When TripAdvisor recently recognized New Orleans as the #1 destination in the world for nightlife we were ecstatic – not totally surprised, but thrilled at the thought of potential visitors coming to experience what we’ve known for years: New Orleans has no equal when it comes to enjoying the night.
Sure Bourbon Street’s got the rollicking, raucous, never-ending party of live blues, r&b and rock bands, pulsating dance clubs glowing with blacklights and machine-generated fog, neon-soaked party pars and daiquiri joints with row after row of swirling, icy mixtures every color under the rainbow, and a bevy of adult entertainment options.
And there are countless choices for live music any given night of the week uptown at legendary clubs like the Maple Leaf and Tipitina’s, in the Arts warehouse district at hipster hangouts like the Republic and Howlin’ Wolf, and throughout the French Quarter, from Donna’s on Rampart to the House of Blues on Decatur Street.
Harrah’s has the gaming angle covered with a gorgeous casino at the foot of Canal Street that also features live entertainment and the upscale club Masquerade.
And a new crop of über-cool bars serving high-quality, hand-crafted cocktails with the freshest ingredients has sprung up all over town recently – each offering its own twist on classic drinks along with original, often-experimental concoctions.
But walk a block over from the end of the French Quarter, across Esplanade into the Marigny, and you’ll find an entirely different nightlife awaits you on Frenchmen Street. Clubs and restaurants line the street, each with its own special draw. But the vibe here feels funkier, friendlier, and in some parts like you’re stepping back in time.
Outside, in the street, there’s a whole other thing going down – from impromptu street bands playing banjos, fiddles and makeshift instruments to street vendors selling everything from handmade jewelry to empanadas.
You can even buy your own poem, written for you on the spot by a bard with a small table and typewriter. Last night there were actually TWO poets offering this service – right across the street from each other.
Poetry on request isn’t always the first thing you think of when someone says “nightlife”, but it’s a wonderful find that adds to the whole vibe of funky Frenchmen Street nonetheless.
Seriously, where else can you find 2 poets honing their craft on the same street block, earning a living and bringing some art into the world for passers-by with a few dollars to spare?
Music is everywhere, spilling out onto the streets from clubs like the Apple Barrel and the Spotted Cat on one side
and mainstays like d.b.a., the Blue Nile and the jazz mecca Snug Harbor on the other. On a typical weekend you’ll find Jazz Patriarch Ellis Marsalis holding court with his trio at Snug, and local celebrities like John Boutte, Ingrid Lucia, the New Orleans Cotton Mouth Kings and Kermit Ruffins at the other spots.
If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, you can enjoy most performances from the street until you’re ready to go inside. OR you can stroll a bit until you actually walk right into a performance, as I did on a recent Friday evening.
Tucked into the doorway of Cafe Rose Nicaud, which had closed for the night, was an eclectic horn, guitar and washboard sextet called Tuba Skinny (I’m assuming this was the band’s tip of the hat to the late, great Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, a beloved fixture on the local brass band scene and a regular in Jackson Square for years. In fact, just last week we officially christened the Tuesday after Jazzfest as “Tuba Fats Tuesday” here).
A small crowd gathered around them as the band transported us back about 70 or 80 years:
Across the street a few steps away, a violin soloist entertained empanada customers with classical music.
With so many options and an incredible welcoming spirit, chances are you’ll find something to love on Frenchmen Street, and one more reason to love New Orleans.