Things to Do GoNOLA Neighborhood Guide to the Warehouse District
Quirky and beautiful details among all the brick buildings, not to mention incredible restaurants and galleries, give the Warehouse District a distinct personality.
The Warehouse District, sometimes called the New Orleans Arts District, is the heart of downtown New Orleans activity. It’s a bustling neighborhood full of art galleries, museums, bars, hotels, and some of the greatest restaurants in the city, all anchored by the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and Riverwalk along the Mississippi River near the foot of Canal Street.
The history of the neighborhood is plainly visible at every turn.
The history of the neighborhood is plainly visible at every turn, as most of the Warehouse District is made up of two- to five-story brick buildings and warehouses. In the 19th century, it started as a hub for the nearby Port of New Orleans, where goods such as produce, coffee, cotton, and grains were received off the Mississippi River, stored, and then transported across North America. The Warehouse District also was home to many heavy industries that supported the port — steel, iron, and copper work; the manufacturing and repair of boat parts; brick manufacturing; paper and fiber making; office and grocery suppliers. It’s sometimes compared to New York City’s SoHo or the Meatpacking District, and with good reason.
The area was somewhat in a decline in the second half of the twentieth century but received a jolt of energy with the opening of the 10,000-square-foot Contemporary Arts Center in 1976. In 1984, the Louisiana World Exposition (The World’s Fair) centered around what is now Convention Center Boulevard and Fulton Street. After the 1984 World’s Fair the area turned quiet again, but lofts and hotels near the Convention Center began sprouting up in renovated warehouses and buildings. Today, it’s never been busier.
Let’s take a tour of some of the neighborhood highlights.
Warehouse District Neighborhood Guide The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery is the perfect place to start our tour. It’s the newest hotel renovation in the neighborhood, and its modern hotel room interiors filled with local art and curated products mix well with the exposed brick of its 19th-century warehouse bones. It’s also home to the buzzed-about restaurant Compere Lapin from Top Chef runner-up Nina Compton and local bartender superstar Abigail Gullo. The design of Compere Lapin emphasizes the rustic warmth of the building’s warehouse roots. It’s a fun dining room to people watch, open to the lobby of the Old No. 77 Hotel. Chef Nina Compton of Compere Lapin hails from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, and its influences are all over her menu, including this first course dish of broiled Louisiana shrimp with Calabrian chili butter. Elegant, strong, and forward-thinking yet classic are all words I’d use to describe the cocktails from Abigail Gullo at Compere Lapin. She previously helmed the bar at SoBou in the French Quarter, and her new playground in the Warehouse District is firing on all cylinders with her ever-changing, whimsical bar menu. Full disclosure: she’s a personal friend. We had a fun movie night recently in a gorgeous hotel room at the Old No. 77 watching old movies on TCM. The hotel is dog friendly, too, so we brought along her best little friend, Ronnie, for the night. One block down from The Old No. 77 is W.I.N.O., the Wine Institute of New Orleans, a walk-in friendly wine shop that sells tastes and full glasses of vino from around the world via vending machines and pre-purchased cards. They also have small bites available, making it the perfect spot for wine lovers. Harrah’s Casino and Hotel revitalized Fulton Street, which is just a block from W.I.N.O. and the Old No. 77. It’s now a pedestrian thoroughfare with restaurants and bars, and a bowling alley on the several block long strip. A life of leisure. I love all the outdoor seating along the Fulton Street eateries! It’s very European. At the corner of Lafayette Street and Fulton is Grand Isle, a mostly seafood restaurant specializing in raw bar oysters and boiled shrimp, fried seafood po-boys, and other classic New Orleans dishes, all in an elegant dining room with that great outdoor seating along Fulton. There’s art everywhere you look! This mural from renowned New Orleans painter Michalopoulos is just one of many murals throughout the neighborhood. Look for the vintage Little Debbie ad near this mural! Old meets new in this renovated residence in the Warehouse