I get asked all the time for lists of things to do in New Orleans. It's my home, always will be, a place that embraced me so fully when I was making some serious transitions in my life and I'll be ever grateful to that dream of a town. Many of my best friends and family are there and this past couple of weeks I was able to spend a few weeks back at home.
One of the things that came up often while I was home this time was conversations about the continuous influx of tourists, and their interest in exploring areas that once were seriously off the beaten path.
Immediately downriver of the Quarter, there's the Marigny and the Bywater - like the Quarter both are live music destination—from the jazz club–lined Frenchman Street to the performance art and gypsy street bands peppering the Bywater and the punk-style arts district along St. Claude. These neighborhoods have a subculture that are truly their own, and I'll preface this by saying - tourists are most certainly onto that, and that has infused money into the city and most locals I know are happy for that. However! With that said, it's important (in any city, not just New Orleans) to be respectful of what came before you when visiting. So that's what this post is all about.
These two neighborhoods in particular were, until recently, considered two of the most unique and well-kept secrets of New Orleans. The Faubourg Marigny, which was once the plantation of a Creole born vivant who made the dice game “craps” popular in America and who dazzled New Orleans by his flair and enormous inheritance, and the Bywater, named for it’s postal code, are often likened to the Brooklyn neighborhoods of New York. The neighborhoods combine old-school New Orleans with a bohemian and considerably hip culture. If you want more on the history there's a whole chapter about this in my first book New Orleans Style, btw.
As prices rose in the 1990s in the Quarter, young artists and entrepreneurs began moving into the neighborhoods, and as of recent years, the style and happenings have been documented by Vogue, the NY Times Fashion/Style Magazine, Garden & Gun and Food & Wine, just to name a few.
These neighborhoods are packed with some of the coolest hangs in the city, ranging from hipster dives to trendy design-forward spaces.
Weekends bring shoppers to arts’ markets and junk stores. There’s a funky style and harmony that create a good time if an admittedly weird experience for all. As of recent years, more and more outsiders are moving from all over the country into these two neighborhoods. There seems to be as many Airbnbs as there are locals on some streets and if you happen to be one of these Airbnb'ers here's a few tips (do's and don'ts) on how to hang like a local.
1. Drink Wine.
Or beer, or a vodka and soda. Just do not, I repeat do not go into the French Quarter and order a hand grenade and wander with that massive plastic fire hazard out in the local areas and think you'll be accepted.
I was out with a group of friends on this last visit and literally as we walked along we encountered a group of guys in full on bead regalia, pulling a cooler along behind them (hey... drinking in the streets is legal so go all out right?!) and in each of their hands: a hand grenade. Sure, go to Pat O's and try out a Hurricane (one, btw, ooooonly have one) or hit Lafitte's for a Purple (also, one, btw!) but outside of that, if you're going to sit and have a drink with friends in the local areas, order what you would at home! And truly, try your damnedest to not get too wasted. That old saying it's a marathon, not a sprint applies here.
2. Leave the khakis at home and don't buy the beads.
The hipster cred in these neighborhoods is long term. Recording studios and artist retreats tucked away on quiet side streets means the stars can hide out a bit. Just ask Trent Reznor, Josh Tillman (Father John Misty), the guy from the Flaming Lips, Lenny Kravitz, and as most people know - Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt for some time. When I'm taking in a new city I too love to explore the neighborhoods. So if you want to fit in, especially if you'll be walking for miles and miles opt for simple sneakers and a monochromatic ensemble - those things pair well with everything and as you pick up little trinkets from the local shops you can layer those gems into your outfit as you go.
While shopping make sure to hit the local stores. There's so many incredible designers based in New Orleans, it would be a shame to stop into the H&M or Urban Outfitters (or even worse the $5 bead shops) when tucked into the neighborhoods you can find gems like Porter Lyons (pictured and where my jewelry is from!), Trashy Diva and Shop Freda up in the Warehouse District.
3. Don't ask for handouts.
Don't ask for stories about Katrina from the girl serving your coffee. Don't ask her which bar she frequents when there's a line of people behind you. And - this one is kind of a joke, but I've actually seen it happen more than once: if you see someone carrying a sack of crawfish, that's their lunch. The only time it would be appropriate to ask for crawfish is if you're invited to a boil... and in that case, there will be a pile of crawfish and you just go all in. You may then, have to ask for help on how to eat the crawfish, and locals are always happy to help in that regard.
My brother and I were having crawfish at the park last week, and as he went to grab a gallon of water (also necessary when you're having crawfish) three super obvious tourist girls asked "can we try a few of those?" pointing to his sack of crawfish. Uhh, no - would you ever approach someone and ask to sample their food in any other city. Of course not.
Truly, I intended this to be fun, and I'm always so thrilled to see new friends (and old ones too) visiting my favorite city ever. I've got another little list coming this week of off the beaten path places to visit for Art & History lovers. Come back for that, and if you're ever in town while I'm there and you haven't yet found your way to the crawfish, let me know and I'll share mine with you anytime.
In the post I'm wearing Eileen Fisher, a made in the USA brand with Sustainable and Organic fabrics committed to supporting clean air, clean water and a healthy environment for workers and wildlife. Shop my look here: