Visiting New Orleans to Volunteer
January 22, 2008 1:47 PM   Subscribe

I think that I'm going to visit New Orleans in a few weeks to enjoy some nightlife and some culture, and also to get dirty, work hard, and help out in any way that I can. Specific questions about my plan inside.

I'm really close to booking a room at the 1930 Canal Street Guest House. It's at 1930 Canal St, obviously. I know that the website leaves something to be desired, but the price is right, and they get GREAT reviews on TripAdvisor. I don't know anything about the city -- I've never been there. Is this a half decent location? Is it safe -- especially at night? Is it a good jumping off point for the city?

I think that I'm going to volunteer for OnSiteRelief for the week. I looked into Habitat and others, but it seems like a lot of organizations have all the help that the need in the next few months. My e-mail exchanges with OnSite were positive, and they are enthusiastic about the help. This is as good as anything else, right? Would I be of better use doing something else?

Finally, if I wander around The French Quarter, is anything going to be going on? Nightlife? Music? Food? Just on weekends or weeknights too? I realize that it's right after Mardi Gras, but that doesn't mean that I'll be walking into a ghost town, does it?

Any other tips or anything that I might have overlooked would be great info too.
posted by TurkishGolds to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much my favorite thing to do in the FQ is wander around and see the nightlife. Last time I was there, in (Nov.) it was more mellow, but still plenty going on. Good on you for helping out! NOLA is a beautiful city.
posted by foxydot at 2:33 PM on January 22, 2008

Thank you for coming to New Orleans.

I haven't been inside the 1930 Canal, but in my opinion, the neighborhood is a little on the sketchy side (I live a couple of miles away, but I used to work right there, and my mechanic is across the street). Specifically, I would probably feel comfortable getting off the streetcar at night and walking to the front door of the guesthouse, or waiting for the streetcar or walking to the Quarter in daylight. I would not feel comfortable walking around the neighborhood at night, walking to or from the Quarter at night, or waiting for a streetcar to arrive at night. I am female, so we might have differing comfort levels.

It looks like OnSite is pretty brand new, which might be something to consider -- I'd never heard of them, but they seem to be doing good work. I do know several folks who have had good experiences with HandsOn New Orleans and Habitat. (Volunteering with HandsOn also means that you have a place to stay.)

Finally, yes, there is always something going on. You might have to look a little harder during the week, but there is live music someplace pretty much every night, and the Quarter and Marigny are full of good food and booze. Wandering will be more fun on the weekend, when more people are out.
posted by Siobhan at 2:36 PM on January 22, 2008

I realize that it's right after Mardi Gras, but that doesn't mean that I'll be walking into a ghost town, does it?

I haven't been there since Katrina, but it used to be that getting there after Mardi Gras was a good thing. Mardi Gras is a drunken touristy nightmare in the French Quarter -- totally fun to do once, but it's not NO at its finest.

The place you're staying is fine. As long as you don't wander dark streets alone you should be safe. There will always be great food, and to find out what to do at night, check the Gambit; there's a link to it way down on the hotel's site. Pre-Katrina, even on a Monday night there were plenty of great bands to see. It's probably not as busy now, but I'm sure you'll find several options every night. Take the streetcar uptown to the Maple Leaf. The streetcar probably has a stop right off Canal near your hotel. It's fun to ride in the day too, to see the architecture.

Have fun. I wish I was going too.
posted by Camofrog at 2:38 PM on January 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, Camofrog. Thing is, I probably will be alone most of the time. I'm an adult male, but I don't look that intimidating. Not at all, in fact. I'm sure that I look like an easy-target.
posted by TurkishGolds at 2:46 PM on January 22, 2008

Thing is, I probably will be alone most of the time. I'm an adult male, but I don't look that intimidating. Not at all, in fact. I'm sure that I look like an easy-target.

Same here, but while the crime stats are pretty scary down there lately, they've never been reassuring and I've taken TONS of risks down there and come out okay. If you stick to Canal and the busy parts of the FQ at night (maybe take a cab to clubs you aren't sure of) you ought to be okay. If nothing else, remember that the last two stages of drunkenness down there are invisibility and bulletproof.

Seriously, I wouldn't worry too much about becoming a stat. I have lots of friends living down there who have never had a problem.
posted by Camofrog at 3:11 PM on January 22, 2008

I was just down there in November with a friend of mine. We found plenty to do in the Quarter and Marigny on weeknights. Added bonus to weeknight crowds: No wait for tables at restaurants.

