There’s new fall color on North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue: bright red streetcars. Construction on the new 1.6-mile North Rampart-St. Claude line just wrapped up, and the result is doing more than taking locals to work – it’s taking visitors outside the French Quarter and into some of the city’s most culturally rich neighborhoods.
Before the launching of the new line, a streetcar hadn’t rattled down these historic thoroughfares since 1949, when streetcars were replaced by buses. Now, you can experience art, food and music all the way down North Rampart before continuing on St. Claude Street to Elysian Fields Avenue. For $3, you can buy a Jazzy Pass, which gives you on and off privileges so you can explore at your own pace.
Riding the Rampart-St. Claude Streetcar
North Rampart Street: Welcome to the Treme
If you board on Canal Street, as soon as you turn onto North Rampart, watch for the iconic arch on the left. This is the entrance to Armstrong Park, named after world-renowned jazzman and New Orleans native son Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. The park is home to legendary Congo Square where, before the Civil War, slaves, and free people of color were allowed to gather on Sundays to play drums, dance and practice voodoo. They say the beginnings of jazz can be traced back to Congo Square.
These days, Armstrong Park is filled with sculptures, duck ponds and lots of wide open spaces. The park also houses the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, named for the undisputed “Queen of Gospel,” another local legend. It was Mahalia who urged Martin Luther King, Jr. to give his historic speech during the March on Washington in 1963. He was just about to wrap up his prepared remarks when Jackson called out to her friend, “Tell them about your dream, Martin. Tell them about your dream.” The world has been trying to live up to that dream ever since.
You can view the park from the streetcar or from a seat at the Black Penny at 700 N. Rampart Street. Inside, the stone arches, dark wood trim, and old, reclaimed wood make you feel like you’re standing inside a castle instead of a neighborhood bar. This is the perfect place to hoist a cold can of beer and meet locals.
Further up the street is hallowed ground – 840 N. Rampart – the former location of Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studio, one of only 11 sites in the country to be designated a Rock and Roll Landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jazz may have been born at Congo Square but, according to Rock Hall of Fame president Terry Stewart, when rock ‘n roll was in its infancy, “the baby got rocked right here in this building.” Matassa produced a number of storied acts, including Fats Domino, Little Richard, Dave Bartholomew, Ray Charles, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, Professor Longhair, Earl Palmer, Dr. John, James Booker, and many others.
But New Orleans is known equally for its food as its music, and fortunately just a couple of blocks past J&M is Meauxbar at 942 North Rampart. Indulge in “reimagined comfort food” like a French onion grilled cheese, goat cheese tarts, and bone marrow escargots.
St. Claude Avenue: The Marigny, Bywater, and St. Roch Districts
The second leg of your adventure begins as the streetcar turns onto St. Claude Avenue. First up? Siberia. Voted the number one live music club in New Orleans in 2015 (a serious distinction), Siberia at 2227 St. Claude has a different show every night of the week. If you can drag your eyes away from the stuffed deer and turkeys that hang over the bar, you’ll enjoy touring indie, punk, and heavy metal bands and late-night bounce parties with Big Feedia and Katy Red as well as comedy and burlesque acts. Guess there are worse things than being sent to Siberia.
Want to watch an artist covered in bubble wrap that’s been injected with paint step into a boxing ring lined with canvas to box with another artist – all to create an original work of art from the paint splatters? Art boxing is just the kind of thing you might see at The Art Garage, at 2231 St. Claude. Housed in an old, 4,500-square-foot auto body warehouse and open Thursday through Monday nights, the Art Garage is so much more than an arts market. Come get inspired by movie nights, DJs, interactive murals, and more.
That music you hear pouring out onto 2239 St. Claude is coming from the Hi Ho Lounge, a neighborhood bar that prides itself on being at the forefront of the underground alternative music and arts scenes. Come see local acts like Sharmarr Allen, the Stooges Brass Band, and DJ Soul Sister. You can also catch comedy, improv, and burlesque shows here. There’s a live show every night of the week and come hungry. The restaurant pop ups here are to die for.
And St. Roch Market at 2381 St. Claude is to food courts what gumbo is to soup – way better. Walk just a few short blocks along St. Claude Avenue from the line’s stop at Elysian Fields to try out this “Southern Food Hall.” Go with a group, scatter, and then each come back with something different. “Gotta tries” include the creamy Trash Grits from Fete Au Fete, the Sloppy Pork Sandwich on brioche from Fritai, a half dozen Charbroiled Oysters from the Elysian Oyster Bar and a Mississippi Mud Tart from Bittersweet Confections. And The Mayhaw Bar serves craft cocktails. Whatever you desire, you’ll find it on this streetcar line.