10 Crucial Things New Orleans Had First

These major firsts prove New Orleans has been the zestiest place in America for centuries. From the moment the city established itself as a trailblazing star of the nation, there’s a real magic that’s never left New Orleans. You’ll find that if you follow your curiosity, follow your rhythm, follow your spirit—follow your instincts—and more, you’ll end up in New Orleans. So do it. Follow Your NOLA.

1. OPERA

The first-ever documented performance of opera in the United States of America took place in New Orleans in 1796. George Washington was still president, though fortunately, he wasn’t the last to take in a show there. The fiery passion of those original performances now come courtesy of the renowned New Orleans Opera Association, founded in 1943. Opera also finds its way to visitors right where they stay, with monthly Opera on Tap performances at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel right in the French Quarter. You might even catch local trio Bon Operatit! at one of their many local free appearances.

2. POKER

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It’s been said that poker was originally incarnated by sailors in port in New Orleans in the 1820s, betting one another on who had a hand of higher value. Though the game has changed in some ways, the original spirit of the sailors has survived on NOLA’s steam-powered gambling riverboats—vessels you can still cruise around the city on today—in all their authentic 19th-century glory (minus the gambling part); or hit Harrah’s, featuring 20 tables offering Texas Hold’em, Omaha and 7-Card Stud. The World Series of Poker even holds circuit events in town.

3. COCKTAILS

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Speaking of spirits, records of America’s very first mixed drink date back to 1800s New Orleans, where bartenders in the French Quarter devised a recipe for Sazerac over time and tradition—trading in whiskey for cognac at times, and switching between absinthe and bitters based on the laws at hand. The city is also the home of the Gin Fizz, which was created just before the turn of the 20th century. Sazerac has its very own home in New Orleans, too—a dedicated bar in the Roosevelt Hotel.

4. “DIXIELAND”

This euphemism so closely associated with Americana and the expanse of the south originated in the French-speaking regions of Louisiana, where Dix was a form of currency. The Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter has Dixie Notes and other rarely minted forms of money in addition to a new rotating photo and art gallery. This same era of special currency also spawned a signature style of dixieland jazz that came back to the New Orleans area via Chicago, performed regularly aboard Steamboat Natchez or at the classic Maison Bourbon Jazz Club.

5. JAZZ

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz, but jazz came from an even freakier place—the practice of voodoo. The freedom to openly practice voodoo combined with the highly rhythmic sounds of African percussion and European horns led to the birth of jazz. Voodoo is commonly attributed to the spiritual and improvisational aspects of the movement. To this day, the most famous voodoo queen who ever lived was Marie Laveau—a free woman in New Orleans in born in 1801. Her legacy is chronicled in great detail at The New Orleans Historical Voodoo Museum, which opened in 1972.

6. FINE DINING

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Antoine’s is Louisiana’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, having opened its doors in 1840. Spanning 14 different ornate dining rooms in one building, this mecca of French-Creole cuisine offers flavorful recipes unique to nowhere else in the world.

7. PHARMACISTS

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New Orleans was the first place that validated the practice of prescription, and the painkillers were often custom blends of alcohol. America’s first officially licensed pharmacist was New Orleans-born Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., and his apothecary on 514 Chartes in the French Quarter (the country’s first legitimate one), is now the site of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which showcases vintage wares and boasts a killer courtyard.

8. FINE HOUSES OF WORSHIP

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Erected in 1727, then resurrected in 1794 after a tragic fire in 1788, the St. Louis Cathedral overlooking Jackson Square is still credited as the oldest continuously used cathedral in North America. Similar holy landmarks are also frequented by tourists for their rich history and inspired architecture, like St. Patricks, and the Old Ursuline Convent, which survived the same tragic fire in 1788 that destroyed the original St. Louis Cathedral and most of the French Quarter.

9. MOVIE THEATERS

The roots of the commercial movie theater came about in New Orleans in 1896 on Canal Street, where films were shown on a Vitascope—a device whose technology was financed and inspired by the engineering of Thomas Edison. Vitascope Theater consisted of watching motion pictures on folding chairs, 400 people at a time, 10 cents a show. It was open for two months before a permanent space emerged in Buffalo, New York later that year. Today, to honor the space, there’s a bar in New Orleans’ Business District called Vitascope Hall.

10. COMPETITIVE FISHING

Contrary to popular belief, fishing competitions didn’t emerge solely from their popularity on ESPN2. The first one in the United States was started in 1928—The Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo—and still takes place today in the famed fishing community about two and a half hours south of New Orleans. Believe us, experiencing New Orleans and the shores of coastal Louisiana yourself is a whole lot more fun than from your couch.

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