The Broke-Ass Insider’s Guide to New Orleans: Downtown (7th Ward/ Marigny, Bywater/ 9th Ward)
From Drew Brees to Hog’s Head Cheese, James Black to Sazerac: Here’s our New Orleans insider’s guide, neighborhood by neighborhood, to all the things that make the Crescent City the greatest city in America.
(7th Ward/ Marigny, Bywater/ 9th Ward)
It’s been a long trip to the finish line. This is the final installment from NOLA. We’ve reached the 9th Ward which means the next area east, St. Bernard Parish, is out of our jurisdiction. I saved the best for last. Downtown is a whole new beast. People downtown stay in their area. They have their own second lines and their own way to celebrate Mardi Gras. This is the first area people began to settle in outside the French Quarter. The Foubourg (French for suburb) Marigny is the first suburb of New Orleans located on the other side of Esplanade, south of St. Claude. The Marigny is part of the 7th Ward and to the east is the 8th and 9th Ward.
Railroad Tracks Separating Marigny from Bywater
The 7th Ward is the original Creole neighborhood of New Orleans. People didn’t really speak English in this neighborhood until the turn of the 19th century. It still doesn’t feel like you’re in America in this neighborhood. The 7th Ward is home to a lot of the city’s musical greats. One of the originators of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton, was from here. Today, if you’re a real born and raised 7th Ward resident, you’re called a 7th Ward Hard Head. I swear it’s a term. Mannie Fresh, for instance, is a 7th Ward Hard Head. Listen to this hard head speak on the subject to back me up.
Smith Tire 7th Ward(still in operation)
Not a lot of tourists make it this far east of Canal St., but for some reason, everybody in the world has heard of the 9th Ward. “How’s it dong? Has it come back yet since Katrina? Doesn’t Brad Pitt live there?” I constantly hear people asking questions about the 9th Ward even though they know very little about the area. The truth is that the 9th Ward is the largest ward in New Orleans, followed by the 7th. It seems that when people here about the 9th Ward, they think of destruction.
Bywater Pickup Truck
When most people here think about the 9th ward, I’m sure they’re not thinking of the large Vietnamese population in New Orleans East. They’re probably not thinking about the oldest area in the 9th Ward, the Bywater, that received no flooding after the storm. What most people think of when talking about the 9th Ward is the area south of Florida Ave., and east of the Industrial Canal, know as the Lower 9th Ward. Yes, this area received massive damage after the storm and yes, a lot of residence of this area did not make it back to their homes after the storm. The only tourist you’ll see in the Lower 9th Ward are riding big red buses that say “City Tour: Hop On Hop Off.” It never was a tourist attraction yet now there’s a spotlight on the area that still hasn’t quite made it back on it’s feet after near complete annihilation. There are improvements being made. Brat Pitt has put a lot of money into parts of it, even though the houses really don’t fit into the area at all. Fats Domino still lives in the neighborhood, so it’s can’t be all bad. It’s also home to my favorite New Orleans R&B singer of all time, the late great Lee Dorsey.
Bacchanal Wine: The perfect place to bring a date for under $50. It’s a hybrid of a wine shop and a restaurant. You first pick out a bottle of wine in the front, pay for it, and drink in the massive back patio seating area while listening to mellow live jazz. If you want food you can order it at the window and somebody will bring it to you when it’s ready. It feels like you’re spending way more money than you actually are. Great way for a broke-ass to feel elegant for a night.
Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery and Restaurant: This is the Mecca for Vietnamese food in New Orleans. It’s a bakery attached to a restaurant in New Orleans East. The bakery is my favorite part. Pork buns, cheap banh mi, and tantalizing pastries make this my favorite bakery in the city. The restaurant side is great too, offering more than just pho and vermicelli.
Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant: I had to include this because it’s such a classic 9th Ward establishment. Most of the other places on the list are post 9th Ward gentrification. Dempsey’s has been on Poland long before the area was trendy, serving good food at a good price.
Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant
The Joint: The joint has massively grown in popularity over the years from a small BBQ shack on Poland Ave. next to the Industrial Canal. Only McCleur’s can rival this place for smokehouse BBQ in New Orleans.
Pizza Delicious: Pizza is one of the few foods New Orleans does not do well with. Luckily there’s Pizza Delicious. This Bywater pizza shed keeps the 9th Ward stuffed with hand tossed delicious cheesy dough. The name is pretty self explanatory.
Street Vendors on Frenchman: Street food is often times the most satisfying food when you’re drunk. Frenchman St. has a good selection. If you see a guy with dreads named Joe selling steaks from a large black Weber, ask him where he got his grill. I’m not sure what he’ll tell you, but I know he got the grill from me. One night a friend of mine drunkenly kicked the leg out from under his grill and ruined his whole operation. Joe couldn’t put the grill back together so I offered him the grill I had at my house as retribution. He’s been pumping out the meat from my old Weber almost every night on Frenchman ever since. Joe’s not the only vendor out there. The Jamaican truck has fantastic Caribbean food.
BJ’s Lounge: This is my favorite Bywater watering hole. Great jukebox, friendly bartenders, and non pretentious cliental in the 9th Ward. A few months ago, Robert Plant played a surprise show here for about 25 people with Guitar Lighting Lee. It’s the type of environment where nobody cares who you are or what you look like.
The Country Club: Food, alcohol, swimming and nudity sum up this Bywater oasis. It’s the broke-ass country club for those that don’t want to have a membership, but still want to lay out by a pool. Clothes are optional.
