Sarah Walsh shares how The Big Easy called her home, plus her insider tips for Mardi Gras
Welcome back to What I Love About My City—a series in which our favorite single girls dish on everything from the best places for a single girls weekend to the secret spots only the locals know about. If you’re thinking about moving or just planning your next trip, we’ll fill you in with all the essential details on the cities our crew knows best.
Originally from San Rafael, California, Sarah Walsh is a hair, makeup and food enthusiast living in New Orleans and loving every second. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah in high school in San Francisco. She was a swimmer. I was a dancer. What has kept us connected since 2005 despite never being in the same city since (and aside from the outbreak of social media in our generation) is our obsession with and absurd ability to quote the TV show FRIENDS. A natural long-distance friendship was inevitable. I have yet to meet someone my age who, like Sarah, is so connected to a new city and feels indubitably that it has been and always will be the place she calls “home.” This is Sarah’s NOLA, and after hearing her vivacity in talking about this fair city, it is now on my shortlist of new places to visit.
C: You first moved to NOLA to attend Loyola University New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. Tell me about that experience and what pulled you back to the city.
The second I landed in Louisiana, I felt like I was home. I moved to New Orleans exactly one week before Katrina hit. I finished my orientation that Friday and evacuated to Houston that Sunday. I spent a semester in San Francisco and it was a blur; I just wanted to be in New Orleans so badly! I did go back in January 2006 when we were allowed back on campus but had to move home again in 2007 to cope with a personal tragedy. After about a year of being back in the Bay Area, I realized it was no longer for me. New Orleans captured my heart, got under my skin and made its home there. I couldn’t shake it! I knew I would return to New Orleans one day… and in 2009, I finally returned. I’ve never regretted my decision to make NOLA my home.
C: NOLA is rich in culture and history. Give it to me from your perspective.
New Orleans is a true melting pot in every which way. The Spanish, French, and Haitian influences are everywhere: the food, music, architecture, and history. I love that everything in NOLA has a story and someone willing to tell it. If you’re willing to listen, there is so much information to soak up that didn’t necessarily make the history books.
C: That’s so fascinating. As a writer, I really enjoy hearing stories and connections. What else makes the city appealing for a Single Girl*? (*definition = young, ambitious, go-getter girl)
For a single girl, New Orleans can be whatever you want it to be. It is now the home of many very successful start-ups (like social dinner club and unique dining experience Dinner Lab and Cordina, producer of portable cocktails like the Mar-GO-rita), as well as a new hub for the film industry. Whatever your ambition, you can find a way to make it happen here. NOLA is full of young people exchanging ideas and making things happen.
C: To be honest, I didn’t know that. It sounds like such an invigorating place. How have you made it your “home”?
I like to say that New Orleans was my home before I even knew it. It chose me, and I fully believe that I was meant to be here. It’s hard to describe, but everything just fits. Of course, there are transition periods, and not everything is always perfect… but I feel lucky to be here pretty much all the time.
C: What are your favorite things about the city?
I love that NOLA has its own “seasons.” Carnival for winter, Festival for spring through fall. There is a festival for every single thing that exists: Strawberry Festival, Greek Festival, Po’Boy Fest, and maybe you’ve heard of JAZZ FEST! Everything is appreciated and celebrated here, in such glorious fashion.
C: Festivals are so much fun! Which one is your favorite?
Picking one festival is so hard. There’s seriously a different festival every weekend in the spring through the fall… I MUST make it to the Watermelon Festival sometime. Anyway, I LOVE Tales of the Cocktail for obvious reasons. It’s five beautiful days dedicated to all libations. New Orleans is the perfect place to host such an event—mostly because we really are a drinking town. Plus we supposedly “invented” the first cocktail down here: the Sazerac. I’m trying to get on the list to volunteer this year so I can see the whole thing from the inside. The seminars and events change every year, but the festival celebrates everything pertaining to ALL alcohols.
C: Who doesn’t enjoy a cocktail (or three)? What has surprised you most about living in NOLA?
It is just the friendliest place. People open doors for each other. Saying “hello” as you pass a stranger on the street is common courtesy. Southern Hospitality: it’s a real thing!
C: Any advice for someone looking to move there?
NOLA operates like a small town; everyone knows everyone. Get out there! Want to join a kickball or softball league? Holler at Play Nola! Dying to meet young professionals at various events? Sign up for 504ward! Feeling like doing a little volunteering? Look no further than the YLC! There’s something for everyone, and chances are, you’ll meet a zillion super cool people while you’re doing your thing.
C: How have you made new friends in this city?
