New Orleans: The City with a Heartbeat

New Orleans: The City with a Heartbeat
Words by Cat Buchanan
Photos by The Virgin Hotel, Cat Buchanan, Sam Hanna, and Denny Culbert

From the minute you walk into the door at Virgin Hotel in New Orleans, your mind, body, and soul is immediately turned over to the spirit of New Orleans. Greeted by a dancing, singing, character of a door man—and a stunning mauve check-in room—I instantly felt ready for this vacation. The city had already taken me away. The door man took our bags, checked us in, and proceeded to tell jokes as he swept us through the Funny Library and introduced us to a bunny playing chess, sitting across from a painting of David Bowie. My eyes, nose, and ears, felt alive. This is New Orleans.

As we made our way up to our rooms, no detail was to be missed. Waiting for the elevators, our eyes were gifted with a mural made from Mardi Gras beads—but only if you looked closely could you tell what the magic was made from. Getting off on our floor, we were surrounded by Virgin Hotel’s iconic red doors and funkadelic art lining the walls. It was like I arrived at a Willy Wonka factory—made for adults.

The Virgin Hotel has chambers and suites. We stayed in a chamber, which is not like an ordinary hotel room. The chamber was perfect, because in the morning it allowed me to split the room in half and get ready for the day without disturbing my partner. At one point, I had to take a few work calls before leaving for the day, and I was able to simply split the room in half and start taking calls. Besides the scenic views of the city, my favorite part of our room was the red Kohler double shower head and matching red Smeg mini fridge. No detail missed—a theme for this hotel.

One of the best parts about staying at the Virgin was being able to do everything on the app, Lucy. Something that I think a lot of us forget to do these days is bring cash to tip—but I was easily able to tip everybody quickly on Lucy. Lucy brought me coffee, made the room as ice cold as I wanted it, got me extra pillows—and even a muffin at one point. Needless to say, I love Lucy.

Even though Lucy will bring coffee and breakfast straight to your room, the perfect place to get your morning coffee and eats is The Funny Library Coffee Shop. Located on the first floor next to the hotel lobby, The Funny Library is the place to grab a bite, coffee, chill, get some work done, or have a laugh with strangers that soon become friends. I would call it the most interesting room in the hotel, but heck, every room in the Virgin Hotels is the most interesting. And in fact, it seemed like only the most interesting people were strolling through The Funny Library… everyone had their own style, their own large laugh—and I wondered what big plans they had for the day, or for life. It felt like this was the place to be.

Just when I thought the hotel simply couldn’t get any cooler, I was brought to the Pool Club on the 13th floor. The Pool Club is a rooftop pool and bar with the best views of the skyline in the city. The energy is always high, and the drinks are bold, colorful and well thought out—like everything else at Virgin Hotel. We managed to slip away for a Frozen Monkey at least once a day. Next time I will schedule more time to float in the pool—this was the only regret of my trip.

After a rooftop drink, the next place to hop to is downstairs to The Bar at the Commons Club. You can easily grab a drink at their beautiful, elegantly funky bar—or the real treat, stay for dinner and enjoy a meal created by Chef Alex Harrell. At The Commons Club, they’re offering reinvented takes on contemporary American dishes. Chef Alex has been big in the food scene in New Orleans since 1998. He’s built an impressive resume, and has received national accolades from the likes of the James Beard Foundation and Bon Appetit Magazine. 

My favorite room in the hotel was the shag room. Every minute I spent at the Virgin made me feel like the rockstar I’ve always been in my own head, but the shag room—the shag room stole my heart. The playful space features colorful, funky furniture, local art, and decoupage wallpaper. The waves of the lavender couch set on top of the wavy crimson rug—I’m letting y’all know now, my future living room WILL look like this one day. I will happily collaborate with Richard Branson if he’s so willing…

During our weekend in New Orleans, we managed to dine and play everywhere but the French Quarter. The Quarter is near and dear to my heart, but I would highly recommend experiencing all New Orleans has to offer outside of the quarter. And with that, check out our weekend guide to New Orleans below. How to have the biggest, boldest time in New Orleans without ever touching the quarter:

A Weekend in New Orleans:

Friday Night:

4:00 PM - Check into Virgin Hotel. (Pro tip: your best friend is welcome to check in with you. And I’m talking about your furry best friend. Virgin has no size or breed restriction, so there is no reason to leave Snoopy behind.)

6:00 PM - Dinner at The Bower. Everything at The Bower starts from the soil, and you can guarantee that it will not only be fresh, but creative. Here we enjoyed a variety of different flavors. For small plates we split the crispy cauliflower, burrata, tuna tartare. For large plates we split the basil spaghetti and Prince Edward Island Mussels.

7:30 PM - Head back to the Commons Club Bar for live music and cocktails

9:00 PM - Return to your room that Lucy set at the perfect temperature, and rest up for a big day ahead.


8:00 AM - Grab breakfast at The Funny Library Coffee Shop.

9:00 AM - Enjoy a beautiful walk around Audubon Park.

11:00 AM - 2:00 PM - Hands-on Creole Cooking Class & Lunch at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum with Chef Dee Lavigne. We made smothered okra and tomato, creole jambalaya sausage, and bananas foster. I am still dreaming of the jambalaya, and can’t wait to make it myself at home. The school is called Deelightful Roux School of Cooking, and is lead by Chef Dee Lavigne. Hanging out with Chef Dee was my favorite part of the trip, and I learned so much about Creole cooking and food history in New Orleans—and the south in general. Deelightful Roux is the only African American-owned cooking school being taught by a New Orleans native. 

3:00 PM - Visit the Audubon Aquarium. Maybe I’m just a sucker for aquariums but this will not disappoint. Located directly under water and filled with fun wild life from the gulf of mexico and amazon rain forest. They even had a 13,000 gallon shark and ray touch pool, which allowed you to interact with the sting rays as you learned more about them.

5:00 PM - Visit Port Orleans Brewery for friendly service and great local beer.

6:00 PM - Jump in random Second Line celebrating marriage, and parade around the neighborhood.

6:30 PM - Drinks at The Pool Club at Virgin Hotel

7:00 PM - Dinner at The Commons Club. We had okra (they’re in season, so yes we had okra at every meal), peach and tomato burrata, pan fried local tofu, and the local gulf fish. Thanks Chef Alex!


8:00 AM - Breakfast at Molly’s Rise and Shine. My partner got the breakfast burrito, and I got the roasted carrot yogurt—a yogurt that I dream about daily. Sunday is also pop-tart day! Do not miss out on the pop-tarts!! I got the hibiscus peach pop-tart, and I did NOT share.

11:00 AM - Stroll down Magazine Street and take a look at all the local art and shops

1:00 PM - Lunch at Toups' Meatery. We started out with the roasted gulf shrimp and boudin balls. From there, my partner ordered the fried bologna sandwich and claimed it the best sandwich he had ever had. I got the LA Jumbo Crab Chop Salad—no regrets there.

3:00 PM - Fly back to ATL and start planning our next trip to New Orleans.