NCAA Final Four In New Orleans: An Insider's Guide To Dining, Partying And More

Zinger Key Points
  • New Orleans cuisine is a blend of French, Spanish, German and more recently, Vietnamese and Central American influences.
  • One rule of thumb: Nothing good happens after midnight on Bourbon Street.

When the announcement went out that New Orleans was the site of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament's Final Four April 1-3, cheers could be heard around fandom.

The city is a favorite because it not only has great food and amazing nightlife, it is walkable. That makes a difference.

The last Final Four in New Orleans was in 2012. While much of New Orleans remains the constant — where else can you go to a restaurant that has been open for more than 100 years — there have been some changes, particularly after Hurricane Ida, which affected the city in early September. (Always check for hours.)

The focus of the list is on the city's French Quarter, as this is where most people will gravitate before and after the games are played in the Caesars Superdome.

The NCAA has put together quite a number of events surrounding the Final Four and for a full list and information, including free concerts and the first-ever HBCU All-Star game, click here.

As I have lived in New Orleans for more than 25 years, I do know the ins and outs — well, I am not telling you where the free parking spots are in the French Quarter, I do have my limits! — and wanted to share some fun things to do while in the city.

See Also: Country Music Superstar Cancels Concert To Watch Duke Vs. UNC

Where to Eat

New Orleans' blend of French, Spanish, German and more recently, Vietnamese and Central American influences, ensures there is something for all tastes. Don't forget to ask for the Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce, though.

Two things are in season right now: strawberries and boiled crawfish. (And note, seafood is always in season.)

If in the mood for fresh strawberries, head to the French Market — the oldest market in the U.S., dating back to 1791 — where other produce and interesting knick-knacks can be found. (Insider's tip: It's a good spot to buy New Orleans' themed tchotchkes to bring home as gifts.)

Classic Creole restaurant Broussard's has a strawberry-themed menu right now that includes a pompano Pontchartrain with strawberry and tomato chow chow and a dessert of strawberry and poppy seed Chantilly cake.

There are other old-line restaurants such as Broussard's, many of which have passed the century club mark. What do I like? Get the oysters Rockefeller and baked Alaska at Antoine's; the shrimp Arnaud and trout meunière at Arnaud's; seafood gumbo and eggs Hussarde at Brennan's and soufflé potatoes and the Grand Goute (crab maison and shrimp remoulade) at Galatoire's.

One of the new hot spots in the city is Bijou restaurant. Try its shrimp and pork "bahn mi" burger, a savory blend of chicken liver pate, sriracha aioli, pickled vegetables and herbs or fried oyster po-boy. (Note: I also love a good po-boy from Johnny's.)

Boiled crawfish is a specialty at Three Legged Dog saloon, while oysters — raw, chargrilled or fried are highlights at Felix's or Bourbon House.

And don't forget to finish your meal at the old-line restaurants with a café Brûlot, a flaming drink that combines brandy, orange liqueur, cloves, cinnamon, sugar, lemon, and coffee. Made tableside, flames and all, even if you don't like coffee, it is worth the show. (Note: Author is the writer of "The Café Brûlot.")

And, finally, you may see lines in front of restaurants in the French Quarter, I don't wait in line — really, I don't find it worth it — but one that is worth the wait is Café du Monde, home of beignets. While other places make them, this is the place to get them. What is a beignet? A rectangular, hollowed-out deep-fried pastry covered with powdered sugar, which often ends up blown all over each other.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Popeyes fried chicken, a chain that got its start in New Orleans. The two-piece, white meat, spicy with mashed potatoes and red beans and rice  —my preference — is a good way to "coat" your stomach before a night out or the perfect cure for a hangover.


Ok, let's get down to business. Of course, there is Bourbon Street or Frenchmen Street (which is technically in the Marigny), where there are a plethora of bars.

Both streets are tourist favorites, but there is one rule of thumb: Nothing good happens after midnight on Bourbon Street, even with a Tropical Isle Hand Grenade or a Pat O'Brien's Hurricane in hand.

If looking for something a bit more civilized, try the Hermes Bar at Antoine's; French 75 at Arnaud's; do the champagne happy hour at Brennan's Roost Bar (Thus.-Sun.) and don't forget Touché in the Omni Royal Orleans. Its interior is a walk back in time to the 1970s. It's glorious, and the drinks are well-made.

Other cocktail spots to hit are Jewel of the South and Effervescence, the latter of which specializes in champagnes from around the world. And the Elysian Bar in Hotel Peter and Paul, located on the edge of the French Quarter in the Marigny, is a bastion of style and serenity — because at some point you are going to need it.

Gay bars to check out are the Bourbon Pub and Oz, conveniently located across the street from each other, while Good Friends and Betty's, which serves food, are nearby.

More Music

New Orleans is a city where, to be honest, it's hard to go wrong when it comes to listening to music by the street performers to clubs featuring jazz, rock, brass bands and DJs.

Here are a few places to stop in:

  • The Bombay Club, where the quintessential martini is served and Anais St. John channels jazz classics on Saturday night.
  • Dragon's Den actually feels like you are listening to music or comedy in someone's actual den, it's that cozy.
  • Preservation Hall features traditional jazz, and this weekend features Wendell Brunious and the Preservation Hall All-Stars featuring Shannon Powell. Reservations are a must.
  • Located on Bourbon Street, Fritzl's is the oldest operating jazz club in New Orleans.
  • The Maison, located on Frenchmen Street, is a great spot for music and dancing.


The French Quarter is home to numerous shops, including clothing, gifts, perfumiers and art galleries. Be sure to check out the antique stores on Royal Street — I like to pop into Keil's Antiques,  Moss Antiques, as well as M.S. Rau.

If by chance you are invited to one of the exclusive parties surrounding the games, The Shops at Canal Place has a Saks Fifth Avenue as an anchor and boutiques, such as Louis Vuitton, ready to outfit you.

Maybe Get Some Culture?

Take a deep breath — maybe you're not in the mood to drink and watch basketball all weekend?

If getting some culture is on your agenda, these museums offer it — plus some of them have shops, which offer locally themed gifts. The Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses are house museums reflecting different 19th-century eras in New Orleans, The Historic New Orleans Collection showcases exhibitions focusing on the city's history, New Orleans Pharmacy Museum has a cornucopia of 19th-century medical tools and oddities, and the Louisiana State Museum's Cabildo, Presbytere and 1850 House feature different aspects of New Orleans history, including Mardi Gras. Don't forget to stop at the New Orleans African American Museum in the Treme.

Words of Wisdom

While beautiful and fun, the French Quarter is tricky. I love going there, but depending on where I am, the time of day or night and what's going on (Mardi Gras, Final Four), I will be on my guard.

Pickpockets will be out in full force for this event. Be sure to not leave your drink unattended, watch your drink being made, particularly if someone is buying it for you and hands it to you.

This bears repeating: Nothing good happens on Bourbon Street after midnight. I know I sound like your parents, but make sure you have a friend looking out for you.

And, plan for a hangover, or two.

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Posted In: EntertainmentNewsTravelSportsEventsOpinionTop StoriesGeneralFinal FourNCAANCAA Men's Basketball TournamentNew Orleans
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