IN BYWATER—one of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhoods, situated just east of the French Quarter—quirkiness quite literally comes with the territory.
It’s artsy, to say the least. A little unpredictable even, and anything but mundane. Artists display their experimental work at galleries like The Front and Good Children Gallery, and it’s not uncommon to stumble upon musicians pounding away at their instruments on the sidewalk. On every block, buildings pop with color like towels on a crowded beach in July. “Every house has a very unique style,” says John Guarnieri, the newly appointed president of the Bywater Neighborhood Association. “People put, like, folk art-type cool things outside their houses.” John’s home isn’t an exception. In his yard, an old hospital sign that blew off the roof of what was once Bywater Hospital trawls for attention. He says he snagged it on eBay for close to $200 and mounted it on his fence.
Although John moved away from New Orleans and came back in 1998, it wasn’t until after 2005 that Bywater experienced a spur in development and an influx of newcomers. “Our neighborhood really had minimal damage [from Katrina],” says John. “It had a little bit of flood, but not much because we’re right along the Mississippi River.” After the deadly hurricane slammed into New Orleans and left billions of dollars of damage in its wake, two things happened. Some people turned on their heels, walked away and never came back. Others—particularly youngsters, John says—flocked to the area, hoping to be a part of the rebuilding process. They bought rundown houses for almost nothing, patched them up and began a new community—one that not only feeds off the area’s old bohemian soul, but is acutely aware of its importance. “We try to maintain that balance, where you want to preserve the properties, because they need to be repaired and fixed up, but you want to keep the essence of the neighborhood intact,” John says. And in looking at Bywater’s slew of attractions—the bars and the restaurants, the old-this-turned-that—it seems to be working.
In The Sweet By And Bywater
Weekend-ing in our new go-to NOLA neighborhood
If You Want a Backstory with Your Barbecue
Everything about The Joint waxes nostalgic—the beadboard walls, the funky color scheme, the memorabilia. This storied ’cue joint was formerly an old neighborhood corner grocery store. “People used to walk in and get, you know, beer, bread, milk and cigarettes and stuff like that,” says John. “A lot of those corner groceries have long been gone, but a lot of people want to preserve them.” Once featured in Guy Fieri’s Food Network program Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, The Joint serves barbecue that can stand up to some fierce competition and emerge victorious. Every time. (701 Mazant St.; alwayssmokin.com)
If You’re Up for Fare That Goes Above and Beyond
The Country Club
Since undergoing renovations, The Country Club has been making expert use of its restaurant space—think: colorful, hand-painted murals by local artist Cindy Mathis and artwork by Louis St. Lewis—and its menu. Chef Chris Barbato, the culinary force behind The Country Club’s kitchen, turns out inspired dishes—from chateaubriand and pan-roasted Louisiana white shrimp to crispy whole fish and chili-spiced flank steak. His dishes riff on flavors borrowed from Italian-French and Creole-Southern cuisines. The excellence extends to the restaurant’s robust wine program, which boasts more than 140 bottles, including its private label wines. Dine indoors or take it outside, poolside. (634 Louisa St.; thecountryclubneworleans.com)
If Your Appetite is Generis-ly Flexible
In Latin, “Sui Generis” translates to “of its own kind,” and when it comes to this storied eatery’s menu, they are, pardon the cliche, in a league of their own. With a menu that changes week-to-week based on the freshest ingredients the chefs can get their hands on, expect to encounter new recipes every weekend you decide to dine there. Case in point: Not too long ago, they served shrimp and octopus skewered on fresh sugarcane—which pulls double duty as a stalk that holds everything together and as something delicious and sweet to chew on—topped with papaya curry and served on a bed of basil-lime-edamame jasmine rice. There is one thing, however, you can count on: Thursdays are for celebrating tacos, which you can pair with Adrienne’s chili margarita—a concoction inspired by the beaches of Tulum—that the restaurant claims has now become a customer favorite. (3219 Burgundy St.; suisgeneris.com)
