel, Soldier’s Pay, here. Today, it is the location of Faulkner House Books, a bookstore dedicated to Southern literature.
Frances Parkinson Keyes set many of her books in Louisiana, including her 1947 murder mystery, Dinner at Antoine’s. Antoine’s is a 175-year-old New Orleans staple, a French Quarter restaurant featuring Louisiana French-Creole cuisine and lunch martinis for twenty-five cents. Keyes’ home is now a museum, The Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden Museum. The 1826 house can be visited at 1113 Chartres Street in The Quarter across from the old Ursuline Convent.
Ignatius Eatery is a restaurant and café on Magazine Street dedicated to John Kennedy Toole’s sardonic and lovable main character, Ignatius Reilly, from Toole’s posthumously published and Pulitzer Prize winning A Confederacy of Dunces. Eat authentic Louisiana food and read Ignatius’ quotes, which are featured around the restaurant. Then take one of New Orleans’ famous streetcars to Pirate’s Alley in the Quarter; fans of Confederacy will remember this as the setting for an iconic scene, when the Ladies’ Art Guild hung their “art” on the fence that surrounds the St. Louis Cathedral.
The Southern grand dame of gothic literature, Anne Rice, visits Mr. B’s for the atmosphere—and the standout dark coffee and spicy gumbo. To Rice, this corner, where Mr. B’s is placed, is the vibrant gateway to the French Quarter. “It’s right smack in the middle of much excitement,” Rice said. Though Rice no longer lives in New Orleans, people can see her majestic Victorian former home at 1239 First Street and Chestnut Street in the Garden District. Walk by her house and see the mausoleums afterwards under the live oaks.
Truman Capote used to boast that he was born in this French Quarter hotel. That may have been an exaggeration—but the writer, as well as many other literary luminaries like Hemingway, Williams, and Faulkner, liked to knock back cocktails at the hotel’s revolving Carousel Bar, which is still a popular haunt.
The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel
One of the South’s first grand hotels, The Roosevelt has a history that dates back over 100 years. Novelist Arthur Hailey lived here for a month, and based his New York Times bestseller, Hotel, on the property. Today, it’s a buzzing spot that’s home to Domenica, a restaurant from native son John Besh.
The W Hotel (French Quarter)
This design-forward, boutique property hosts its own literary roundtable every third Thursday of the month. Locals and visitors alike can discuss the book of the month and sip on thematic cocktails at SoBou, a restaurant run by the family responsible for NOLA icon Commander’s Palace.