District. Look for lots of quirky and beautiful details among all the brick buildings, giving the area a distinct personality. Revelator Coffee is one of the newest additions to the Warehouse District, just half a block from the famous Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar. Revelator is a great spot to get connected to the outside world if you need to do some work, and get some third-wave fuel with draft coffee and fancy espresso beverages. Next door to Revelator is the St. James Cheese Company, the downtown outpost of the popular cheese shop. They make incredible sandwiches and salads and have knowledgeable cheesemongers on staff to help you pick cheese or charcuterie from their retail area, too. Grab and go for a picnic in nearby Woldenberg Park along the Mississippi River or the nearby Piazza d’Italia. Modern architecture lovers take note: this postmodern gem, the Piazza d’Italia, sits just behind the Loews Hotel at Lafayette and Tchoupitoulas streets. Designed by renowned architect Charles Moore and local firm Perez Architects, it’s easy to miss, but lovely to behold. It’s got cascading fountains, neon lights, and lots of classical architectural details mixed with modern touches that exude the height of postmodernism. Emeril’s flagship restaurant in the Warehouse District has been wowing locals and tourists alike with gracious fine dining hospitality and pioneering modern New Orleans cuisine for more than 25 years at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Julia Street. Chef Emeril opened his newest restaurant, Meril, around the corner on Girod and Magazine Streets from his flagship restaurant Emeril in late 2016. Meril’s menu focuses on casual, share-able plates of small format dishes meant to be shared. With an emphasis on flatbreads and robata-grilled meats and seafood, it embraces the casual dining wave that has hit New Orleans and other cities in the new millennium, all in a gorgeous renovated warehouse space. Historic brick buildings and old signs are everywhere. The entrance to the Louisiana Children’s Museum on Julia Street has fun-house mirrors and an exit built especially for the little ones. Inside is a wonderland of activities and hands-on exhibits for kids. When I was a kid, this was one of my most cherished and favorite places to visit. Julia Street is also known as Gallery Row, with a hub of independent art galleries. Most are open during the day to stroll and purchase art, and collectively they throw coordinated gallery openings the first Saturday night of every month, with several huge opening weekends throughout the year where the party spills out onto the streets of the Warehouse District: Art for Arts’ Sake in October and White Linen Night in August. I’m obsessed with this bronze mobile at Le Mieux Gallery on Julia Street entitled ‘4 Cups=1 Quart’ by artist Christopher Saucedo. I think it has something to do with my love for the coffee culture of New Orleans. An exhibition installation in progress through the window at the Arthur Roger Gallery on Julia Street. The block of Julia Street between Camp Street and St. Charles Avenue is one of the cutest, with matching row houses full of galleries and retail and restaurants. The corner of Magazine Street and Julia Street has some of my favorite brick architecture in the neighborhood. The critically lauded Chef Donald Link added another feather to his cap with the opening of Peche Seafood Grill in the Warehouse District in 2014. It won the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best New Restaurant in 2014 along with Best Chef: South for Link’s partner, Chef Ryan Prewitt. A mixed seafood platter from Peche. Other recommendations are to listen to your server about what’s fresh that day, as there are ever-changing whole fish specials, grilled in their wood oven. It’s advisable to get reservations, as Peche is still a hot ticket. There’s still some active industrial manufacturing happening in the Warehouse District. At the corner of Camp and Girod Streets is one of my favorite buildings in all of New Orleans. It’s the home of Pulp & Grind, a terrific juice and smoothie shop. This grouping of townhouses along Camp Street across from St. Patrick’s Church takes us back to the old Faubourg Ste. Marie, one of the original New Orleans suburbs, now a part of downtown New Orleans. This group of buildings is frequently seen in films and television shows, often times masquerading for New York City. The original anchor for the new Warehouse District as we now know it is the Contemporary Arts Center on Camp Street. It’s a complex with several