The New Frenchmen Street

One of my favorite places to catch live music when I am in New Orleans is the epic street known as Frenchmen.  Five years ago this was a slightly sleepy spot where locals were common patrons of the establishments.  Over these past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic change across this little street.  What was once a relatively small number of bars, music venues, and pretty cruddy restaurants (NEVER go to the Praline Connection, but I digress…) has become a veritable place to be.  You can call it “gentrification” or “hipsterville plus a bit of gutter punk” or “economic revitalization” or “great thing getting ready to go bad” or even “a place back in the day when I was the guy who knew about this place…and now it’s all gone.”  But whatever you call it, it is certainly an up and coming locale.

I often describe this area as the “east end of the French Quarter” to my students who are just getting their bearings.  Technically speaking this is far out of the French Quarter (but still only about a 10 or 15 minute walk from St. Louis Cathedral), in the Faubourg Marigny (nearly in the Bywater).

Things really started to change about 2010.  Every year since the landscape seems to evolve into something almost unrecognizable with vacant lots or quiet houses/apartments giving way to a near-continuous array of businesses.  This was always a place for great music (with Snug Harbors‘ straight ahead jazz, The Spotted Cat‘s Washboard Chaz and Jazz Vipers, d.b.a.‘s John Boutte or Linnzi Zaorski, etc.) but the venues have exploded with spots such as Cafe Negril joining “old” guards like Blue Nile and Apple Barrel.  Another key sign change was afoot was the indie Louisiana Music Factory record/CD shop moving from its traditional home across the street from the House of Blues in the Quarter to 421 Frenchmen Street two years ago.

Many of the music venues here were free or very limited cover but have increasingly succumbed to the growing crowds of late.  Even The Spotted Cat has begun charging a (modest) $5 cover (“it’s hardly anything…you know it is still a great deal” said the doorman to me tonight).  Exploding rents here are driving all manner of hipster fare to cover the costs such as Dat Dog‘s hot dog stand on steroids, the fantastic Three Muses, and the kale- and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie-loving The Marigny Brasserie.  But what really helps Frenchmen Street stand out is the fantastic visual art flare.  I knew something was up and that the proverbial worm had turned when I was able to get impromptu poetry from a few French (yes, an actual French man on Frenchmen Street) speed poets banging on a 1950s typewriter near d.b.a. in 2012.  The most conspicuous addition here is the Art Market.  A few years ago this was a little spot with a handful or artists next to The Spotted Cat.  It is now a destination in an of itself with probably 30 artists on any given night (Thursday through Sunday are the peak nights).

Next time you are in town, skip the idiocy of Bourbon Street (well, you can actually check out Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse then leave) and head to a real New Orleans experience.

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