Please help these hipster snobs cool it up in New Orleans!
January 6, 2014 1:20 PM   Subscribe

30-ish scenester types seeking curated, non-comformist travel recommendations for the Crescent City.

Okay, okay. We're not really hipster snobs. But we are highly intelligent, culturally fluent, discriminating, enthusiastic, 30-ish, Northern city folk who are traveling to New Orleans this weekend for THE FIRST TIME EVER. And we would like to have our minds blown. Very exciting.

Normally, I would start with the local alt weekly, sniff out the standard "Best Of" round up, but I wasn't able to find any such listings on the Gambit's website. So I turn to you, cool kids of AskMe, for advice.

What are we looking for? Secret wine parties. Pop-up restaurants. Unmarked dive bars. Punk clubs. Speakeasies. Cabinets of curiosity. Psychics. Cabarets. Art galleries. Raves. That sort of thing.

I've found some tantalizing recommendations online, but I can't tell if a lot of them are up-to-date/played out. Here's our list so far:

- Sentiments Wine and Cheese Dive: a French-y, pop-up bistro upstairs from the Feelings Cafe
- Killer PoBoys: an unmarked Po' Boy eatery in the back of Erin Rose Bar
- Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who apparently plays Vaughan's Lounge
- Igor's Lounge and Game Room, which sounds like a dive bar in a laundromat
- the OCH Art Market

Oh, and we heard the Nine Inch Nails house, where Trent Reznor recorded the Downward Spiral is still standing. It'd be cool to check that out, too.

So, tl;dr: Looking for hipster-ish stuff to do in NOLA. Bonus points for the spooky/gothy.

posted by sureshot to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (38 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: Wow, that's a real bummer. But thanks so much for the tip. Again, so many of the blog posts I come across are many months old.
posted by sureshot at 1:29 PM on January 6, 2014

Half of the stuff you want doesn't exist in New Orleans or is so derivative of similar scenes in other cities that it's not really worth seeking out. (Pop up restaurants, unmarked bars)

The other half of the stuff you want is ubiquitous: you will not need specific recommendations for psychics, "cabinets of curiosity", or art.

There's really no such thing as "played out" in New Orleans. It's a city built on a sense of history and shared culture. Things stay open a long time. This is starting to change in the face of waves of new young arrivals, but it's not like New York or Portland where X restaurant or Y bar is "like, so OVER, man..." Things just exist or don't exist.

Igor's is a great example. There will probably be a day when Igor's isn't around anymore. There will never be a day when Igor's is still around but "passe". Kermit Ruffins at Vaughan's is another example. It was awesome, and then it was no more. There was no point at which people stopped wanting to check that out because it was no longer the new hotness.

Just go and wander and see what you see. Stay off Bourbon Street and away from Jackson Square, though honestly there is plenty of interesting stuff in both of those places if this is your first time in New Orleans. If you hear about something that sounds interesting, check it out.

The best thing about New Orleans, in my opinion, is that it's pretty resistant to the kind of framework you want to approach it with. There is no "hip" or "lame", no "played out", no "discriminating", whatever. Just stay out of Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company and you're fine.
posted by Sara C. at 1:37 PM on January 6, 2014 [25 favorites]

Also, Parasol's is my pick for po'boys. It will probably be right up your alley, too, as the po'boy shop is in the back room of a charming little dive bar.
posted by Sara C. at 1:37 PM on January 6, 2014

The Whelk, unfortunately the music box is in a transitional phase. They're on the verge of making some modular, more portable shacks, but that hasn't happened yet.

Parasol's was bought by out-of-towners, and the original owners (with their recipes) just moved to Traci's up the block, so word in the neighborhood is that Traci's is actually a better bet these days.

The Hi-Ho Lounge is a good place to check out. Stooges brass band and Hurray for the Riff Raff are some of my favorite bands around these days. Also, if you can catch Quintron and Miss Pussycat, do that.