floors of flexible gallery space, theaters, and education facilities, and a book store for the art lover. It’s one of my favorite spaces in all of New Orleans, thanks to the modern spiral ramp that leads to the upstairs galleries. Look for intriguing modern visual and performing arts programming year round here. Dan Tague’s “Crisis Car” from the Prospect 2 exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center. (Photo by Mandy Thomas) This kinetic sculpture by New Orleans artist Lin Emery is on the rooftop at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art on Camp Street, across the street from the Contemporary Arts Center and National WWII Museum. The Ogden has a large permanent collection of Southern art throughout history, with constantly rotating special exhibitions, and events. This is one of my favorite pieces in the museum, entitled “The Parade” from artist John McCrady, painted in 1950. The Ogden hosts a weekly happy hour soiree called Ogden After Hours, with live music and interviews by Southern musicians in the atrium with a cash bar. It’s a different way to explore the museum, all while taking in the sounds of the South. Inside a gallery from the permanent collection at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The collection is constantly rotating among the five floors of galleries inside the museum. A time-honored tradition finds the ubiquitous used “O” admission stickers on the outside poles surrounding the Ogden Museum. Seen in the background is a large mural commissioned by the Ogden featuring the work of Top Mob, a collective of artists whose work was recently featured in a large retrospective exhibition at the museum. An absolute do-not-miss attraction when visiting New Orleans is the National WWII Museum. It’s one of the most popular museums in the country, and with good reason. Its sprawling campus spans several city blocks, and it’s currently in the middle of another large expansion. The newest exhibit at the National WWII Museum is The Road to Tokyo, focusing on the war in the Pacific theater. The permanent exhibit features interactive displays with memorabilia, personal stories by those who lived and fought through the war, and a sensory-encompassing museum experience. Again, don’t overlook this magnificent museum when exploring the Warehouse District. You don’t have to be a history buff to be moved by all the history in this place. The mural outside of the Howlin’ Wolf music club on S. Peters Street. On Sunday nights, the famous Hot 8 Brass Band takes over the Den at the Howlin’ Wolf for their weekly residency. Banh Mi, anyone? The Vietnamese style po-boy is from Poeyfarre Market, a modern convenience store near the Ogden and National WWII Museums. They sell an assortment of grab and go sandwiches, pastries, salads and dips, plus sell all sorts of pantry staples from Louisiana, and a selection of beer and wine, as well as a full service coffee counter. There’s a nice place to sit and eat out front on the patio, too! The Rusty Nail sits almost under the bridge (the Crescent City Connection and Greater New Orleans bridges). Its outdoor courtyard is a great spot to enjoy a beer and food from a nearby food truck parked outside. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber) My favorite neon sign in New Orleans is at the Rusty Nail. Video Crack is a synonym for video poker machines. At least it’s honest, right?! Part bar, part video arcade, Barcadia is a popular group hangout spot on Tchoupitoulas Street. After a few rounds, let’s see who can repeat the name ‘Tchoupitoulas’ the fastest while racking up high scores on an old school arcade game…. Chef Donald Link has two sister restaurants that sit side by side in the Warehouse District. Cochon is fine dining new Cajun cuisine, and around the corner is Cochon Butcher, which makes some of the most addictive sandwiches on Planet Earth. Try the Pig Mac and the Muffuletta (served hot as standard, but you can get it cold, too — just ask!). Link’s Cajun roots from Lafayette are on display with his delicious boudin plate. They also sell boudin and other Cajun charcuterie to order at the butcher counter. The dining room at Cochon Butcher opens up to indoor/outdoor when the weather is nice, which is often! Cochon Butcher makes some of the finest sandwiches on the planet and is routinely a must-visit place I take friends who visit from out of town. I’m going to end our tour with a little humor…the Link Restaurant Group’s company car…The Pig Slayer! Spotted in the Warehouse District….
All photos by Paul Broussard unless otherwise noted.