Esplanade: French Quarter's Neighbor Is a Bustling Bohemian
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Marigny Hotspots: The Blue Nile & Snug Harbor
On a certain street in New Orleans, each night
seems to bring a carnival of sights and sounds with music pouring
out of barroom doors and sidewalks peopled with colorful characters.
This street is in the heart of a dense, historic neighborhood
filled with distinctive architecture and home to restaurants
serving exotic food and Creole favorites.
If you think we're describing Bourbon Street
and the French Quarter, you're wrong but actually very close.
In fact, you're right next door.
The Faubourg Marigny is the next neighborhood
downriver from the French Quarter, just on the other side of
Esplanade Avenue. Long a quiet residential neighbor to the celebrated
Vieux Carre, the area has exploded in recent years into a vibrant
destination for food, music and good times, with much of this
activity concentrated on Frenchmen Street.
Visitors to Frenchmen Street won't see Mardi
Gras beads, frozen daiquiri stands or T-shirt shops; rather,
the area very much caters to locals. In fact, New Orleanians
who haven't set foot on Bourbon Street in years spend whole weekends
romping around Frenchmen Street, bar-hopping for live music or
eating out along its increasingly diverse restaurant row.
Off the Grid
In 1805, the nobleman Marquis Bernard De Marigny subdivided his
vast plantation to create the Faubourg Marigny, the first suburb
downriver from the original settlement that we now call the
French Quarter. As Americans settled the area upriver from
the French Quarter, immigrants and free people of color populated
this downriver neighborhood.
The streets of this part of town, following
a sharp curve in the nearby Mississippi River, branch out from
the French Quarter's orderly grid into triangular patterns that
create something like a labyrinth. Around each corner of this
intriguing neighborhood lies something else to discover, whether
it's a Creole mansion, an aromatic coffeehouse or a jazz band
playing for a packed dance floor at a small club.
Along Frenchmen Street proper, the diversity
and proximity of businesses in a three-block stretch creates
a highly energized and vividly colorful street scene. Walking
down just one block on a typical evening, for instance, you might
encounter a reggae band jamming at the Caribbean restaurant Café Negril (606
Frenchman St., 504-944-4744); watch body art in progress through
the picture window of Electric Ladyland tattoo
parlor (610 Frenchmen St., 504-947-8286); dodge bicyclists peddling
off on rented rides from Bicycle Michael (622
Frenchmen St., 504-945-9505); spot a visiting movie star or two
ducking into Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen St.,
504-949-0696), the city's premier venue for contemporary jazz;
browse a selection of used books for sale from a street vendor
and, after all this, drop in for a beer or glass of wine at d.b.a. (618
Frenchmen St., 504-942-3731), an upscale tavern with a dizzying
selection of potent potables.
But, of course, that's just one side of the
Po-boys to Pad Thai
Contrary to popular belief, New Orleanians don't live on gumbo
and oysters alone - try though some of them might - and the Faubourg
Marigny caters to the diverse tastes of the local palate better
than perhaps any other part of town.
Housed in historic Creole-style structures
are establishments like Sukho Thai (913 Royal
St., 504-948-9309), serving fresh and potentially very spicy
Thai food; Mona's Café (504
Frenchmen St., 504-949-4115), a BYOB and bargain-priced Middle
For more recognizable Louisiana flavors, locals
head to the upscale Marigny Brasserie (640 Frenchmen
St., 504-945-4472), which serves modern takes on Creole cuisine
in a plush setting, or to the casual Adolfo's (611
Frenchmen St., 504-948-3800), a virtually hidden romantic nook
above a barroom serving fantastic local seafood and Italian specialties.
Meanwhile, the Praline Connection (542 Frenchmen
St., 504-943-3934), dishes up large portions of traditional Southern
soul food, like hammy greens, fried chicken livers and catfish.
A late night town needs late night eats, and the Marigny has
some delicious options in this department too. Monaghan's
13 (571 Frenchmen St., 504-942-1345) serves up breakfast
burritos, great sandwiches, pizzas and a full bar until the wee
hours while the 24-hour La Peniche (1940 Dauphine
St., 504-943-1460) has an extensive diner menu spruced up with
local favorites like oyster po-boys and red beans and rice.
Offbeat and On
The Faubourg Marigny's many music clubs offer similarly diverse
choices for entertainment.
One of the most prominent is Café Brasil, (2100 Chartres St., 504-949-0851) a large,
brightly-colored dance club that has anchored Frenchmen Street
for many years. The place thumps late in to the night with
reggae, Latin, New Orleans brass bands and other sounds. A
similar scene has developed across the street at the Blue
Nile (532 Frenchmen St., 504-948-2583), which also
provides free salsa dance lessons each Friday evening before
a Latin music performance.
Jazz is the thing at the Spotted Cat (623
Frenchmen St. 504-943-3887), where dancers cram the tiny space
to move to traditional sounds and sultry singers in this small,
storefront club. Smaller still is the aptly named Apple
Barrel (609 Frenchmen St., 504-949-9399), where bluesmen
and eccentric performers barely find room to play but sound equally
good from the bar or the sidewalk.
The first mule-drawn buggies are beginning
to include the Marigny on their tour routes, and it probably
won't be long before more and more visitors outnumber locals
along its buzzing streets. But at least for now, visitors can
savor a unique and thriving modern day bohemia representing authentic
New Orleans culture, just one block outside the French Quarter.
Ian McNulty is a freelance food writer
and columnist, a frequent commentator on the New Orleans entertainment
talk show “Steppin’ Out” and editor of the
guidebook “Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans.”