As they say on the block, “If you don’t know, you betta ask somebody!”
So, you wanna know? Come down my street, come visit, come set a spell. Come with me down Bayou Road, the oldest road in New Orleans. Venture into the enclave of a real Chickaen Geau-Geau, New Orleans fiyo by the bayou, melting pot gumbo, salt and peppa with some chicka ma cranny crow thrown in, turkey neck of a street. A corner of our city getting along quite nicely without you for 300 years—stretching, growing, contracting, and stretching out again, behind your back, in plain sight. Welcome to one of the mostly overlooked secrets of New Orleans.
At the confluence of Broad Street, Grand Route St. John, Gentilly Boulevard, the Seventh Ward, Esplanade Ridge, and Mid-City, Bayou Road is generally part of everything, but uniquely and independently a world apart. From when the indigenous peoples showed Bienville how to get from Mobile, Alabama, to the trading markets of what is now the French Quarter, to when we (now) stroll up in the spring to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, opening day at the racetrack, back down again for Mardi Gras madness or caroling at St. Louis Cathedral at holiday time, this magical street leads us from where we want to go to where we want to be. Many times, travelers, blasé and half-blind to the folks who have chosen to remain and dig in small-business roots here, promise themselves to “check it out later.” Well, it’s “later” now.
Starting with McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin’, Pirogue’s bar and bistro, Broadview Seafood, and Journey Allen’s Sip and Paint Instruction Classes, follow the red brick road to Miss Emma’s Nail Studio, Bayou Road Justice Center, Domino Sound Record Shack, the Duchesne House, Saint Rose of Lima Church (the new home of Southern Rep Theatre), Kitchen Witch Cookbook shop, the Community Book Center, The Half Shell on the Bayou, Coco Hut Caribbean Restaurant, Material Life gift shop, The CupCake Fairies, Whiskey & Sticks, and Ego’s Gentlemen’s Spa across from King & Queen Emporium and Pagoda Café. You can’t swing a stick without hitting a hotspot.
Club Caribbean hosts nightly live music performances while food pop-ups flourish with alacrity. Artistry of Her and Keys of Beauty salons are there to get you in style and keep you in the mood to celebrate life. There’s even a $6.99 all-you-can-eat Cajun buffet, if you’re so inclined, and Joan Mitchell’s enclave of artists to round us out.
These are who I call my neighbors, and I call them out by name: Albert at Pirogue’s is gonna have the game on tonight; there was just a birth in Ms. Emma’s family, and yes, the Justice Center has a notary. Sister Bonnie at Duchesne is hosting a group of volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, and Sergio has discovered a feral chicken in the yard. Matt at Domino Sound has a vinyl sale coming up. Is it Taco Tuesday already? Ask Debbie.
Vera and Jennifer are having a book signing at the Community Book Center with fried chicken from Mr. Kermit at McHardy’s. Mark at Half Shell has icy cold oysters and fried catfish waiting for me, and at Coco Hut, there’s that vegetarian jerk dish as well as meaty ones—mild, medium, or hot. Ms. Jenny’s getting things organized for Southern Rep’s maiden voyage at their new digs: drinks from Whiskey & Sticks for the discerning imbiber, cupcakes from the fairies for the kids, café au lait at Pagoda, and fresh fruit cups from Manny. Get it all on Bayou Road.
They’re sprucing up our appearances, sharpening up our minds, filling our bellies and our souls, and saving seats for performances in a grand century-old church; yes, while you weren’t looking, they’ve been cooking! Domino Sound has 10,000 LPs, while Kitchen Witch has the same number of cookbooks, and we’re wishing Southern Rep that many shows with lights, action, and “places everybody!” At least 10,000 instructions for our kids will be imparted, that many meals will be served and consumed here in our future, and I’m looking for that many lights to brighten The Road this holiday season; and as we know, in New Orleans, it’s always holiday season!
A book by Ron Fisher, Mid-City Errands, talks about Bayou Road in the 1950s; the landmarks and businesses have all changed, but the vibe remains the same. You would think that, what with a stretch of two blocks of shoulder-to-shoulder, in a virtual mélange of independently owned businesses (as diverse and varied as they are), smart money would garner odds against their concert—but not true. A few years back, the gang of them formed the Bayou Road Business and Merchants Association, and with the aid of Jeff Schwartz at Broad Community Connection and the guidance of Beverly McKenna and her group at Le Musee de f.p.c. (free people of color) acting as cohesive mentorship, they are, indeed, in harmony. The shops and folks on The Road have mapped out a pathway to success without the aid of big business or box stores and have been patiently building a solid foundation, including periphery businesses and organizations, that supplies support and shine. Jewels in a necklace of local flavor.
With Southern Rep’s opening performance on October 3 this year, the street came alive for the 2018-2019 season and will for many seasons to come. Heck, you could write a whole theater performance about us!
All of us on The Road do what we do in style and in stride; we keep regular hours, close on regular days, and pretty much are as normal as our identities allow and foster. We’re a sleepy little, small-neighborhood shop bunch, who support and cheer for each other’s successes. The best thing about opening a small business in a community is … the community. Y’all come on down, and, while you’re here, ask for the map. Yep, we got a map.