If You’re Feeling Fishy
Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant
This family-owned eatery has long been the place where both locals and tourists flock to get a taste of batter-fried seafood goodness. “Fried” is the keyword here, because, save for a few dishes, everything on the menu is bathed in golden batter and nothing can be eaten without a loud crunch, crunch. Take this as a warning to come prepared with an empty stomach. Drop in for one of their many seafood platters—shrimp, catfish, frog legs, redfish, oysters, to name a few—and don’t leave without indulging in one of their famous po-boys. (738 Poland Ave.; jackdempseys.net)
If You Feel Like It Could Always Be Wurst
If you find yourself needing a little break from the fried-seafood lunch and dinner repertoire, there’s Bratz Y’all!—a casual, easy-going destination for all meals guilty of gluttony with overflowing beer steins to match. “The guy that runs it is actually from Berlin,” John says. “My wife’s mom is German, so we brought her to see what a real German thinks about it. She gave it a thumbs up.” With a menu of schnitzels, bratwursts and spätzles—and let’s not forget The Drunk Pig, aka pork roasted slowly in dark beer, topped with sauerkraut, onions and mustard—we can totally see why. (617-B Piety St.; bratzyall.com)
If You’re Searching for a Little NYC in NOLA
Not even a stone’s throw away from Bratz Y’all! (the two spots are housed in the same building), this pizza joint has spent the past five or so years making good use of their N.Y.-style, thin-crusted canvas. Take, for example, the stuffed artichoke pizza, which comes out delicately charred, topped with just the right amount of artichoke, fontina, breadcrumbs and red onions. (Pro tip: Go a little further and add sliced cured pork shoulder. Or pull a 180 and order the vegan version, which we hear is good enough to flip a carnivore.) If you’re looking for something a little less complicated, you can’t go wrong with a simple margherita, which comes smeared with bright marinara and evenly distributed melted mozzarella and basil leaves. Delish. (617 Piety St.; pizzadelicious.com)
If You Want to Escape the Real World
Just steps off St. Claude Avenue, behind a tall wooden fence, you’ll find this gem of a wine-bar-slash-restaurant housed in what was once an old tire shop. It’s a no-brainer for a romantic dinner date, as the ambiance works hard to catapult you to a tavern in a small, picturesque French hamlet. “They have a menu that changes almost every week,” says John. “However, they are known for their canned fish products that are imported from France. Not my cup of tea, but what they prepare in the kitchen is always very unique.” Since opening the restaurant’s unassuming doors a few years ago, Aaron Walker and Yuki Yamaguchi, the husband-and-wife duo at its helm, have been serving up dishes that rely heavily on a fusion of Japanese and French cuisines. The menu is also backed by a strong sipping selection of natural wines. Need we say more? (1117 Montegut St.; facebook.com/n7nola/)
If You Feel Like an Afternoon Stroll
This 20-acre urban respite has been open for close to four years now, providing locals with a charming and walkable park that’s not short on history. The Piety Street Bridge arches over the riverfront railroad tracks like a rainbow, and an old industrial wharf boasts breathtaking views of NOLA’s skyline and the gleaming Mississippi River. There are picnic tables, benches and a well-maintained path that meanders all the way to the French Market. “People bike all over the place,” says John. “You can walk around and just soak up the vibe.” (1008 N. Peters St.; crescentparknola.org)
It’s mainly about the food, but it’s not ALL about the food—there’s art, too, especially on St. Claude Avenue:
3718 St. Claude Ave.
This nonprofit creative space’s events—artist talks, exhibitions, pop-ups and the like—are all free and open to the public.
GOOD CHILDREN GALLERY
4037 St. Claude Ave.
For 10 years, this artist collective has been exhibiting boundary-pushing, thought-provoking work by local, national and international creatives.
4100 St. Claude Ave.
A 501c3 nonprofit, this artist-run exhibition space, founded post-Katrina, is committed to showing emerging, experimental artists.