Photo Courtesy of Zack Smith
How can a city that throws the best parties on the planet possibly outdo itself to celebrate its own 300th birthday?
New Orleans turns 300 in 2018, the tricentennial of its founding by the French, who claimed a swampy stretch along the mouth of the Mississippi River as Nouvelle-Orléans. What explorer Jean-Baptiste de Bienville hoped would be a shining colonial jewel in the French crown turned out to be a haven of flooding, disease, hurricanes and unrest. Lobbed back and forth between the French and the Spanish, New Orleans was unceremoniously dumped by Napoleon in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
To say this was their loss is the understatement of three centuries. A hybrid of European, Caribbean and African ethnicities, New Orleans fomented a hotbed of cultural innovation, making monumental contributions to America and the world that include American jazz, Creole cuisine, gospel music, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and neighborhood traditions such as second-line parades and the spectacular display of the Mardi Gras Indians.
Not that the past 300 years have been a picnic. Disasters have struck with trials by fire and flood that honed a city reborn, resilient, surviving and thriving. Last year, some 10.45 million visitors ate, drank, shopped, danced and partied in New Orleans, finally surpassing pre-Katrina numbers. Mayor Mitch Landrieu predicts that 13.7 million visitors will celebrate and visit in 2018.
If you’re planning to be one of them, you can enjoy some special birthday events going on—but really, this citywide fete is more about incorporating the 300th theme into the myriad of existing spectacles already on the calendar.
The party kicks off with a broadcast of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest and doesn’t let up, with Carnival season starting on Epiphany, January 6, and roiling toward its climax on Fat Tuesday, February 13.
When should you visit to wish New Orleans happy birthday? There’s no bad time, with exhibits, seminars, parties and festivals planned throughout the year. Here are several anticipated special bits, with more in the works. Just don’t wait too long to make your reservations. The Big Easy already has been waiting for you for 300 years.
- Royal Street’s grande dame, M.S. Rau Antiques, presents “Aristocracy: Luxury and Leisure in Britain,” a free show exploring the culture of Victorian leisure through furniture and fine art, October 21, 2017–January 20, 2018.
- Prospect. 4 (November 11, 2017–February 25, 2018) is an eye-popping city-wide showcase of global artists and installations on view at 17 museums, galleries, venues and public spaces.
- Auction House Market at 801 Magazine will open in time for the party, an 8,500-square-foot food hall showcasing local flavors. Just in case you need yet another place to eat.
- A new 189-foot-long riverboat, The City of New Orleans, will provide a swank experience for up to 1,000 passengers. A mid-2018 launch is anticipated.
- Two French Quarter wharves will be opened to create the largest contiguous riverfront footprint in the U.S. between Crescent Park and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center by April 2018.
- Big doings at The National WWII Museum include a $400 million capital expansion funding new exhibits such as “The Arsenal of Democracy,” which opened in June 2017, and creating the Bollinger Canopy of Peace, set for completion in 2018.
- The Historic New Orleans Collection connects the dots to three centuries of city lore with special exhibits and the opening of an art-filled space in the renovated Seignouret-Brulatour House at 520 Royal Street.
- The Sazerac Company, a family business since 1850, is opening The Sazerac House cocktail museum in early 2019 at the corner of Magazine and Canal Streets.
To learn more about the tricentennial celebration in New Orleans, visit 2018nola.com.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of AAA World.