Iggy’s: This is the choice neighborhood establishment for this part of the Marigny. Nothing flashy at this bar, but a good place to have a drink and mellow out.
J&J’s Sports Lounge: Aside from the name, not a lot has changed over the years at this dive. Formerly known as the Yellow Moon, this bar is easily recognized by the swamp mural on the front of the building. Cheap drinks, good people, good times.
J & J’s Sports Lounge
Lost Love Lounge: Thank you for making bacon and quail egg in a bloody mary a real thing. This Marigny hang out also has a Vietnamese kitchen attached to it called Pho King. If you’re into watching popular HBO shows with groups, this is the bar for you.
Lost Love Lounge
Melvin’s: This is a bit of a strange place. Like many bars in New Orleans, Melvin’s never really looks open. This is a great bar to hide out in during Mardi Gras if you want to have a few drinks before catching the Downtown Mardi Gras Indians on Tuesday morning.
Mimi’s in the Marigny: This two story bar is the most popular spot in the Marigny. The food is fantastic and they stay open damn near all night. Though DJ Soul Sister doesn’t do her Saturday Night Hustle here anymore due to neighborhood noise ordinances, it’s still a great place to party on the weekend.
Mimi’s In the Marigny
Saturn Bar: I think this is my favorite bar in the city. It’s the late O’Neil Broyard’s lasting legacy. This bar has been through the good and the bad times of the 9th Ward. There’s nowhere else like this place in the whole world. The pictures hanging on the wall were painted by a former US Navy diver who came up too fast during a dive and caught the bends. He couldn’t talk but he would always sit in the corner of the bar and drink Budweiser beer out of a small glass. The Saturn Bar hosts a throwback 45 record party called Mod Night once a month. Classic all night record romp.
Vaughn’s Lounge: Of all the bars in the city, Vaughn’s has the most stereotypical New Orleans feel and ascetic to it, but it’s a good thing. There no mistaking what city you’re in when you step into this bar. Kermit Ruffins used to hold down a weekly Thursday night gig here. A few months ago the spot was replaced by Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet.
Bullet’s Sports Bar: Lat time I entered this place and ragging bull dog rushed out from the neighbor’s front yard and tried to attack my leg. I quickly took shelter in Bullet’s and was assured by the bartender that I was safe under their roof. This bar is tucked away on A.P. Tureaud, deep in the 7th Ward. Kemrit Ruffins still holds down a weekly Tuesday gig here. Friday night is New Orleans blues night, shuffling between Guitar Slim Jr., Little Freddy King, and Guitar Lightning Lee. This is easily one of the best places in the city to escape to normal touristy music scene.
Euclid Records: Euclid is a relatively new edition to the New Orleans vinyl scene, but much welcomed. What spawned from an over-sized record collection in their original St. Louis, MO location has turned into probably the most popular and successful record store in New Orleans. Euclid has a great selection of just about everything. It’s a bit pricier than I’d like it to be, but like a true broke-ass, I say that about nearly everything that’s over $12.
Frenchman St.: Though it’s certainly no longer a secret, this is the main drag in town for late night music clubs every day of the week. The shows go all night on Frenchman. The Spotted Cat is great for more traditional New Orleans Jazz, the Blue Nile features a lot of big name local musicians, Snug Harbor is the premier jazz club in the city, and DBA is good for all thing New Orleans. My favorite place on Frenchman is the balcony of Blue Nile Upstairs.
The Spotted Cat
Allways Lounge/ Hi- Ho Lounge/ Kajun’s Pub/ Siberia: All these bars are within a block’s radius on St. Claude. It’s the main indie/ gutter punk drag of the city. Siberia specializes in garage and thrasher rock. Hi-Ho gets a good variety of shows. Always has a theater in the bar and puts on various forms of entertainment every night. I once popped in there for a drink and witnessed my first naked Karaoke. Kajun’s right next door has fully clothed Karaoke every night.
Allways Lounge Kajun’s Pub
Hi – Ho Lounge Siberia
Favorite Corner Stores
Hank’s Super Market: Where else can you get 2 pieces of dark meat fried chicken for 99 cents and a side of red beans at 4 am? Hank’s has saved many a drunken stomachs from a brutal awakening the next day through their magical chicken. I still don’t understand why their chicken is so delicious, but I think it’s best not to ask.
Hank’s Super Market
Mardi Gras Zone: This place has everything all night long, except alcohol. Amazingly the store is so great, nobody misses the booze. Equipped with a full deli, wood burning pizza oven and daily specials, along with a full grocery area, this place far surpasses expectations from the outside. Ultimate example of the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Mardi Gras Zone
New Orleans Phrase of the Day: Ink Pen- this just means pen but I had to bring this up before the piece was over because it’s one of the most overlooked regional terms in the New Orleans vocabulary. Listen for it some time if you’re ever down here. I’ve never heard anybody say ink pen outside of New Orleans. What other types of pens are there?
– Say brah, I could use your ink pen?
Before concluding this piece, I’d like to give a shout out to Algiers, which didn’t make it into my guide at all. I’m sorry Algiers. I know you’re part of Orleans Parish too, but I just couldn’t figure out where to squeeze you in being on the other side of the river and all. Old Point Bar, don’t think I forgot about you.
Here a track from a group not yet mentioned in the guide to ride us out: The Meters – Soul Island