Artists, performers, and adventurous nightlife fans are flocking to St. Claude Avenue.
No, not in the Marigny, or even the Bywater. That’s old news. In 2017, they’re headed another few miles down the road and across the St. Bernard Parish line to Arabi.
That’s where a two-city-block arts complex called Studio Arabi hosts a dozen artists’ studios, plus the 210-seat Valiant Theatre and Lounge (6621 St. Claude Ave.) The complex is managed by artists Mitchell and Erica Gaudet, who previously ran studios in the Bywater and the Bayou St. John neighborhoods. They moved operations to Arabi in 2014, and are now leasing Studio Arabi from the St. Bernard nonprofit Meraux Foundation and subletting to other artists.
“It seems like it’s where everybody wants to be lately,” Meraux Foundation board member Bill Haines said. “Arabi has just got a real good vibe going now.”
Studios and galleries, including Mitchell Gaudet’s Studio Inferno glassblowing space (6601 St. Claude Ave.), attract visitors from across the region, including a fair share from both Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. And at night, they stop by for shows at the Valiant, where recent performances have included Triassic Parq, a musical parody of Jurassic Park told from the dinosaurs’ point of view, and a concert from local artists Typical Stereo and Billsberry Flowboy.
“Once I get someone through the door of the Valiant, I start seeing them pretty regularly,” Executive Director Richard Mayer, who previously owned the Old Marquer Theatre in the Marigny, said. “Once people realize how close Arabi is to New Orleans—it’s literally 30 feet away.”
But despite being just a few minutes’ drive from the French Quarter, much of the area was initially slow to redevelop after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. But all of that has started to change in the last few years, Haines said, partially thanks to the area still being a relative bargain compared to areas like the Marigny and Bywater. “There are lots of things that are going to be happening in Arabi that it’s great to be out in front of,” he said.
Just down the street from the Arts District is Pirogue’s Whiskey Bayou (6940 St. Claude Ave.), which serves bourbon, as well as craft and basic beer, in a hipster roadhouse-styled space. Its founders previously worked as bartenders in the Bywater, and co-owner Muriel Altikriti said some of the bar’s first customers were regulars from Orleans Parish. But lately, they’ve seen a healthy mix from New Orleans, Arabi, and elsewhere. “We’ve been really blessed, because this area has just really welcomed us with open arms,” she said.
Pirogue’s hosts regular pop-up dining events and hopes to have a permanent kitchen tenant soon. But it’s not the only place to eat or drink in the area. The Kitchen Table Café (7005 St. Claude Ave.) has healthy lunch and dinner, including local seafood, at a reasonable price in a cute location close to the action. The Coffee House (7265 St. Claude Ave.) serves coffee, tea, smoothies, and pastries, along with free Wi-fi. And Gerald’s Donuts (6901 St. Claude Ave.) offers a classic diner-style menu and ambiance, open 24 hours a day.
More development along the waterfront could be in the works, Haines said, and a supermarket and food hall also might be on the way for St. Claude Avenue. A six-unit apartment building between the Studio Arabi complex and the Valiant Theatre is likely to turn into artists’ residences, and studios are popping up throughout the area.
“There are waiting lists everywhere that I know of for artists to come in,” he said. “Arabi is an affordable, exciting area to be in."