Sunday, May 29, 2016

Using Trip Advisor in New Orleans

Mister Apple
If you're like me when you have something heavy weighing on your mind, and you spend a couple of sleepless nights turning it over and over in your head, and you finally decide you can't think about it anymore, you'll head down to the French Quarter to the apple store.  

This isn't the kind of Apple Store you're thinking of, the company with the stock ticker AAPL.  The apple store I'm talking about in the French Quarter is Mister Apple, a beloved icon in our community, the way Mister Softee may be in yours.


Mister Softee

When I have a problem I just can't seem to lick, I mull it over with a nice plump and juicy candied apple in my mitt.

The Mister Apple store in the French Quarter is at 201 North Peters Street.  If you happen to find yourself wrestling with a mental dilemma Uptown, they've recently opened another location, this one at 4505 Magazine Street.  Thanks Mister Apple.


*****

This far into today's installment, you may be wondering what had me in such a dither.  Okay, I'll tell you.  I was wondering where I should stay if I were visiting New Orleans.

This is an academic question, purely speculative and theoretical, most hypothetical, to say the least.  After all, I live in New Orleans.  I stay in the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue.  In fact, that is where I spend much of my time.


La Belle Esplanade

But, if, like most of you, gentle readers, I was planning a vacation in New Orleans, how would I decide where to lay my weary head after a day's excitement living the good life the Big Easy way?  

If I were planning a New Orleans vacation, I would want to stay in a place that is close to all the tourist attractions I might want to see, but far enough away that I could get a good night's sleep.  I don't like a lot of hustle and bustle, especially when all that hustle and bustle is generated by a crowd of drunks nursing neon green frozen drinks in souvenir cups shaped like a hand grenade and they are stumbling outside my room at all hours when I'm trying to sleep, shouting at each other, getting into fistfights, and urinating or vomiting, or both, on the side of the building in which I'm trying to sleep.


Mister Hand Grenade
That is a real New Orleans French Quarter experience, but it isn't one that I particularly enjoy.  I have stayed overnight in the French Quarter.  It was interesting, but it isn't something that I choose to repeat.  After a couple nights of that, I was ready to go home.  To each his or her own, of course.

I would also like to be in a neighborhood that offers a lot of big city local amenities that are a bit off the usual tourist radar.  I would also like to have someone around who would tell me about the neighborhood rather than just point me in the direction of a brochure rack, the way the hotel concierge sometimes will.

If I were planning a vacation, I would look at my options on Trip Advisor.  I don't have a cozy relationship with Trip Advisor.  We're on speaking terms but nothing more.  Our inn doesn't pay them any money to be listed or ranked on their site. I'm familiar with how the site operates and I think their policies are on the up-and-up.  All of my experiences with Trip Advisor (stock ticker: TRIP) have been positive.  When Frau Schmitt and I travel, which isn't too often, we use Trip Advisor to decide where to stay. 

I don't know how big or pervasive Trip Advisor is as a company.  I've only recently become aware that the company advertises on television.  Frau Schmitt and I don't watch a lot of television---we're too busy to travel and we're too busy to watch TV--- but I was sitting in the bar at the New Orleans Athletic Club after a strenuous workout and I saw a Trip Advisor ad being broadcast.  Yes, our gym has a bar in it.  That's the way things are in New Orleans.




My curiosity piqued, I looked up hotels in New Orleans on Trip Advisor.  This next bit may be a little tedious reading for some, but I think it is important to note.  Since I'm in the industry, I find it interesting.

The number one hotel as of this writing is the Grenoble House, in the French Quarter, with 371 reviews.  Overall, the hotel scores 4.5 stars.  Of those, 287 are excellent, 63 are good, 16 are average, 4 are poor and 1 is terrible.  The Grenoble House has the least reviews of any of the hotels in the top 30.  Most of hotels in New Orleans have one or two thousand, though this varies, naturally.

The number two hotel is Hotel Mazarin, also in the French Quarter.  The Mazarin has 2810 reviews, again 4.5 stars overall.  Of these reviews, 1966 are excellent.  Not bad.  There are also 641 that are scored good, 115 average, 67 poor and 21 terrible.

We can go down the list but I don't want to bore you with all these numbers.  If you look at the percentages, these are very respectable---for a hotel.  I'm not going to do the math to tell you what percentage of reviews are excellent vs. good, etc.  I will just put forth a general observation: when a hotel has X excellent reviews, the number of good reviews will be a tad more than a quarter of the excellent total and so on down the line.  

There is nothing wrong with being good.  It's much, much better than being terrible.

The 121st hotel in the rankings for New Orleans (which I will not name) has 37 excellent reviews, 54 good, 25 average, 9 poor and 10 
terrible.  

Licensed B&Bs on Trip Advisor are somewhat different.  If you look at the number one ranked small boutique inn in New Orleans (and in all of Louisiana), you'll find it has a total of 348 reviews as of this writing.  That's a little less than the Grenoble House.  Of these 338 (97.1%) are excellent and 10 (2.9%) are good.  There are no average, poor, or terrible reviews.

