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Crossing Esplanade: French Quarter's Neighbor Is a Bustling Bohemian Scene

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Two 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 street.

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 Eastern restaurant.

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 Key
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.”




















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