It’s been quite a mix of different resources. I had a few friends from my Loyola days, my Craigslist roommates, neighbors and all of our acquaintances we picked up along the way. I have also been very fortunate to have met some really amazing people on my journey. Working as a nanny, it was a little difficult to meet people since I was with babies all day. However, the families I worked for kind of adopted me and have become my surrogate families down here. They’ve introduced me to people (and even set me up on dates!) and invited me to every holiday meal or outing.
C: On that note, what’s the best spot for a first date?
I have a soft spot for my neighborhood wine bar, The Delachaise. Awesome wine list and great bites. I will go so far to say that they have the BEST French fries in the city (and I’m an expert)!
C: It’s rare for me to turn down a French fry. I’ll keep that place in mind. Where do you go for Girls’ Night Out?
I’m actually really into girls’ brunch (that almost always ends up becoming girls’ night out)… nothing like sharing dating war stories and the like over biscuits and mimosas! Elizabeth’s in the Bywater has a great brunch (and famous praline bacon).
C: I love a good brunch! Day drinking is the new “staying-out-til-3am.” If you have girlfriends coming to visit, where do you take them?
One word: SoFAB: the Southern Food and Beverage Museum! It’s currently moving to a new location, but this place is so cool. Who doesn’t love learning about food? Plus, they have one of the largest cookbook collections in the southern region.
C: Great, I’ll expect to visit there. I love food and everything about it. Now, you miraculously have a free Saturday. How do you take advantage?
I would take myself out to lunch. Il Posto is the cutest little restaurant and has amazing pressed paninis… they even make their own mozzerella. And their pesto spread is to die for. Afterwards, I would take myself on a walk around my neighborhood, or soak up some sun at the park. My day would (hopefully) end with some laughs and a bottle of wine shared with friends. It’s the simple things.
3 words I’d use to describe NOLA: Unique, Magical, Wonderful
The tourist spot I secretly love: Every year, I celebrate my “NOLAversary” with an order of beignets from Café Du Monde and eat them while overlooking the Mississippi river.
I absolutely can’t resist eating: the Grilled Salmon Vermicelli from Magasin!
When I’m hunting down a good sale I head straight to: Lately I’ve been kind of addicted to this awesome designer consignment store on Magazine Street called Swap.
You know you belong in New Orleans when: It’s 4 am on a Wednesday and some random dude woke you up playing his saxophone throughout your neighborhood, and you aren’t even mad about it. (Seriously, this guy exists.)
C: Mardi Gras is underway, but the grand finale is yet to come. As an official NOLA resident (on and off for the past nine years), can you share your insider advice?
The Carnival season technically starts January 6th every year, but Mardi Gras itself is usually a two-week celebration throughout the city and state. Now I consider myself a seasoned MGP (Mardi Gras Professional). Since I’ve moved back, I haven’t lived more than three blocks from the parade route. Here are a few of my tips for an enjoyable Mardi Gras revel.
Five Tips for Mardi Gras:
- DO: Wear comfortable shoes. Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint! There is tons of walking involved, and your super cute designer flats will not hold up.
- DO NOT: Go to Bourbon Street. Enough said.
- DO: Wear a crazy costume! The more creative, the better… If you don’t have a costume, at least wear a wig and some crazy lashes.
- DO NOT: Miss Saint Augustine’s Marching 100. Easily one of the best high school marching bands in the city, the Purple Knights serve up some of the most awesome jams during parades.
- DO: Eat some king cake! This is the only time of year it’s around, and you don’t want to miss it.
C: Okay, I thought we were done. But then I heard “cake.” What’s king cake??
King Cake is a special dessert eaten throughout the Carnival season. Traditional king cake is made from a brioche dough, filled with cinnamon-sugar and nuts and topped with frosting and sprinkles—imagine a giant oval cinnamon roll! They do come filled with other things, if you like…fruits, cream cheese, etc. There is (almost always) a small plastic baby, dried bean or trinket inside or on top of the cake. The legend goes, whoever gets the trinket in their slice of cake is either “king for the day,” or is responsible for bringing the king cake to the next bash, or hosting the next party. Also popular is the French Epiphany cake, which is puffed pastry filled with almond pastry cream or marzipan. Both are delicious and absolutely to be consumed during Carnival! I like my French Ephiphany cakes from La Boulangerie, and my favorite king cake (if it’s not coming from my kitchen) is from Randazzo’s.
Love your city? Want to share all that’s great about it with our readers? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for the chance to be featured in our next series post!
Catherine Abalos is founder and editor of The Single Diaries.