I understand what you're saying about the different "framework" of New Orleans, Sara C., but I think the idea that there is no hip/lame, played out, or discriminating is an overstatement, especially in the face of shifts like the Bywater.
posted by umbú at 1:48 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I like this idea of New Orleans resisting a framework of hip—which is indeed the dominant paradigm in a lot of places I visit. And, true enough, many people have reiterated that New Orleans "is it's own thing." Still, I don't want to show up with zero game plan.

So....color me curious.
posted by sureshot at 1:52 PM on January 6, 2014

Parasol's was bought by out-of-towners, and the original owners (with their recipes) just moved to Traci's up the block,

I just had a delicious roast beef po'boy at Parasol's a week ago. We had previously stopped in at Traci's but their kitchen was closed at 7:30 on a Sunday evening for no apparent reason. The Parasol's po'boy was everything I could have hoped for, and IMO the space itself is nicer and more unique.
posted by Sara C. at 1:56 PM on January 6, 2014

Also, you don't really need a "game plan" for New Orleans. It's a very small city, and there is a TON of amazing stuff to see. None of the interesting stuff is really hidden away.

I will say that, if you're staying at a big chain hotel in the CBD or in the thick of the French Quarter tourist nonsense, you might need to look a little further to step away from the immediate Disneyness of everything.

But by "look further" I mean, like, walk on Chartres instead of Decatur. Go to the Garden District or the Marigny. But it sounds like you already know about that stuff. You're going to have a great trip. Just explore and enjoy yourself and don't worry so much.
posted by Sara C. at 2:02 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

IANAH(ipster), but isn't the thing about hipster attractions that they're by definition not, at least at first, the places the other cool kids tell you to go? I went to NO for the first time last year, and though I'm in no way, shape or form any authority on the place, I will say one thing. When you're getting yourself from one touristy area to another (e.g. I drove from the French Quarter to the Garden District to City Park), there are places in between where you can tell tourists don't really hang out, and people just live. Some of them looked really interesting to me and others looked pretty bleak/boring, which can also be interesting in a different way of course. If I went back there in search of non-conformist travel I would wander around those neighborhoods. The city is not that large and it seemed this would be easy to do. It wouldn't be curated, but I guess I see curated and non-conformist as not entirely agreeing with one another.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:11 PM on January 6, 2014

The Circle Bar and The Saint are good bars.
posted by rhizome at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's been years but:

- Jacques-Imos was great good, wacky scene
- Got smashed and listened to fun music at Maple Leaf Bar next door
- great food at Brightsen's (classic creole cuisine)
- classic Nola diner food at Camillia Grill (these four things were all at the Carrolton end of the streetcar line from CBD / French Quarter, we were staying in the FQ and found taking the streetcar across town a nice decompression getting away from the tourist scene)
- Mid-City Lanes Rock and Bowl (a friend who lives in NO used to always recommend this to me but I have never made it there myself)
- for spooky gothy whatever you might check out one of the many voodoo shops though the one I went in (Marie Laveau I think) in the FQ made me nervous despite my generally skeptical / empirical self

As others have pointed out, stay away from the fratboy hell of Bourbon St and any franchise property (Emeril, Hard Rock, etc.) - it sounds like you already know to do this - and you'll generally be in good shape.
posted by aught at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2014

It's been a long time, but I ate at the original Emeril's ~15 years ago and it was definitely not a franchise and actually a very good meal. I wouldn't recommend that tourists seek it out in particular, but it's worth noting that none of Emeril's New Orleans restaurants are "touristy franchises" in the way that something like Hard Rock Cafe is. Emeril started his career in New Orleans and was incredibly well respected locally long before he was a celebrity chef. A lot of my mom's standby recipes are from his cookbooks.

