If you find yourself along Tchoupitoulas street, on the fringes of the garden district where the Mississippi River kisses the heart of New Orleans, in the past you may have driven past this otherwise unremarkable grain storage warehouse, a block away from the NOLA Brewing Company. Just another sheet metal and cypress box flanking the levee that in earlier days played an integral part of agriculture, commerce, and trade, and for years thereafter faded into obscurity.
However, now you may notice a colorfully-painted vehicle adorning the front with large metal letters proclaiming “A G D” and wonder what’s going on? Welcome to the Avant Garden District, 2901 Tchoupitoulas Street.
Tucked inside this massive ten thousand square foot building is not simply the area’s latest art market, performance venue, and lounge, it’s a multipurpose recreation center run by, and for everybody. In some ways, it feels more like a living person than a building, as I talk with the partners in A.G.D. and am surrounded by vessels of people moving and doing different things in every appendage of the structure, with a sense of purpose that makes everyone feel like they’re part of something bigger. The lines between host and guest are unpronounced. At one end of the room, there’s a fire-breathing class going on, others are working in various parts of the building—which itself seems to be in a constant state of creative evolution. With its earthy interior of exposed beams, huge fans, eclectic artwork on the walls, it boasts a stage, lounge, bar, recreation area with pool table, pinball, and ping-pong, and tons of space. In some ways, the Avant Garden District is a throwback to classic places like the Warehouse. In other ways, it feels new and fresh.
“The sense of community we group up with has evaporated. When we grew up, there was all-ages shows every night. After Katrina everybody parted ways and when we came back it was completely different than what we had left behind. We all came back for the nostalgia of our childhood and that sense of community and it was gone, and now we’re going to try and rebuild it..”, says Matt Miller, one of the five principals involved in the development of AGD. Ashley and Josh Wiggin were the first to come up with the idea, which was originally an art market, and then they brought in their childhood friends Jason Kiefer, Matt Miller and Mike Kratochvil—all in their late 20s, all locals who grew up in the area from Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. Josh and Matt are veterans of the local bar scene and have played a pivotal role in the industry everywhere from Salu to Commander’s Palace. Mike is an electrician and is part of the team turning the old warehouse into something new and electrifying. Jason is a paramedic by day, and like most of the others, he still has his day job but moonlights building the AGD venture along with his friends. The group’s enthusiasm and warmth are infectious and refreshing. The venture they’ve created to operate AGD is aptly named, “Odd Enterprises, LLC” because there’s no telling what might be happening at this place at any time during the week. During the day, the place may or may not be open depending on what’s going on: maybe a yoga or dance class, or even a Bob Ross painting group where people are provided all the materials plus beer while viewing a class Bob Ross tutorial on the big screen. Friday and Saturday nights are the main events when the place is open from 9pm to 2am and may feature a variety of acts from live music of every genre, theater, burlesque, and more. They’re also doing Monday and Wednesday nights featuring karaoke, comedy, and open mic activities.
Among the many interesting features of AGD, are the vendor-friendly rates of $15 a night for anyone to set up and sell items at the venue. They even have pop-up food restaurants on nights with live music—there’s really no telling what might happen, and with the place only being open for a few months thus far, it looks like it’s going to be quite a fun and hip spot to be. For more information, be sure to check out the Avant Garden District at their facebook page.