French Quarter Romance
Two business owners share their thoughts on Valentine’s Day
Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home.
The French Quarter will always be the heart of New Orleans. It’s architecture and vibrant street life create a romantic milieu that charms visitors and transports locals. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I spoke with two business owners who experience the romance of the French Quarter daily.
Sarah Vogue Hester is the owner/operator of Free Tours By Foot New Orleans, a company with a stellar reputation for providing fun, accurate and insightful tours of various locations in New Orleans, with particular emphasis on the French Quarter. Hester uses a name-your-own-price model to make the tours universally accessible, even creating virtual tours during the pandemic that are still available on their website.
Free Tours By Foot New Orleans has been operating for 11 years and now includes 14 professional historians who act as tour guides. Hester, who worked as a guide herself for eight years, knows the French Quarter intimately.
“The most romantic aspect of the French Quarter is the fact that an unexpected moment of magic can be around any corner – bubbles from a balcony,” said Hester, “a lone singer in Jackson Square late at night, an amazing, shared meal with live music on a balcony or in a courtyard.
“It’s the closest visitors can get to a time and place that is no longer attainable. For many people who cannot travel out of the continental United States, New Orleans is the closest they will get to a trip to the Caribbean or Europe. It’s unexplainable really, but, as many famous travelers have said, ‘There’s nowhere like New Orleans.’”
The Lower Quarter holds the most romance for Hester.
“Having been in New Orleans for most of my life, I can still walk down streets like Ursuline, Barracks and Dumaine and be surprised by beautiful trees I’ve never seen before and notice houses with the cutest charm.”
Tours can be booked online at freetoursbyfoot.com, and the company can also customize romantic experiences for a fee, including arranging tours for weddings and engagements.
A business owner with deep family ties to the French Quarter, Ashley Ann Lyons Porter hails from the family that owned the I.L. Lyons & Co. pharmacy in the French Quarter from 1866 to 1966. Some of the pharmacy’s artifacts are on display at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.
Porter is the founder and designer for Porter Lyons, a jewelry and lifestyle brand that specializes in uncommon luxury. The company has been operating out of the French Quarter since 2016, and recently relocated its flagship store to 623 Royal Street. The store sits at street level, topped by a design house.
Porter was inspired to locate her flagship location in the French Quarter because of its historic importance to New Orleans and its iconic representation of the city. The atmosphere is inspiring as well.
“The French Quarter is intrinsically romantic,” said Porter. “When you’re here, there’s an aspiration towards the infinite. You never know where your day will end up and you certainly never hope it will end.”
“I think just being in the French Quarter and the serendipity of a marching band or second line coming by and being able to join in and dancing and moving your body in a spontaneous, fun way is the most romantic thing in the French Quarter,” said Porter. “You never know when it’s going to happen. It always surprises you and catches you off guard in the best way possible. Only this city has it. There’s nowhere else I’ve been where it happens as frequently as the French Quarter.”
Each Porter Lyons collection is rooted in a theme, and designs can be customized for clients. But if a couple is looking for an especially romantic design, they can work directly with Porter to create bespoke pieces.
“I have a whole custom experience and process, which involves meeting with a couple and asking them a series of questions and helping them create a mood board,” she said. “From that, I create a piece that is really an expression of their soul, and everything that encompasses.”
Porter Lyons will be releasing a spring look book entitled “Flora Romantica,” which will highlight some fan favorites and tease her newest collection. She plans to launch her first bridal collection in May, which she said will feature pieces that are “non-traditional and intrinsically unique.”
For store hours, or to schedule a custom experience, visit porterlyons.com.