That said, if you want to experience something a little more like what Emeril's was like before the "bam" era, check out any of John Besh's restaurants. People ooh and aah over him now the same way they did over Emeril 15-20 years ago.
posted by Sara C. at 2:45 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Look into the bars and galleries on St. Claude between Elysian Fields and Franklin. Kajuns, Saturn Bar, Siberia, the AllWays, and the HiHo are the bars that sound like what you're looking for. That wine and cheese place over Feelings closed too, it's a vegan place now.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:48 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh also St. Roch Tavern, Markeys, BJs, Bud Rips...there are just tons of neighborhood places to explore if you're into that. In the Quarter check out Decatur Street between about St. Philip and Esplanade, known as Lower Decatur.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:55 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's great to have a game plan, but New Orleans really is a city to simply explore and see what pops up (and something usually does). We usually have a restaurant or two we want to visit, but other than that pretty go where the wind blows us.

And I'll say what I always do in these threads, I can't imagine not at least taking a stroll through the French Quarter if you've never been. Just realize New Orleans is much more than the French Quarter, and the French Quarter is much more than Bourbon Street (the further you get to the outskirts of the French Quarter, the more careful you need to be). So yeah, Bourbon Street is mostly a collection of tshirt/sex shops along with overpriced bars. But the further you get away from Bourbon the more interesting the neighborhood becomes.

Also, I live a couple of hours outside of New Orleans, and I've been visiting often since the 80s, and more change has come to the city the past 5 years than the previous 25. So while it's great to get info from long time residents, if they're not keeping up with the changes their info is not going to be as useful or as accurate as it would have been 10 years ago. Old time establishments have closed, new ones have opened. Cool coffee shops are opening left and right, and new restaurants are also popping up.

I would also keep your ears open while visiting. Last minute concerts, get-togethers, and events do happen. New Orleans bartenders are great sources of info for the latest happenings. As already said, New Orleans is more of a big town than big city (especially once you know your way around). You can normally get anywhere quickly, and even cabs are a cheap way to get from point A to point B.

Killer PoBoys: an unmarked Po' Boy eatery in the back of Erin Rose Bar

Perfect example. Right off Bourbon street in the French Quarter. And it is, indeed, well hidden. We went looking for Killer PoBoys our last trip and, without the 'hidden' info we needed, walked by by that bar 15 times looking for a sign. There is not one. By the time we finally realized it was INSIDE the bar, something else got our attention, so I can't tell you how good the PoBoys are (we're partial to Parkway).

One suggestion, if you're into craft beer, don't miss The Avenue Pub. We're also fans of August, a Besh restaurant. Though if you want more experimental food, there are better options.
posted by justgary at 3:04 PM on January 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

FYI- if you want to see Kermit, check out his Facebook page. He's playing out All The Freaking Time.
posted by youcancallmeal at 3:27 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Exactly what Sarah C. said. I'll add some specific favorites:
- Rock 'n Bowl, YES.
- Zot'z cafe is your best hipster choice for coffee. It's very ill-lit and open late, and buried far away from things (though I liked their location circa 2003 better. And wow, that itself was a very hipster thing to say). Also, Neutral Ground is a cute little folk-ey (and folk music-ey) neighborhood place in the garden district.
- While you're chain-smoking by Zotz, and this is a classic tourist thing but go anyway, it's the only good classic tourist thing, hit Rebirth at the Maple Leaf.
- Pretty much nothing in the french quarter is worth doing except a couple of fancy restaurants and verti marte poboys.
- My favorite red beans and rice is the blue plate special at Betsy's, up Canal in mid-city.
posted by paultopia at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2014

Killer Po Boys is still there and still great.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 4:22 PM on January 6, 2014

Re coffee, my brother, who is the original New Orleans hipster, is obsessed with Hey Cafe on Magazine. That said, I dunno, it's a neighborhood coffee shop, I don't know that I'd drive down there from your hotel in the Quarter just for a latte.

I haven't been to Zotz in a few years but have fond memories of it.

I'm a longtime fan of the various Cafe Rue De La Course locations, but I'm sure they've been eclipsed by now in the era of "third wave coffee".

The ubiquitous local coffee chains, which offer a Starbucks-adjacent style, are CC's and PJ's. Both are acceptable, but nothing to write home about. CC's is owned by Community Coffee, which is the classic New Orleans local coffee roaster. I'm not sure how well their reputation for home dripped pre-ground coffee translates to a coffee shop experience. I've never had a terrible experience there, but it's certainly no better than Starbucks.
posted by Sara C. at 4:24 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for third wave coffee, there's HiVolt. And apparently also Velvet Espresso Bar and Cherry Coffee.

