If Bourbon Street is a sprint, the Bywater is a long, sauntering stroll.
New Orleans‘ Bywater neighborhood, a riverside mix of arts, industry, and residential life, doesn’t have the same per-square-mileage, in-your-face appeal of busy districts like Bourbon or Frenchmen Streets, but we wouldn’t want it any other way. A visit to the Bywater is full of rewards for the discerning traveler: a perfect breakfast pastry or sno-ball, an outdoor mural or charming wine bar around an unsuspecting corner, a bustling music venue or gallery opening, and some of the best meals to be had in the city. Here’s what makes the Bywater great. Be warned: you might never want to leave.
Check out the Bywater District, and the rest of our favorite places to travel in 2019, on Fodor’s 2019 Go List.
INSIDER TIPBywater is considered part of New Orleans Upper Ninth Ward, separated from the Lower Ninth Ward by the Industrial Canal. If time allows, it’s worth venturing into the Lower Ninth Ward (you will need a car) to visit the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. This small, community-run museum details the history, hardships, and resilience of the neighborhood throughout the decades, with a primary focus on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
The Good, the Hip, and the Thrifted
The Bywater isn’t packed with highly-trafficked shopping districts like Magazine or Royal Streets, but each retail experience you happen upon while walking its colorful streets is a real gem. Take Harold’s Plants, for example: a jungle-like emporium of house plants, succulents, flowers, and herbs. Or there’s Euclid Records, one of the remaining record stores in the city and a haven for vinyl diehards. For thrifted goods, art, and everything uniquely New Orleans, there’s The Bargain Center at 3200 Dauphine, a multi-roomed thrift store, or Dr. Bob’s Folk Art , where you can purchase the colorful painted signs displayed throughout the city. If you’re lucky, you’ll visit the Bywater during The Piety Street Market, an arts and local goods fair on the second Saturday of every month.
The Bywater is a hotbed of local and transplant art and artists (we’re looking at you, Solange). A stretch of St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater is known as the St. Claude Arts District, and is the place to find galleries like Antenna, The Front, and The Good Children Gallery. Aside from showcasing the best in contemporary local and Southern art, the galleries often host readings, lectures, and artist meet-and-greets. The New Orleans Art Center is the biggest gallery in the Bywater, and hosts an opening on the second Saturday of every month.
The Backyards (and Back Rooms) of Bywater Entertainment
Weeknight and weekend shows at the packed, cash-only dives on hard-to-reach corners of the Bywater neighborhood include some of the best local acts in the city. Thursday night at Vaughan’s often star Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet, and you’ll find Little Freddie King at BJ’s Lounge on Friday nights. The most unique music venue in the Bywater (and city) is the Music Box Village, a walking, talking, interactive performance space (the sculptures are also musical instruments) you can tour during weekend days, and attend unforgettable live performances at night.
INSIDER TIPWhere and whenever you plan to see live music in New Orleans, the Livewire Music Calendar, from local radio station WWOZ, will be your trusted guide.
Dives and Brews
Some historic dives, like Bud Rip’s, have gotten more recent facelifts, but cleaned up and hip, are still a great time. And then there are the downright dives that delightfully are what they are, like Saturn Bar and J&J’s Sports Lounge, on the Bywater’s farther outskirts, serving cheap drinks, tons of character, nightly entertainment of all kinds.
Parleaux Beer Lab is the Bywater’s only microbrewery, and, fitting with the neighborhood, is small and full of character. Check the garden out back for games, food pop-ups, and special events.
Brunching in the Bywater
Book at least one Drag Brunch at the Country Club during your jaunts to the Bywater, but know that some of the best breakfast treats are also found at smaller, more casual places. A fresh juice at Satsuma, pastry or mushroom toast from Bywater Bakery, and a well-crafted cortado from Solo Espresso should all make your list for Bywater refreshments.
The Urban Canvas
A walk through the Bywater includes plenty of art to be viewed from the street, where graffiti murals include a few Banksys (official and copycats), portraits of the city’s great musicians throughout time, and social commentaries on a changing neighborhood. The large mural of a small girl outside of StudioBe, a giant warehouse space just over the train tracks, is one of the Bywater’s most recognizable landmarks. Inside, the StudioBe gallery is dedicated to the spray-painted, socially-conscious murals of artist Brandan Odums, and is well worth viewing for an hour or two.
The Best (Hidden) Wine Bars in the City
Could it be that New Orleans is finally becoming a wine city? In the Bywater, the answer is a rather lowkey, but still resounding, yes. Take Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, for example, the wine shop and casual backyard music venue that, for the second year in a row, received a James Beard nomination for its wine program—putting it on the same list as much fancier establishments like Spiaggia in Chicago. Faubourg Wines, just over the Marigny line on St. Claude Avenue, is a wine shop with a Parisian feel, and includes the choice to enjoy your bottle and some gourmet cheese at one of its cafe tables out front. In the romantic courtyard of N7, you’ll find Bordeaux and Cabs, French bubbly, and great choices in rosè.
Haute Cuisine and Hot Sandwiches
Most of your best meals in the Bywater will be casual, whether it’s a sandwich from Frady’s One Stop Food Store, barbeque ribs at The Joint, or perhaps the best slice of pizza this side of the Mason-Dixon line at Pizza Delicious. Paladar 511 and Bywater American Bistro are both worthy of sit-down meals (and a few more dollars spent), with chic neighborhood bistro vibes and outstanding American-Southern cuisine.
INSIDER TIPCocktail-lovers can’t miss the Bywater American Bistro’s exclusive Negroni, ordered by the specially-crafted bottle (you heard that right).
Staying in the Neighborhood
Stay in or around the Bywater if you’re craving a break from the humdrum of chain hotels, corporate crowds, or rowdy bachelor/ette parties. Choices are mostly limited to bed and breakfasts inside historic mansions, providing a charming stay that manages to be both historic and comfortable. One of New Orleans newest, most stylish hotels is The Hotel Peter & Paul, a boutique gem inside of a revamped Catholic convent and church in the Faubourg Marigny, just steps from the Bywater.
INSIDER TIPEven if you don’t stay at Peter & Paul, make time to stop inside for a drink or snack at Elysian Bar, quickly becoming one of New Orleans’ chicest bars and restaurants.
A Walk Along the City’s Crescent
Crescent City gets its name from the way much of New Orleans curves around a big bend of the Mississippi River. The arch begins Uptown, bows through the Central Business District and French Quarter (past the French Market), into the Faubourg Marigny and ending in the Bywater/Ninth Ward. Bywater’s Crescent Park, a waterfront green space with walking paths, local fauna and flora, and reclaimed industrial spaces, lets you walk a large part of the crescent along the Mississippi River.