Broke-Ass Insider’s Guide to New Orleans: French Quarter/ CBD
From Drew Brees to Hog’s Head Cheese, James Black to Sazerac: Here’s our insider’s guide, neighborhood by neighborhood, to all things that make the Crescent City the greatest city in America.
French Quarter/ CBD/ Warehouse District
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times“- Charles Dickens, Tail of Two Cities.
Behind St. Louis Cathedral
The French Quarter is truly an amazing place. It’s one of the crown jewels of North American French colonization, and the Spanish Empire. San Juan, Havana, and Key West all have the same Spanish Caribbean feel. When New Orleans was first established, the French Quarter limits, Canal St. to the west, Esplanade Ave. to the east, Rampart St. to the north, and the Mississippi River to the south, were the city limits. A lot of great things have happened in this area, as well as a lot of evil. As one one of the capitals of the North American slave trade, it has a very tortured history.
Street Musicians on Royal
These tormented spirits of the past play a role in the present. The Quarter can be a strange place. Some of the most fun I’ve had in New Orleans has been in the Quarter. There’s also been some serious lows. I once saw my friend get stabbed in the back of the neck by a gypsy with a miniature Swiss army knife and a tumbler glass full of Busch beer at 6 am after watching the sunrise on a bench in Jackson Square. We didn’t notice he was bleeding till we got to the car and saw a red stain on the back of his t-shirt. Don’t be alarmed, it was only a flesh wound. Nothing a little hydrogen peroxide and a band-aid couldn’t fix. A bit of a scare nonetheless.
Sax player in Jackson Square Four piece band in Jackson Square
With hundreds of bars to choose from in this service industry Mecca, it’s easy to get caught in a tourist trap and have a bad time. Though a great amount of the Quarter is run by corporate owners looking to capitalize on the large influx of tourist into the city, there’s still a lot of places that stay true. After all, bartenders have to drink too. If you’ve never been to Bourbon St., that’s okay, you still don’t have to. There are plenty of places within the Quarter to have fun and avoid the debauchery of adults playing out all their vices on a two day vacation from their normal mundane responsibilities.
The Central Business District is the area on the other side of Canal St. Far from being the most exciting part of town, it’s the part of the city that is the most like the rest of the US. The majority of the original buildings of this part of town have been torn down and replaced by generic looking office buildings. The best part about the CBD, combined with the Warehouse District, is the amount of great food within a small radius of each other. Unfortunately, most broke-asses can’t afford to eat at these places, so they work at them instead. These same broke asses that work in this vicinity need places to ventilate after they finish serving the upper class. That’s why there are so many great service industry bars in this area that stay open as late as they feel like.
Bennachin: Sometimes you need a break from all the New Orleans food. Bennachin has Delicious African cuisine with origins in Gambia and Cameroon on a cozy French Quarter environment. They don’t sell booze here, but don’t mind if you bring your own in.
Bennachin African Cuisine
Central Grocery: It’s easy to blow this place off as another New Orleans tourist attraction designed to rip people off and serve poor products. Certainly not the case. They claim to be the originators of the muffuletta. The original is the best in this case. There’s also a good selection of imports not available in most stores in the city. Nor Joe in Metairie is the only place that can give this New Orleans Italian landmark a run for its money.
Clover Grill: Have you ever had to tell a transvestite in a booth across from you that their nipple was hanging out while you’re trying to decide weather you feel like a cheeseburger or breakfast at 4 am? This situation comes up a lot at this 24 hour diner on Bourbon and Dumaine. This grease bucket is the ultimate prevention to a hangover after a long night out in the Quarter.
Coop’s Place: Coop’s does everything right. It’s the exact type of place most people are looking for when they come to the French Quarter. Unfortunately most people get caught up in the slew of door men trying to push their generic, low quality New Orleans food on innocent tourists. Luckily Coop’s exists keeping the hope alive for good food in the French Quarter for under $15. The fried chicken and rabbit jambalaya is my favorite thing here.
Croissant D’Or Patisserie: It’s good, cheap, and really French. Great place to get a quality cup of coffee and a pastry if your not in the mood for a hearty American breakfast.
Croissant D’Or Patisserie
Louisiana Products Deli & Grocery: Most places like this seem to have gone the way of the Dodo bird in the CBD. It’s comforting to see this classic New Orleans lunch spot keeping the tradition alive. Little things like red beans on Mondays, fried catfish on Fridays, CDM coffee with chicory for under $1 and a staff that makes you feel welcome like you’re guests in their living room make this place the best lunch spot in the CBD. Try one of their homemade cookies, they’re delicious.
Louisiana Products Deli & Grocery Inside Louisiana Products
Leni’s Cafe: It’s good to know you can still sit down at a counter and eat a good breakfast for under $10 in the CBD. Nothing fancy, just a classic diner. It also seems like it’s never crowded. Easily one of my favorite places to spread the Times-Picayune out across the counter, nurse a cup of coffee and ease myself into a new day.
