Top Hat Engage 2020 is just four weeks away. Get to know New Orleans with style and substance and unparalleled hospitality. The conference is located at the New Orleans Marriott on NOLA’s famed Canal Street, between the French Quarter and the Warehouse District, with views overlooking the Mississippi River and downtown New Orleans.

In New Orleans the past is the present. The city keeps its history vital and accessible as an important cornerstone of its modern identity. Entire neighborhoods, buildings, cemetery crypts, sewer covers, cobblestone streets and ancient oak trees serve as touchstones to decades past.

Colonial New Orleans

New Orleans has dual French and Spanish history, as both colonized Louisiana during different historical periods. In 1682, the explorer Robert Cavelier claimed the land for the French crown and La Nouvelle-Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. The city of New Orleans was built surrounding the Vieux Carré, a central square and public gathering space, from which the French Quarter of the city eventually evolved.

Spain took control of New Orleans in 1763 as part of an agreement following the Seven-Years War. It would prove to be a 37-year rule that left a lasting mark on the city’s street names and architecture. New Orleans was an important Spanish outpost and trading partner to Mexico, Haiti and Cuba before reverting back to French rule. The Great Fires of New Orleans occurred during the Spanish rule and destroyed most of the architecture that remained from the city’s French period. However, the influence of Spanish architecture remains clear on St. Charles Avenue. This historical avenue has baroque-looking government buildings, including the Cabildo and the Presbytere, and streetscapes marked by arches and Arabesque ironwork. New Orleans residents adhered to their unique culture and architecture style even after the land was bought by the US in the early nineteenth century.

Pirates and Parades

The regular flow of goods between New Orleans and the Carribean caused piracy to spread quickly in the port of New Orleans. Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre were among the most infamous and successful pirates in the area. Located just 15 minutes from the Engage 2020 venue, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop bar at 941 Bourbon Street, named for the two infamous brothers, served an important role as a weapons supply location to General Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which claims to be the oldest structure housing a bar in the United States, was the pirate’s base, and sightings of the brothers have been reported in the bar’s abandoned corners, where Lafitte is said to have kept his gold.

Another one of the city’s cultural landmarks is Mardi Gras, which was first celebrated in the United States in 1699, when Iberville and Bienville landed at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Mardi Gras. They dubbed the spot Point du Mardi Gras, and celebrated with their sailing crews. The first city-wide parades began in 1857, when a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit carnival procession with floats and marching bands.

Victorian New Orleans

The Victorian era is credited as the dawn of jazz, but before the Jazz Age, throughout the 19th century in New Orleans, a variety of diverse ethnic and racial groups—Spanish, French, German, Italian, African and Irish—found a mutual love of listening to and making music. Jazz was a revolutionary way to combine gospel music, ragtime, blues, and the American songbook into something new and different. While the 1920s is widely considered the Jazz Age in America, in New Orleans that age dawned in the late 1800s. The 1920s was a time of cultural excitement, as artists and authors discovered the French Quarter where writer Sherwood Anderson hosted fellow bohemians in his Upper Pontalba apartment and performance artists welcomed guests to Le Petit Theater on St. Peter Street.

Stepping Into Modernity

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement paved the way for new economic and social opportunities in New Orleans. However, suburbanization added to conflicts over school integration, leaving some African-American neighborhoods to become impoverished and underserved.The city struggled with subsequent energy and economy booms and busts in the 1970s and 80s. Life in New Orleans became a balancing act as the city struggled with a declining population and increasing reliance on social services.

On August 29, 2005, category 5 Hurricane Katrina blew into New Orleans, creating a storm surge that breached four levees, flooding 80 percent of the city. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were trapped for days in harsh conditions before state and federal rescue agencies came to help. Many evacuated families never returned to the city and some neighborhoods, particularly the lower Ninth Ward, are still recovering. On February 7, 2010, the city’s much-loved New Orleans Saints won the team’s first ever Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts. Many native New Orleansians made a point to return home to celebrate with the rest of the city.

New Orleans remains a city of rich culture, proud people and entrenched neighborhoods that have survived and thrived against all odds. New Orleanians have always held tight to their unique culture, pride of place, music, cuisine and festivals.Tourists from around the world continue to flock to this intriguing city. We’re looking forward to having you join us in NOLA for Top Hat Engage 2020.