It used to be that the peak of activity in New Orleans’ Central Business District/Poydras Street corridor occurred during the day, when a flurry of office workers embarked on their lunch break dashes. The neighborhood would quiet down significantly at night, unless there was a Saints game at the nearby Superdome. But in the last few years, the part of town anchored by the area between Poydras and Canal Streets has seen an explosion of hip restaurants, bars and other attractions, and there’s more to come: the South Market District is underway, which will bring in shops, restaurants, and condominiums. There’s now plenty of things to see and do in this neighborhood at all times of the day and night, not just during the workweek lunch rush.
During the Day
There are a few options for a great cup of coffee in this part of town. For a no-frills but quality cup of coffee that’s garnered a cult following among CBD workers, visit Dee’s Coffee on Baronne Street. The iced coffee is especially good here. Or, you can go to the slightly more upscale Merchant, in the first floor of the Maritime Building on Common Street, whose reclaimed pine flooring and tables contrast with a sleek espresso bar and delicate hanging light fixtures. Here you can find coffee drinks, breakfast sandwiches and crepes (stick around for lunch for sandwiches, salads and soup). Next to Merchant, you can visit the showroom for Krewe du Optic, a line of sunglasses designed in New Orleans that has the hip quotient of Ray Ban or Warby Parker.
While this neighborhood has grown beyond its identity as a power lunch haven, lunch is regardless a big thing around here. Especially now that the culinary production company My House NOLA hosts food truck gatherings on Common Street on the corner of Carondelet, in front of the Entergy Center, every first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit the My House website for the truck lineup.
A popular brick-and-mortar lunch spot in the neighborhood is City Greens, a New Orleans-based salad eatery in the style of those assembly-line chains that have become hip in other cities. The City Greens staff – wont to tossing around puns like “lettuce serve you” – make a lot of the salad ingredients, including dressings and cheeses, in-house, and they even own a hydroponic farm to grow their greens. The menu includes daily salad, wrap and soup specials; regular menu items; or a build-your-own option. This place does get inundated with nearby workers during the workweek, so come before or after lunch time or be prepared to wait in line.
New Orleans is fast becoming known for its public art, and Poydras Street hosts some of the city’s newest additions. The Poydras Corridor Sculpture Project presented by The Helis Foundation is responsible for the sculptures all along Poydras Street, including the hot pink rabbit by sculpture duo Grendel’s Mother that’s in front of the Superdome (pictured above). Also nearby on Lafayette Street is the Piazza d’Italia, a postmodern oddity with roots in the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. The adjacent American Italian Cultural Center often hosts wine tastings, concerts and other events in the piazza.
Find art indoors at Parse Gallery, a contemporary gallery and “artist situation” outside the New Orleans Art District of Julia Street – both physically and curatorially. The curators for this experimental space are artist Ricardo Barba and Amy Mackie, former Director of Visual Arts at the Contemporary Arts Center.
A neighborhood with such a high concentration of offices should certainly know how to do happy hour well, and it does. Housed in a former brothel, Cellar Door on Lafayette Street is a high-ceilinged beauty with a courtyard, and it has a great happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday with half-off drinks and bar snacks (including popcorn, a sophisticated poutine and lamb “lollipops”).
For a more laid-back bar, find Handsome Willy’s in the shadow of the nearby Tulane University Hospital. It’s a favorite among the medical professionals who work at the hospital because of daily happy hours – Friday’s happy hour features free food.
Here’s where you can see how the CBD is becoming a nightlife destination. Start your night at Johnny Sanchez, an Aaron Sanchez restaurant that serves modern Mexican food, including a play on the Chaco Taco for dessert. In a few months of being open it’s already getting rave reviews. Then go next door to the Civic Theatre, a modern ballroom that hosts national touring bands – ones who are too big for a nightclub, but too cool for an arena – and stand-up comedy.
After a night of live music you might be jonesing for some late-night sustenance. Ostensibly not a foodie destination – it’s housed inside of a convenience store — on the corner of Common Street and University Place has seriously good falafel, hummus and other standards and is open 24 hours.
You can get to the CBD/Poydras Street corridor via the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, which ends at Carondelet at Canal Street; via the Canal Street line; or via the Loyola Avenue/UPT line. Otherwise, the neighborhood is very walkable or easily accessible via a short cab ride.