It seems so long ago now, but there was a time in recent history when the Bywater, that sliver of New Orleans' Ninth Ward just east of the Faubourg Marigny, was considered an up-and-comer, a place you went to get a feel for the real New Orleans.
Today, with its multi-million dollar infrastructure projects (if you haven't seen Crescent Park yet, go), cool shops like Euclid Records (one of the South's best for vinyl) and restaurants serving kale salads, the Bywater pretty much feels like a new kind of Uptown – Uptown for the young, creative set. If only, the new arrivals would whisper amongst themselves, something could be done about St. Claude Avenue.
Shared in part with the Marigny and marking rather explicitly the divide between these increasingly gentrified areas and a New Orleans on which most visitors politely pass, St. Claude Avenue for years was a collection of auto body shops, corner stores, homes in poor repair, edgy dives like the Saturn and the Hi-Ho and a less than gentle reminder to the casual explorer to turn around and go back to where they'd come from.
In the time following the storm, driving up and down the avenue always felt a lot like a March stroll through a New England garden, an occasional sign of spring peeking up from the slowly-thawing ground. Here was an art gallery that never seemed to be open, there a grimy coffee shop, the sort that seemed to mostly function as a clubhouse for young people with no work to do.
These days, St. Claude still looks like St. Claude, but the energy has changed rather dramatically. Walking down its mostly-empty sidewalks, your companion the traffic rushing to and from the Lower Ninth and St. Bernard Parish beyond, it feels as if St. Claude is on the brink of something. Like this could be the next big thing.
The tipping point had to have been the inspired renovation of the historic St. Roch Market, a handsome, all-weather shed now re-imagined as an absurdly pretty food hall. It's the least St. Claude thing on St. Claude, which has brought the gawkers out for a look and a dozen oysters, a cocktail or three. Operating with the intent of incubating smaller businesses, the market seems to be struggling to find its place in the neighborhood, but most visitors will barely notice. It's just one of many reasons to add the avenue to your next New Orleans itinerary – here are a few essential stops that represent the best of new St. Claude.
Cancel the day trip to Acadiana – some of Louisiana's tastiest boudin, the one-of-a-kind, well-seasoned pork and rice treat squeezed out of sausage casings and into your happy little mouth – can be had here at a very reasonable price. Everything served up at this smoky butcher shop and café across from the St. Roch Market comes from the mind of proprietor Kris Doll, an old charcuterie hand who has recently struck out on his own. For those who live to eat meat, this is one of the best lunch stops in town right now. (2352 St. Claude Ave.)
Where is New Orleans hiding some of its best baristas? Why, underneath the porch of a creaky old home near the notorious Industrial Canal, of course. Tucked behind a thicket of tropical greenery just steps off St. Claude, the crew here pulls terrific shots using a variety of top national roasters including Miami's exemplary Panther Coffee. Humble it may be in appearance, but the atmosphere, the casual but competent service and most of all, the coffee, make this cozy hideout so much more memorable than the lion's share of the city's new-wave café klatch. (1301 Poland Ave.)
This serious shop specializes in small producers from around the world, but it's also a terrific hangout for local oenophiles. An array of attractively-priced bottles and a $2 corkage fee – not to mention a selection of fromages from local expert St. James Cheese Co. and fresh bread from Bellegarde, one of the best bakeries the city has seen in years – make this a great place to kick off (or end) an evening on the town. Can't commit? Free wine tastings are held Wednesday evenings. (2805 St. Claude Ave.)
Crawfish rangoons, short rib yakamein, General Lee's chicken – this isn't your typical Chinese (or Chinese-American) food, and that's the point. With more than a nod towards the nationally renowned Mission Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and New York, (yes, you'll find Kung Pao Pastrami on the menu), this irreverent and pleasantly affordable spot has quickly become a neighborhood favorite. (3048 St. Claude Ave.)
Here's a look at our current fares to New Orleans MSY from all over the US and Canada.