Frenchmen Street, a Block-by-Block Guide
Frenchmen Street Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Collision / Sportsfile via flickr
To this day, tour guides tell you that Frenchmen Street is an off the beaten gem, a ‘local’s Bourbon Street’ where real New Orleanians gather to listen to live music and grab a drink.
Excuse a bit of an eye roll on our part; That ‘locals-majority’ term may have rang true at the beginning of the twenty-teens, and to a degree, it’s an accurate description of Frenchmen throughout the 90s and much of the noughties. But the street really achieved a critical mass of popularity post-Katrina, and in the past few years, Frenchmen is tourist central come the evening, especially on weekends.
But so what? It’s still fun, still a blast, and this local New Orleanian still ends up heading here every time he and his partner head out on a date night. On Frenchmen Street, certain things are just guaranteed: proximity to good music, good food, interesting culture, and an unbeatable street scene. Of course this street is popular – who wouldn’t be lured in by those considerable qualities?
Here’s our block by block breakdown of what to look for on Frenchmen Street, starting from the Decatur-Esplanade intersection and moving ‘down’ towards St. Claude Avenue. Keep in mind music sets usually pop off around 6 pm, 9 pm and 11 pm, although there is always room for variation.
Note that we only cover the ‘music strip’ of Frenchmen Street in this article; there are other parts of the street which include both residential, parkland, and commercial blocks.
Decatur Checkpoint Highbike 2 by Infrogmation of New Orleans on flickr
Esplanade & Decatur
Of course, the weirdness gets a start right at the beginning of iconic Frenchmen. Heck, it gets a start before you even get on Frenchmen – there’s usually a weird jumble of tourists, locals having a night out, and tribes of runaways in the neutral ground (median) that runs through Esplanade Avenue out here.
Be on the lookout for Igor’s Checkpoint Charlie (501 Esplanade Ave). This may look like a rough punk music bar (and it still is, in a lot of ways) from the outside, but management attracts a pretty wide range of clientele. This Checkpoint Charlie feels pretty divey, but once inside, the music is almost always wonderful. An added bonus: the Checkpoint sells amazing cheeseburgers throughout the evening. A nicely charred patty on a bun is a great means of regaining energy during late Frenchmen Street nights.
Further ‘up’ the street into Faubourg Marigny, Frenchmen Street starts to come into its own around Vaso (500 Frenchmen Street), a joint that tends to play just the facts ma’am jazz and R&B.
LA Music Factory Photo by Infrogmation New Orleans on flickr.
Esplanade & Decatur Part 2
The city streets do a weird geography trick, forming a ‘v’ around the Faubourg Marigny fire station. Frenchmen Street exists on both sides of that ‘v’. Rare Form (437 Esplanade) holds it down with some key components of a New Orleans night: food, drinks, Hall style live music, and an outdoor patio area to enjoy all of the above.
Just around the corner (and technically not on Frenchmen, but whatever) is the Dragon’s Den (435 Esplanade Avenue), one of the city’s standout music clubs. You won’t get any PreHall-style Dixieland jazz here – the Den, which has been featured in TV shows like True Detective, is all about an eclectic range of music, from DJ nights to reggae to Latin dance parties.
Also at the edge of this block: the enormous Louisiana Music Factory (421 Frenchmen Street), your one stop shop for all things related to the state’s considerable musical heritage. Seriously, if someone cut an album and has a connection to the state of Louisiana, chances are staff here can get that music into your hands.
Beyond the above, be on the lookout for pop-up art galleries and similar businesses in this stretch of Frenchmen.
Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Collision / Sportsfile via flickr
Between Decatur & Chartres
Now the street is getting hot.
First up: Mona’s (504 Frenchmen Street), an excellent cafe that serves excellent falafel, pita, hummus and kebabs, as well as dry goods from around the Middle East. Just across the street, a little ways off of Frenchmen, is the Brieux Carré Brewing Co. (2115 Decatur Street), a microbrewery with a dozen taps and an outdoor seating area – and really, what else do we need in life?
Music, as the case may be, and this is Frenchmen Street, so music is in the cards. The Maison (508 Frenchmen Street) is a relatively new bar compared to some of its neighbors on this street, yet it is one of the major centers of gravity for local live music. Jazz acts take over the large front area, where you can order excellent imbued spirits from behind the bar. This spot, plus nearby Bamboula’s (516 Frenchmen Street), seems to attract a younger crowd on the weekends, although to be fair, you can get any kind of crowd anywhere depending on the time of the year.
On the other side of the street, the (in)famous 13 Monaghan (517 Frenchmen, and often just called ‘13’) serves excellent diner style fare with a New Orleans twist well into the late hours of the evening – we cannot overstate the healing powers of a 3 am cheesesteak and some tater tots.
Further down the street we come across the great Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen), one of the city’s great jazz clubs. There’s never really an off night here, although you can get acts ranging from raucous brass band dance parties to soulful crooners; make sure to check the online schedule before you pop in. Nearby, the Three Muses (536 Frenchmen) is one of the great dinner and a show venues in town, seeing as it combines those two elements on any night you please. It can get crowded, so you want to make a table reservation (good for 90 minutes, after which you can go to the bar. The rule makes sense, else everyone would sit through the nightly shows and no tables would ever open up).
Finally, we come to the Praline Connection (542 Frenchmen), one of the city’s bedrocks of midrange Southern and soul cooking. Enjoy the delicious collision of Creole cooking and soul food sensibility, and get ready to keep exploring.
Dat Dog Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans
Between Chartres & Royal
Pro tip: not only is the second floor of Dat Dog (601 Frenchmen) filled with decorations culled from the Krewe of Chewbacchus (the city’s science fiction/fantasy themed Mardi Gras krewe), the balcony is a great spot for people watching, especially the bands that often play at the intersection of Frenchmen & Chartres. The hot dogs are pretty amazing too.
Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen) is one of our favorite spots for reggae and dancehall music in the city, not least because there’s an excellent taqueria slinging tacos in the back kitchen. Across the way, the Apple Barrel (609 Frenchmen) is the smallest, most intimate venue in New Orleans; upstairs, you can treat your date to a romantic Italian dinner at Adolfo’s. Afterwards, head next door to the Art Garden (613 Frenchmen), an open-air venue that showcases local artwork, sculpture and crafts. Want a souvenir from New Orleans? Get one here, as you’re giving your money direct to local creators.
We end this trip with three excellent jazz clubs: d.b.a. (618 Frenchmen), with its enormous beer and whiskey menu and consistent lineup of great acts; Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen), the classiest jazz joint in the neighborhood, where you can enjoy a dinner with your show; and the Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen), a club where you can groove to some of the most talented live acts in the city.
For more, read Famous Streets of the French Quarter.