But even I, a massive coffee nerd, am not above Cafe Du Monde when in New Orleans and don't go out of my way to go to these kind of places. As Sara C noted, it's not really worth visiting places that may as well be in New York or San Fran, and there are more interesting things to do than sip single origin macchiatos. And if you only visit things that look "cool" you're going to miss all the most awesome stuff.
posted by retrograde at 4:57 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you would be doing yourself a serious disservice to miss the Cafe du Monde. Chicory coffee FTW.
posted by Jacen at 5:01 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, 100% on Cafe du Monde. My recs were more for morning caffination spots, not "10 Places To Drink Coffee In New Orleans Before You Die".

You must go to Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets while in New Orleans. Even though it's not only touristy, but at the epicenter of the tourist nonsense. It doesn't matter how touristy it is. It's just good.

I was born in New Orleans, grew up within an hour of there, visit at least once a year, and I will still go to Cafe du Monde anytime the opportunity arises.
posted by Sara C. at 5:10 PM on January 6, 2014

Mid City Rock-n-Bowl is one of my favorite places on Earth. Zydeco bands play there all the time.

It's a second-floor bowling alley in a strip center at the upper end of Canal. When you walk up the stairs, there's a bar to your left, people dancing to zydeco to your right, and a bunch of bowlers to the front who could not care less.

posted by atchafalaya at 5:16 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow! Ask Metafilter, coming through when I need ya!

Lovely, lovely, oh-so-exciting recommendations, people. And by all means, keep them coming. Way to get me pumped for this trip!
posted by sureshot at 5:38 PM on January 6, 2014

Is there anything more hipsterish right now than bikes? Confederacy of Cruisers, a bike tour by locals, was a great way to get oriented in the city and scope out places for deeper exploration.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:46 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of good recs. I'll add the Pharmacy Museum for all the quirky beautiful oddities. The display cabinetry alone is worth the trip. And if I may totally dork out you must MUST notice door hardware in this city. Oh. So. Lovely. Brass and bronze little works of art, those door knobs. Hinges too.

Any of the bars on Frenchman just off Esplanade.

Port of Call on Esplanade if you're burger people. Oh my glorious god. It's always on those best burger lists.

Catch Tuba Skinny or the Smoking Time Jazz Club if you can. Either in a bar or along Royal or some other street if the weather's nice.

Such a wonderful place. Have fun!
posted by dog food sugar at 6:44 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The NOLA Voodoo museum
posted by brujita at 7:36 PM on January 6, 2014

Second hand info, caveat emptor, but David Dondero has recommended some po'boy establishments:
Let's eat a po'boy on the bank of the Mississippi
Extra hot suace and please with cheese and all the dressing
I like the Verti Marte the best, best fried shrimp po'boy
They give more shrimp than all the rest, it's a damn good po'boy
And I could barely finish half, I saved the rest for midnight snack
And there's a queen on a bike who'll deliver what you like if you don't feel like walking it back
The Verti Marte on Royal Street, Verti Marte's kinda hard to beat

If you like barbecue, not fried, go to Liuzza's
Up Esplanade and take a right, just before Lola's
Liuzza's by the Track, the reason I go back:
They take the center from the bread, replace with shrimp instead
And then that shrimp and the sauce get soaked in the bread and gets it stuck inside of my head
There ain't no queen on a bike who'll deliver what you like, you just gotta go there instead
Liuzza's by the Track, the reason I keep coming on back

St. Charles trolley, some old man's got a bag of po'boys
Some gangster-looking gentleman's eyeballing his po'boys
Just then I noticed the bag, that bag was seeping sauce
I'm thinking to myself, lord, that seems quite the loss
And then he said to him, "don't be eyeballin' my bag of po'boys, boy"
And that young gangster gentleman, he said to him, said "I wouldn't do nothing"
"Hey man, is that the bomb from Guys?"
"What's it to you?" he replies
You know that place on Magazine, special order of my dreams
The living ghost of New Orleans, Crescent City of my dreams
posted by domnit at 8:04 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really like this Russian bar on Decatur near Ursulines called Pravda. It's got a kind of grubby Belle Epoque feel with a good absinthe and vodka selection and a back garden where they often have DJs or other performers (I once saw a fire juggler there).

