Café Rose Nicaud
This café, mostly just called the Café Rose in S.E.C.R.E.T., is a hip little place at the top of Frenchmen Street, a block or two from the bustle of the restaurants, bars, and clubs. It’s named after Rose Nicaud, a slave who sold her own roasted blend of coffee from a cart in the street, using the money she earned to buy her freedom. She’s an incredible example of the fortitude of the women of New Orleans, inspiring other women to become “les vendeuses,” female entrepreneurs whose money gave them greater autonomy, if not their very freedom. (Financial autonomy is the key to S.E.C.R.E.T.’s existence.) The coffee and food are terrific at the Café Rose Nicaud, and locals hang out in the morning at the sidewalk tables, gossiping and sharing stories from the night before. It closes early, so after dinner you’ll often find bands and buskers playing on the stoop.
Not as touristy as the French Quarter or as insidey as Treme, it’s somewhere perfectly in the middle, the kind of place an outsider like Cassie wouldn’t feel intimidated by when looking for work. And because this part of Marigny is built on slightly higher ground, the colorful Creole cottages and townhomes mostly survived the devastating hurricanes of the last few years. It’s a beautifully preserved neighborhood and the street life is vivid and authentic.
Located in the 8th Ward, it’s just called Marigny in S.E.C.R.E.T., but sometimes it’s called The Marigny, or Faubourg-Marigny. The neighborhood is home to some of the best-preserved antebellum architecture in the country. Cassie lives in Marigny, though not in one of the famed Creole townhomes or cottages, but rather in a Moorish revival home, somewhere near Chartres (“charters”) and Mandeville. Nicknamed the Spinster Hotel, hers is the kind of place that was probably a single-family dwelling at some point, then turned into a series of apartments near the turn of the century. Cassie doesn’t have a car, and living in Marigny means she doesn’t need one. She can walk the few blocks to the café, which is good, but sometimes you end up living your whole life in a few blocks. Luckily there’s so much to do and see in this small neighborhood of just a few thousand people that you can live a full life there, with culture, food, music, and warm, interesting people on every block.
The Spotted Cat, Blue Nile, The Maison, The Praline Connection . . .
These are just a few of the bars and restaurants that are mentioned in S.E.C.R.E.T., though Frenchmen Street boasts at least a dozen more amazing spots. But because they’re built so close to one another, slowly strolling Frenchmen Street has the effect of driving in a car with someone who is constantly changing the radio station; there’s a different tune every step. People who work in restaurants tend to hang together because they keep the same hours. In S.E.C.R.E.T., Cassie works days at the Café Rose, so it keeps her personal clock a little different from everyone else’s, typical of how she lives in general. Still, she’d likely cross paths with Kit DeMarco, who works at The Spotted Cat, and Angela Rejean, who works at The Maison, when they stop at the café for their morning or mid-afternoon coffees.
Café du Monde/The French Market
It might be odd that a book set in New Orleans barely mentions the French Quarter, let alone the French Market and iconic tourist spots like Bourbon Street or Café du Monde. Through the course of the book, Cassie takes up running and she often passes these places, always circling back to her beloved Marigny. Why? Because so much has already been written about those vivid parts of New Orleans, it felt right to focus on the smaller neighborhoods of the city, places where people who work in New Orleans actually live. Though the city is largely nocturnal, the French Market is a great place to spend the day, and Café du Monde’s coffee and beignets are not to be missed.
Magazine Street, Lower Garden District
Off Magazine Street, home to an endless array of antique, secondhand clothing shops and cafés, are some of the finest homes in New Orleans, including The Mansion, where S.E.C.R.E.T. is headquartered. Well, technically, the group’s headquarters are in the mansion’s Coach House, just to the right of the property. It wouldn’t be good to have the administrative aspect of S.E.C.R.E.T., its interviews and committee meetings, in the same building where sexual fantasies take place. The fictional mansion is located on Third Street near Coliseum and is modeled after one of the neighborhood’s most famous private homes. Down the street from many of these mansions is Magazine Street. For several bustling and lively blocks you can enjoy real café culture and peruse the antique and mid-century furniture shops, where much of the treasure comes from those very same centuries- old homes. This is also the street where you’ll find Tracy’s, the sports bar where Matilda and Cassie meet quite often. You may think it odd for two women to discuss the intimate details of their sex lives in a mostlymale bar, where a football game is usually blaring on the TV, but Matilda loves the company of men, and Cassie needs to get accustomed to it. Plus, the place is loud enough to masquerade what they’re actually chatting about.
Halo, on top of The Saint
Soon to open, it’s the swanky rooftop bar in a relatively new boutique hotel, The Saint, in the French Quarter. Atypical of the places Cassie would normally go to, it was the perfect backdrop for her to move out of her comfort zone for Step Two, and do something uncharacteristic. The hotel and bar’s décor is spare and arty, opposite the baroque styles of its sister hotels in the French Quarter. It’s hip, cool, and nothing like Cassie. She’s a fish out of water there, but the second step is all about courage.
New Orleans Museum of Art
NOMA is the perfect example of Greek Revival architecture in the city; the Great Hall with its grand marble staircase is a dreamy place to stage Cassie’s ball-gown entrance to the Revitalization Ball in Step Six. But the museum is also one of the best in the country, with a permanent collection that includes Miró, Degas, and Monet paintings, and impressive contemporary exhibits. Any visit to the city should include a stop at NOMA.