A few blocks from the honky-tonk of Bourbon Street, just up from where the Mississippi bends into its famous crescent, there’s another New Orleans to discover. Bordering the French Quarter to the north is Faubourg Marigny, an original Creole neighborhood named for 19th century aristocrat and good-time-guy Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville.
In 1800, when his father died, Marigny became the richest 15-year-old in America, inheriting a vast fortune and the plantation that once defined the neighborhood.
In typical Big Easy style, Marigny lost the family homestead to gambling (he’s credited with creating the game of craps), but his loss was the city’s gain. The Marigny over the past decade has become the go-to spot for locals for dining, nightlife and music.
At the heart of the Marigny is Frenchmen Street, which offers five blocks of cafes, music clubs and restaurants that on weekend nights spill over with revelers. The live soundtrack spans reggae, blues and salsa, while the restaurants serve up an equally spicy mix of everything from sushi to Turkish kebabs, to Southwestern to Indian curry.
Here are some of my favorite spots for a memorable evening out. For Creole and Louisiana seafood dishes, I like The Marigny Brasserie, the bustling setting for chef Irving Karas’ seasonally inspired fare. When I want a break from Creole cuisine, I head over to Wasabi, with its Zen aesthetic and great neighborhood vibe. Sushi, specialty rolls, udon, teriyaki –– it’s all here, and it’s all good.
To satisfy my soul food cravings, I like to pay a call on the Praline Connection, where local comfort foods like gumbo, fried pickles and fried chicken will certainly fill your belly. Don’t leave without a box of homemade pralines, a great gift and half the price of what you’ll find at the airport.
As in the Quarter, music choices abound in the Marigny. It’s easy to club hop along Frenchmen’s 600 block; start at d.b.a., which offers more than 160 beers on its list and features local acts like Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Theresa Andersson and Cyril Neville, part of NOLA’s famous musical family.
In the same block are the Spotted Cat Music Club, a tiny club that delivers more great local music, from brassy jazz combos to acoustic strummers, and the classic Snug Harbor, where on Friday nights Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of the Marsalis clan, holds court upstairs.
There’s also a cultural must-see on the neighborhood’s border with the Quarter: The Louisiana State Museum Jazz Collection at the Old U.S. Mint offers a trove of sacred musical objects, like Louis Armstrong’s cornet, Sidney Bechet’s soprano sax and Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet with its famous “bent” bell. The collection also includes some 10,000 photographs of traditional and Dixieland performers like Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington, as well as original recordings, performance clips and posters and other artwork.
The next time you’re in New Orleans, leave Bourbon Street behind and discover what locals already know: The Marigny may be The Big Easy’s best-kept secret.