Seconding the above advice to check out the bars on Frenchman near Esplanade. Lots of variety, and lots of really excellent music.
posted by elizeh at 8:20 PM on January 6, 2014

It's smack dab in the Garden district, near one of the cemetaries, and I found a Harris Tweed blazer there for 20 bucks, the Defend New Orleans store.
posted by The Whelk at 5:46 AM on January 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Pravda on Decatur is closed. It's now a rum-centered place called Cane & Table. Great cocktails and food, worth a visit. And I know I'm not the New Orleans accuracy police, but Neutral Ground coffee shop is not in the Garden District as stated above...I guess just be sure to do your own research and double check for accuracy when making plans.
posted by CheeseLouise at 7:23 AM on January 7, 2014

Rock'n'Bowl. Swing music and booze and bowling.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:33 AM on January 7, 2014

Too bad it's not swimming season, because the pool at The Country Club in Bywater totally made my summer. Still, it has drag queens.

Down the street there's Elizabeth's, which makes good brunch. Hipsters love brunch.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:54 PM on January 7, 2014

"Perfect example. Right off Bourbon street in the French Quarter. And it is, indeed, well hidden. We went looking for Killer PoBoys our last trip and, without the 'hidden' info we needed, walked by by that bar 15 times looking for a sign. There is not one."

Erins on Conti. I am devouring a crab po-boy as you read this and it is lowering my blood pressure to a sustainable level and making things not matter so much.
posted by vapidave at 3:45 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I live by Igors. It's okay if you need to do laundry and also want to drink. I like their chicken nuggets sometimes. If you don't have to do laundry, I prefer Half Moon or Avenue Pub - both are a few blocks down the street (granted in different directions). Also, the Rusty Nail off Tchop in the WHD has pretty good trivia on Thurs. and can attract a bit of a hipster crowd.
posted by lalala1234 at 9:36 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re coffee, my brother, who is the original New Orleans hipster, is obsessed with Hey Cafe on Magazine. That said, I dunno, it's a neighborhood coffee shop, I don't know that I'd drive down there from your hotel in the Quarter just for a latte.

Ha. Was walking down magazine during the holidays when I ran into Hey Cafe and stopped for coffee. Once in the door I turned to my gf and said 'I think we found the hipster coffee joint'. Not that I know anything about being a hipster, but it gave off that vibe. Good coffee, but wouldn't make a special trip for it. If you do go though, step in the bathroom. The art is far more interesting than the usual bathroom graffiti.

If you're in the quarter there's also a new 'spitfire' coffee shop that's not bad.

The ubiquitous local coffee chains, which offer a Starbucks-adjacent style, are CC's and PJ's. Both are acceptable, but nothing to write home about.

I've always enjoyed CC's more than starbucks, though that probably has more to do with CC's being more local.

But even I, a massive coffee nerd, am not above Cafe Du Monde when in New Orleans and don't go out of my way to go to these kind of places.

I agree with this. I've always thought that coming to New Orleans for the first time and trying to avoid 'touristy' destination was a mistake. There's a difference between touristy because they're shooting for the clueless and touristy because they've been good for so long. Mid-City Lanes Rock and Bowl, Port of Call, Cafe du Monde, etc. are all great. But if the OP wants more traditional suggestions and not the hidden parts of New Orleans that the original question asks, I would suggest they check out the hundreds of New Orleans threads on askmefi. Lot of good information in those. Or just a basic guidebook.

St. Charles trolley, some old man's got a bag of po'boys

May all be good advice, but I would be wary of trusting anyone giving information on New Orleans that calls the street car a 'trolley'.
posted by justgary at 5:31 AM on January 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

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