If you're down there on a Thursday night, check out trivia night at the Crown & Anchor. It's just a couple blocks from the Algiers ferry, so it's really easy to get to, and it's a fun, inexpensive thing to do for the night. It's kind of a locals' pub, but we were treated very warmly and had a great time when we went.

Like Camofrog suggests, you should be fine if you stick to more well-traveled streets and pay attention to your surroundings.
posted by aine42 at 4:05 PM on January 22, 2008

Canal St. itself is semi-ok, but all the back streets around 1930 Canal are full are abandoned buildings and it's generally pretty run down. Check out a map. See where Canal crosses under the I-10 overpass-a few blocks from your pad. That's a huge homeless person encampment. Hard to believe it's America, but lots and lots of folks are sleeping under that bridge every night.

Now people get jacked in the finest parts of the city, and I don't think New Orleans is worse than some other gritty urban areas in America, but if I was going to walk alone to 1930 Canal late at night, I'd be vigilant.

Feel free to call me at 504-432-3137 if you want more details.
posted by quercus at 4:30 PM on January 22, 2008

Fear not! You won't be bored. I always point people toward Frenchmen St (the bit a few blocks of the river, in the Marigny). It's compact, calmer than the Quarter, and the music is better. Especially check out The Spotted Cat, d.b.a., The Apple Barrel, and Adolfo's, which is upstairs from the AB and serves a great dinner. Tipitina's at Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas is fantastic, and so's Rock'n'Bowl. More advice about things to do in this past post, and this older one.

I don't know OnSite--website's a little sparse on what they're actually doing right now. But looking at the photos, they've got decent safety gear and are gutting well, so someone there has their shit together. Seconding the recommendation of HandsOn, though I know they had more volunteers than they knew what to do with for January. Others to consider are Common Ground and ACORN, though they can both be a little hard to get ahold of.

I've done several working-trips in the past two years, and I'm more than happy to talk details about what to expect and what to pack--feel free to message me.

Safety-wise, you should be okay. Keep to well-lit or populated streets when possible (even downtown), don't carry tons of valuables, don't hang around drunkenly on streetcorners at night looking like a confused tourist. And say hi to people. New Orleans is the friendliest place I've been in my life, and warm greetings and waves make a difference in how much fun you have, how respectful people perceive you as being and, I believe, in how safe you stay.
posted by hippugeek at 6:09 PM on January 22, 2008

For some of the best local fare with flair, go to Jacques Imo's. A cab ride, but you owe it to yourself.

Dude, keep your head up. Don't be too exposed in unfamiliar areas. Navigate one point at a time.

I was in the FQ and downtown less than a few weeks ago. Things are definitely not ideal. But it's not a war zone, not yet.

Yes, avoid I-10. A crime most of the country is unaware of. Desperate people do desperate things. I can't believe we would abandon a chunk of a city under a entrance ramp and we can all just carry on. Makes my tummy hurt.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:13 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sort of follow-up question: What do you think of this place's location safety/fun wise? Looks pretty decent to me, right?
posted by TurkishGolds at 7:40 PM on January 22, 2008

I stayed there two weekends ago, TurkishGolds. Nice place. It's in the Central Business District, a couple blocks from the French Quarter--as safe a neighborhood as you'll find. Very easy walk to FQ action (and food) and the Canal line streetcar. One thing I'd caution you about is that I'd booked a double room a couple months in advance and when we arrived they'd changed it to a room with one queen due to overbooking. So you may not get what you ask for, but it's an incredible location for the price.

It's kind of hard to go back and forth from nice-ish hotel to mucking around in flooded houses, though. Ymmv a lot.
posted by hippugeek at 7:59 PM on January 22, 2008

I was in the FQ and downtown less than a few weeks ago. Things are definitely not ideal. But it's not a war zone, not yet.

I was there a few weeks ago, mainly hanging out in the french quarter, and it wasn't all that different than pre-katrina. Always felt safe, plenty going on. Of course, you have to keep to well traveled streets at night, but it's always been that way in new orleans. In other words, I completely disagree with the comment I quoted.

Have fun. Nothing like New Orleans.
posted by justgary at 2:08 AM on January 23, 2008

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