The other top 10 inns listed under B&Bs on Trip Advisor score, on average, about 94% excellent reviews, 5% good, and a smattering of other classifications.  Most of the boutique operations in New Orleans score 5 stars in overall satisfaction versus 4.5 stars for hotels.  When all the scores are tallied, no hotel ever earns more than 4.5 stars.  None that I've seen, at least.

Do you want to stay somewhere where guests' opinions boil down to their memories being somewhere between good and excellent, or do you want to stay somewhere where the guests repeatedly report their visit as generating an excellent experience.  The choice is entirely up to you.

What do all these statistics mean?  Maybe nothing in the end.  A boutique experience in a real neighborhood isn't what everyone wants out of their vacation.  Some people just want to go to Bourbon Street and get pie-eyed drinking Jesters.  I have no quibble with that.  La Belle Esplanade, or any of the other B&Bs which rate higher in guest satisfaction than the big hotels, may not be the place for that particular visitor.  He or she may only need a pass-out bed.  In that case, the #121 hotel in New Orleans is money well spent.

I've never even tasted a Jester.  Frau Schmitt tells me to steer clear of sweet drinks that are mostly grain alcohol.  I listen to her because she is usually right about these things.  One of our guests did gift us with a souvenir Jester cup, though.  It's in a place of honor on a shelf in our lobby.




La Belle Esplanade is the place for me.  It had better be.  I run the place alongside Frau Schmitt, who is the better half of this operation.  We spend a lot of time here and we invest a lot of effort and capital to make it a place worth staying in.  Ours is an inn to remember in the best way.

If you are thinking about visiting New Orleans and you aren't sure where to stay, think about checking out what the reviews on Trip Advisor have to say.  Being ranked #1 is a matter of algorithms that reflect guest satisfaction.  Read the reviews.  Don't just look at the stars, or bubbles, as Trip Advisor likes to call them.  You can learn a lot from reading what guests have written and what the innkeepers write in response.  If what you read sounds good to you, go to that inn's website and make a reservation.

I do my best thinking while noshing on a candied apple.  You might do your best thinking while reading reviews on Trip Advisor.  Be warned though: much like this blog, you can waste a lot of time there reading the archived material.

Don't overthink your vacation.  Use your good intuition when you decide to visit New Orleans.  You can make a lot of worse choices than deciding to stay at La Belle Esplanade.  Better memories are made on our street.  No one ever says their stay was too long.  It is always too short.  There is a lot to experience in our part of the city.  You'll never see everything, but that gives you a reason to come back for more.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
...where every morning is a curated breakfast salon.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Some Funny Things Happened in New Orleans Today

The Daily Double

Frau Schmitt and I went to the theater this afternoon.  A funny thing happened on our way to 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.'

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is currently playing at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré in the French Quarter and your humble narrator and his missus had matinee tickets.  In case you don't know, the play originally opened on Broadway in 1962 and, if my memory serves me correctly, it won seven Tony Awards during its first run.  

Le Petit Théâtre is connected to Dickie Brennan's Tableau, a pretty swanky restaurant where my mother likes to hang out for a mid-afternoon cocktail when she's in town.  Frau Schmitt and I got to the bar in Tableau just as happy hour had started (2-6 daily) so we ordered French 75s for $5 apiece and a small cheese platter before the show.

The bartender complimented us for being sharp dressers, which, compared to the crowd that was in there at the time, I suppose we are.  I struck up a conversation with the bartender.  "Tell me if this story sounds familiar," I said.

"During this past Mardi Gras I was here with my mother, who likes to pop in here when she's in town.  Later that very same day, we were at Buffa's on Esplanade Avenue and you sat right behind us."

"I remember that," the bartender said.

I added, "Then your roommate met you there and a couple from out of town wanted to watch the game on TV and they shared your table with you and he watched the game and she talked to you the whole time."

"You're right," the bartender said, "aannnnd---you bought me a root beer!"  High five.  It was a bottle of Barq's.

"That was sure was one night to remember," I said and we all nodded and smiled wistfully off into the distance.

Our trip down memory lane was interrupted by the television.  Jeopardy was on the TV and you'll never guess what the Daily Double was under the heading "Posh Hostelries."


The Daily Double
I'm not going to lie to you and say that everyone in the room shouted out, "La Belle Esplanade!" in unison.  Only about half the locals in the room did and about three quarters of those didn't phrase their response in the form of a question so they were disqualified.  

Let's just say we're starting to get a reputation around town, and I don't mean that in a bad way.  Quite the opposite.

After polishing off our cheese and libations, we watched the show.  It deserved every Tony.  Reading the program before the lights went down, I told Frau Schmitt, who, being German, is sometimes unfamiliar with The Great American Songbook, that we could look forward to two classic songs.  One was 'Comedy Tonight.'  The other was 'Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.'