Chart Room: The contents of a bar’s jukebox say a lot about the character of the place. The Chart Room has a great one. Though a lot of tourist still stumble into this establishment, most of the people in this place either work in the French Quarter or frequently drink in the French Quarter. Last time I was here the gentleman next to me said he remembered going to bars in New Orleans when they asked for your draft card, not your ID. Everything in here is old and wooden and they only have Miller High Life on draft which they serve out of frosty glass mugs. It’s also one of the cheapest bars in the Quarter.
Cajun Mike’s Pub and Grub/ Chucks Sports Bar/ St. Charles Bar/ Vic’s Kangaroo Cafe: I bunched all these together because they all serve the same purpose. These are the places chefs from all the CBD’s wonderful restaurants go to black out and celebrate the intense rush they just handled before they have to wake up in 10 hours and do it all over again. Don’t be alarmed if you see the elegant, handsome man who just waited on you slouched over a bar counter shooting straight whiskey behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. It’s where the waiters go to loosen their fancy ties and spend all their tips. Chucks is a great dark place to hide out from the corporate world of the CBD when the other bars have closed. Cajun Mike’s is good if you want to grab a bite to eat, and drink heavily. Vic’s is great because you have to walk through freezer curtains to enter the place, and it’s the only Australian bar in town. There’s always good people and good prices at the St. Charles Bar. I was once a regular there in my days waiting tables at the now defunct Mike’s on the Ave. Say hi to Rebecca or Joe for me if you’re ever there.
Cajun Mike’s Pub & Grub Chucks Sports Bar
St. Charles Bar Vic’s Kangaroo Cafe
Erin Rose: Perfect French Quarter establishment. Good mix of locals and tourists just one block off Bourbon St. The only problem with this bar is that it closes every day for three hours between 7 am and 10 am. Don’t they know that some people need a drink at 8 am?
Cafe Envie and Espresso Bar: On a nice day in New Orleans, there is not better place to sit and sip a caffeinated beverage while people watching on Decatur St. Good coffee, good atmosphere.
Harry’s Corner: It’s not the type of place you want to go to on a Saturday night, but it has the old time French Quarter feel to it perfect for a Budweiser at noon. In the spring during crawfish season, they do boils outside the bar free for customers.
Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop: Supposedly it’s the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. It’s not hard to believe after visiting this place. At night it’s completely lit up by candle light and everything is in the 18th century style. They have a large round piano bar people can put their drinks on while they watch the pianist in the middle. Not necessarily a rowdy bar, but still a fun time.
Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
Bar Tonique: This cocktail bar on the edge of the French Quarter on Rampart St. is a great relief from the touristic hustle and bustle. It’s not the cheapest bar in the world, but it’s well worth the cost. I really hate the term mixologist, but the bartenders here are pretty close to it. Very tasteful ambiance as well in this early 19th century bar room.
St. Ann St.: There would be a huge gap in my French Quarter guide if I failed to mention the thriving Gay/ Lesbian culture in this part of the city. St. Ann is a major hub for gay bars in the area. Unfortunately I don’t frequent them enough to be able to accurately pick my favorites. If you’re new to town and wondering where all the LGBT establishments are, look no further.
Good Friends Bar
Circle Bar: It feels like they put a bar at somebody’s really old house and decided to have concerts in the living room. They do a great job showcasing local talent outside the traditional funk/ blues/ jazz scene of the city.
Louisiana Music Factory: This is the holy grail for those record heads out there looking for old New Orleans 45s. Their LPs are good too. During Jazz Fest they host FREE concerts inside the store.
Louisiana Music Factory
One Eyed Jacks: The building is deceptively big. The first room looks like a typical old French Quarter bar. Behind the doors is a full dance flood and stage capable of drawing some of the biggest touring acts in the country. The venue looks like the interior of a 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Good place to watch a show in the middle of the Quarter.
One Eyed Jack’s
Preservation Hall: Though this musical land mark is certainly no secret, it’s still worth mentioning. If you are a tourist in New Orleans and want to know what Dixieland jazz is all about, go here. You won’t see any locals, but it’s well worth going. There’s nowhere else on the planet like it.
Favorite Corner Stores
Quarter Master Deli: If you live in the quarter this place can deliver groceries and food. Sandwiches are great and the beers are cheap.
Quarter Master Deli
Price Busters: This is the only corner store still standing in the CBD. This part of St. Charles used to be skid row. That’s why they don’t sell beer at this establishment. They do have everything else you could want from a corner store.
Verti Marte Deli and Grocery: This place is very similar to Quarter Master, but with a slightly different menu. Great place for red beans.
Here’s something from way back to end this week: Louis Armstrong – Basin St. Blues