NOLA by Nature

Sara Ruffin Costello Photography by Paul Costello

Multihyphenate creative director and New Orleans transplant Sara Ruffin Costello shares her local favorites with Nick Remsen.

“Do you remember that JetBlue flight attendant who pulled the door and inflated the slide while the plane was still parked? I think this was in 2010,” Sara Ruffin Costello, decorator, clothing designer, writer, mother and now six-year Louisianan, asks. “He grabbed a few beers and said, ‘I’m out of here.’ My husband and I, to a certain extent, identified with the spirit of jumping on that slide.” She is describing her 2012 move out of New York City, where she’d resided for 18 years and where she’d started to raise three children, to New Orleans, the permanently vibrant, bursting-with-lore and sometimes spooky destination located on the southern Louisiana coastline. “We love New York,” says Costello, “but we were ready to set our periscope on a new adventure. There were so many interesting places that we considered: Nashville, Los Angeles, Austin. But the architecture in particular made us fall in love with New Orleans. Soon, we were bewitched by most everything about this city. And especially so by the culture.”

Indeed, New Orleanian identity runs back hundreds of years in our national history. It is a dynamic fondue pot of African, French and heartland American influences; the home of Bourbon Street and flying, twinkling Mardi Gras beads (locals, understandably, tend to avoid the thick of this thoroughfare no matter the time of year); the birthplace of poker, Louis Armstrong, Reese Witherspoon and Truman Capote; and, on top of all of this, a modern-day pop culture beacon: Remember the gore and glory that was American Horror Story: Coven? New Orleans is also seeing a resurgence in popularity—bachelorette parties to food-and-wine buffs and seemingly everyone in between are flocking to The Big Easy. But moving there, Costello notes, wasn’t easy at first.

“The difference is so stark. The weirdest thing for me was this kind of absence of constant media messaging. It’s just something you don’t consider when you live in New York, how frequently you’re receiving some sort of corporate message. It wasn’t the quiet and the birdsong and the trees. It was that I just wasn’t seeing all this commerciality; it left me a little disturbed to not have it!”

But in place of billboards and signage has seeped an appreciation for a lifestyle more pastoral, and a fondness for New Orleans’s “deep commitment to tradition.” Says Costello: “You get swept up in it. You have no choice. If you think you don’t like crawfish, well, too bad.” She pauses. “Yeah. Crawfish boils. I mean, I never thought I would like them so much!”

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The bar at Cane & Table

Costello’s Cravings

For a meal out, Costello recommends N7, a French restaurant nestled in New Orleans’s Bywater enclave. Costello is hesitant to go into detail about the eatery: “I almost don’t want to say more, because I don’t want it to get crowded!” She does admit, though, to loving the “can-to-table” options—a solid chunk of N7’s menu cleverly riffs on French canned food. She also proposes tucking in to a restaurant and bar called Cane & Table, located in the lower boundaries of the historic French Quarter district. Known for both its unique mixology (cocktails have a semitropical vibe) and its “rustic cuisine,” the spot has become a NOLA classic since its opening in 2013.

Nightcaps may be found at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, also in the French Quarter. “Best drinks in town,” says Costello, sans hesitation. “It’s this Hemingway haunt type of place. I get the French 75, of course, but the bartender, Chris Hannah, is really next level. He uses different kinds of ice for each drink—he’s very thoughtful.” For a caffeine fix, Costello visits French Truck Coffee, a boutique local roaster. “I go to the one on Dryades Street most often. It’s incredible.”

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French Truck Coffee

NOLA has its fair share of strong shopping options, too. “For clothing,” Costello says, “the three best places are Pilot and Powell on Magazine Street, Freda, which came from Marfa in Texas, and Sosusu. Pilot and Powell is for when you need something chic. Freda is for really curated stuff. And Sosusu is… well, if you’re down here for a wedding and need something to wear, go to this store. They’ve got cocktail attire down to an art form. Lili vintage store has beautiful old lace.”

As far as design goes, there are many great antique stores. Costello counts Mac Maison, Ann Koerner and Tara Shaw amongst her favorites.

Within New Orleans’ City Park, there’s the New Orleans Museum of Art, which is “definitely worth a walkthrough. There’s also a sculpture garden, which is everything you want.” She then sets a poetic hook-line-and-sinker scene that rather perfectly captures both her own quirky tastes and New Orleanian flair: “Think Anish Kapoor sculptures, but with Spanish moss dripping overhead.”

Where to Stay

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Josephine Estelle at the Ace. Photo by Fran Parente

Ace Hotel

Trendy and vibrant, the Ace Hotel—New Orleans’s edition of the hip national hotel group—is housed in a striking Art Deco building erected in 1928 in the city’s Warehouse District. It has a low-lit speakeasy vibe, with velvet touches, hand-painted bespoke armoires and plenty of live music.

 The Windsor Court

The Windsor Court, located a short walk from the French Quarter (close enough to get there quickly, but far enough away that it’s very peaceful and quiet at night), is a New Orleans standout. Highlights include classic-chic French-inspired decor, a rooftop pool and tranquil views of the Mississippi River.

Soniat House

With only 31 rooms, Soniat House is, perhaps, the most highly regarded boutique hotel in New Orleans. It’s located in a row of townhouses in the French Quarter dating back to the mid-1800s; endless charm and a palpable sense of history abound.

Plus, keep an eye out for The Corsair.

Costello is the interior decorator behind The Corsair, a new hotel that’s set to open by Thanksgiving of this year.

This content was originally published in Bergdorf Goodman’s Pre-Fall 2018 issue.

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