Skip Bourbon Street and Head to Frenchman Street in New Orleans

26 January 2015

When you think of New Orleans, you think of Bourbon Street. Once the home of vaudeville, burlesque, jazz joints and gentlemen's clubs, the iconic street continues to be one of the nation's biggest party blocks today. But when we visited this French Quarter staple, I have to say that we were more than disappointed. What I dreamed to be a sexy carnival of cajun color and big brass musical sounds was, in reality, a stale beer smelling loop of bars-turned-frat-houses and sloppy drunks. My heart sank.

Skip Bourbon Street and Head to Frenchman Street in New Orleans | The Brave Little Cheesehead

You will still find some spots along Bourbon that haven't fully lost their verve, like Preservation Hall which still plays host to world renowned jazz artists, or LaFitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar which -- aside from the garish iced alcohol slushy machines behind the bar -- still retains massive amounts of southern charm. But the street I imagined to be perpetually bursting with the sights, sounds and energy of what it must look like on Mardi Gras is no more than the Disneyland for lewd lushes. 

We felt obligated to at least give Bourbon Street a shot, but in reality we were simply getting it out of the way. What I wanted of Bourbon street, I found to be just a few blocks west in the Marigny. If you want to get an authentic New Orleans experience, skip Bourbon Street and head straight for Frenchman Street, and never look back. 

What you'll find on Bourbon Street is mostly a mix of club hip hop DJs and alternative rock cover bands. There were a handful of acts that we appreciated, but for the most part, we can get this kind of experience in Chicago. Frenchman Street, on the other hand, fills its bars with some of the best jazz musicians I've ever heard. If you like Dixieland jazz, stop at d.b.a (618 Frenchman Street). They have such a wide selection of beer on tap, and if you're lucky like we were, you might catch a swing dance school practicing with locals. We had some fun sipping on cocktails and listening to a folk rock band at Bamboula's (514 Frenchman Street), but our favorite spot on Frenchman Street is hands down the Spotted Cat (623 Frenchman Street). It's definitely a little hole-in-the-wall with a cash only bar, but its tiny space sure packs a punch. They crammed a 7-piece string and brass jazz band onto their itty bitty stage, and the music they produced made my heart swell, despite me being somewhat afraid that the trombone player was going to accidentally smack the clarinetist in the head with his instrument every time he changed notes. Make sure you're always carrying extra cash to tip the entertainment -- you'll certainly feel that they deserve it.

Skip Bourbon Street and Head to Frenchman Street in New Orleans | The Brave Little Cheesehead

When we asked locals where to eat, we never once received a recommendation for anything on Bourbon Street. Sure, plenty of people suggested a handful of restaurants within the French Quarter nearby, but more often than not, we were pointed in the direction of Frenchman Street. One of our favorite stops was at the Marigny Brasserie (640 Frenchman Street). We had lunch there during an off hour after a bike tour, and struck up a conversation with our bartender Eli while he mixed up purple-colored moonshine cocktails -- on the house -- that we downed easily. Most people we encountered urged us to give Adolfo's (611 Frenchman Street) above The Apple Barrel a go. Despite it's raving reviews, our experience was a little off, but the food was prepared well. We had also heard great things about Three Muses (536 Frenchman) for small plates and music as well as Yuki (525 Frenchman Street) for Japanese bar food, but we didn't have a chance to try them ourselves.

Skip Bourbon Street and Head to Frenchman Street in New Orleans | The Brave Little Cheesehead

The feel of Frenchman Street alone far and away blew Bourbon Street off my map. Frenchman Street is what I imagine Bourbon Street was once like before it received its reputation for debauchery. It has a much more mature, laid back vibe, and rather than listening to shouting matches and pint glasses breaking, you'll have a hard time not dancing while walking from the variations of high quality live music filling the air. We encountered an art fair that remains open from 7 p.m.-7 a.m. everyday, selling local arts and crafts like screen printed t-shirts and vibrant photography. We strolled around here for quite some time while giving our ears a little bit of a rest and thoroughly enjoyed it. During one "intermission" -- heading from one bar to the next -- we were delighted to find a group of people crowded around a high school band, playing loudly and spectacularly in the streets. The players swayed and clapped and pulled the crowd in, and we were blissfully swept up in it all.

Skip Bourbon Street and Head to Frenchman Street in New Orleans | The Brave Little Cheesehead

Frenchman Street is not nearly as crowded as Bourbon Street, and I sincerely hope it stays that way. I fell in love with this part of the city, and I hope that one day when I return, it looks, sounds and feels just as we left it. 

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  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am from Louisiana and have been to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street many times, mostly when I was a college student. A few years back, my husband and I decided to take a weekend in NOLA... imagine my disappointment when I, as you did, found Bourbon to be crowded, foul-smelling, loud, juvenile, and just generally disappointing.
    I came across this article while scouring ideas for another trip to NOLA this year-- I can't wait to visit some of the establishments you suggested!
    P.S. About a block before you get to Cafe Du Monde, there is a coffee and beignet place called Famous Coffee (I think)... It's far and beyond better than Cafe Du Monde, both in atmosphere and food. It's our favorite beignet spot-- better food, lower crowds, and better atmosphere.

    1. Hey there! Thanks so much for commenting! I'm always curious to hear what locals think of our short trips to U.S. cities. Glad to hear we're on the same page! I absolutely loved New Orleans and definitely have plans to be back. Thanks for the tip on Famous Coffee... it sounds just lovely, and the next time I visit I'll likely plan my entire trip around it. :) I sometimes find myself dreaming of beignets!

  2. Totally agree in regards to Bourbon Street. Been to New Orleans a few times the first time 2003 the last time 2015 and yes Frenchman Street is a must. Hopefully Frenchman Street will not end up the same as Bourbon Street as every time we go there Frenchman Street gets busier and busier - 2015 was our sixth time visiting the area - as you can see we love it there. Thank you also about the coffee as we spent three months on a road trip visiting your beautiful country and coming from the other side of the world where we love our coffee it was very hard to find a good cup of coffee. Hope to return soon!

  3. Hi Tania! I agree with you on Frenchman Street, and I hope it retains its charm even as people shift their experiences in New Orleans to spend more time there. Thanks for stopping by and leaving us a comment!