It was a great rendition of Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.  I know all the words even though you'll never hear me whistling the tune as I putter around the house, myself.

During the last chorus, the woman sitting next to me elbowed me in the ribs.  It wasn't Frau Schmitt; it was the woman sitting on the other side of me, in seat 105.  "I bet this song makes you think of Tammie the Housekeeper, eh?" she whispered to me.

I was taken aback and I told her so.  "Tammie the Housekeeper is not our maid.  She's the housekeeper, from a long line of housekeepers.  It's an honorable profession and she's darned good at it, too," I said.
Tammie the Housekeeper

"I didn't mean any offense," the lady replied.

"None taken, then," I answered and we shook hands in the dark.  With that out of the way, everyone proceeded to enjoy the rest of the show. 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is playing at Le Petit Théâtre until June 5.  If you're in town, we recommend you go see it.  

There was also a second line parade, a music festival on Bayou St. John, and a bicycle parade down Esplanade Avenue today.  That's just what happened within a mile of our house.  I can't speak for what was going on in the rest of the city.  When you live in New Orleans, you don't have to travel far to find some culture.  Culture is all around us, thick as a termite swarm in May.  It is thick as Maw-Maw's roux.  It is thick as the egg cream on top of a Ramos Gin Fizz.

Whether you are from Paris, France; New York, NY; West Terre Haute, IN; Wewoka, OK; Bumbleton, NH; Staffordshire, England; Milano, Italia; San Francisco, CA, or Ridgefield, CT, you'll find something that will suit your fancy in New Orleans, LA.  


Use your good intuition.  Stay at La Belle Esplanade.

À votre santé nous amis,
La Belle Esplanade
...where every morning is a curated New Orleans breakfast salon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

La Belle Esplanade: Celebrating 100 Years!

Everyone is welcome

We're celebrating 100 years.  How many?  You read that number correctly: 100. I didn't leave off a few zeros.  100 is the right number.

100 years of what?  Well, that's for us to know and you to find out.

You'll be surprised by all the things you'll find in our lobby.  It's a real museum stuffed full of curiosities.  When we bought the house, the lobby was used as storage, much as it is now I suppose, full of boxes and bicycles, odds and ends that no one knew where else to put them.  Now it's a meticulously curated and arranged display of odds and ends.  Everything is perfectly in its place and the collection is always expanding as we get donations.  Our lobby is an odditarium.

There are some things in our lobby that are over 100 years old.  Some things are older.  Oh, if only we could turn back time...



You didn't see that coming did you?  I didn't.  Inserting that video was Tammie the Housekeeper's idea.


Tammie the Housekeeper

I was in the Navy when Cher made that video.  I wasn't in that same spot, on that same ship, but I can tell you that it's not exactly an accurate representation of life at sea, or in port for that matter.  I did wear that white uniform though, in summer.  They were made of polyester.

While I own a lot of hats, I no longer own a US Navy "dixie cup."  However, when I do have a fly fishing bucket hat and when I wear it, which is rarely since I don't fish, I wear it with the brim turned up all around, just like in my sailing days.  I don't wear it à la Gilligan, who is wearing his sailor hat below the way I wear my bucket hat.
Bob Denver
Speaking of John Denver (that's not a typo), I've been reading his autobiography recently.  Not straight through.  I read a lot of books at the same time, so, interspersed with all the philosophy, travel literature, New Orleans history books, hagiographies, and collections of old Gallup poll results, I squeeze in a few pages of John Denver's life story, as told by the man himself.  I have nothing to say about what I've read about him so far.  This is just a digression that leads nowhere.


Our lobby
So what hundred years are we celebrating exactly?  Didn't I say that's for Frau Schmitt and I to know and you to find out?  I'm sticking by my guns here, just filling up space, killing time, chewing the fat, and smoking a cigar on a lazy New Orleans afternoon.

Did you know the Finck Cigar Company, of San Antonio, TX was founded in the 1880s?  Our house was built in 1883.  Coincidence that good things happen at the same time?  Here's the history of Finck Cigars, if you are interested.  

So, as I sit here wasting your time, making you wonder what 100 years Frau Schmitt and I are celebrating (100 years in business? ---not quite yet, but we're getting closer) let me tell you that if you're looking for an honest cigar at a good price, you can do a lot worse than buying a box of Finck's Travis Clubs.

Now, I haven't wasted your time at all, have I?  That's a solid tip you should follow, just like our restaurant recommendations when you stay with us.


Enjoyed by discriminating connoisseurs
We have a cigar box museum in our lobby.  We have and many, many, many, many, many other things in our lobby.  We have curiosities and curios scattered all through the house but most of them are concentrated in the odditarium.  We have so many things that we've got an intern from one of the local colleges to catalog all we have.  It's a bewildering collection of gewgaws and gimcrackery.  He's getting a good education.

You'll find out when you come to stay with us.

Outthink your New Orleans vacation at...

La Belle Esplanade
...where every morning is a curated breakfast salon.
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