I’m a big fan of neighborhoods. I love how the character of a city can change so drastically between neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods with strong cohesion and a unique identity are some of the best. Faubourg Marigny in New Orleans is one of these neighborhoods. It is colorful and unique, it boasts a colorful cast of residents, and has great food and entertainment. Marigny is my favorite neighborhood in New Orleans and quite possibly my favorite neighborhood in the country.
Faubourg Marigny is located directly east of the French Quarter along the Mississippi River. It started its life as the plantation of Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville, but due to his gambling habit he lost it all to pay his debts. Given its proximity to the French Quarter, it has long been popular with locals who were pushed out of the Quarter by increasing rents, but it is also becoming recently popular with visitors.
Since it’s so close to the major sites of the French Quarter, I think any visitor should try to include it on their itinerary.
Walking through the Marigny (often with a camera in hand) is one of my favorite ways to spend an hour or two in New Orleans. I must admit, I’m partially biased to the neighborhood; my parents decided to buy their vacation home in the Marigny, so I have spent holidays (and many other days) here. Every block is different; colorful creole cottages stand next to stately, $2 million dollar mansions, dive bars mingle with five-star dining establishments, hipsters ride their fixed gear bicycles past $60,000 Mercedes’, and the local residents are always happy to say ‘Good mornin!’ with a smile and a wave.
There is so much to be seen in the Marigny, and each trip is different.
Frenchmen Street is the heart and soul of the Marigny, and it is often referred to as the locals’ version of Bourbon Street – though it is very welcoming to visitors. Frenchmen doesn’t have as many bars or clubs as Bourbon Street, but the quality of the music at these venues is far superior. Gone are the generic bars with cover bands playing bad 80′s rock (side note, I don’t know why so many people are content traveling all the way to New Orleans to here ‘Pour Some Sugar One Me’ or ‘Don’t Stop Believin’. I can hear that at home. When I’m in New Orleans, I want unique music.)
Thankfully, Frenchmen delivers with some fantastic music clubs such as The Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor. Each play host to some of the best up-and-coming jazz, blues, soul, and rock acts in New Orleans while locals and visitors alike dance the night away.
One of my favorite places to hang out on Frenchmen is at DBA – another music venue that is also a phenomenal bar. They have one of the best beer and wine lists in the city, a relaxed vibe, and it’s the kind of place where everyone seems to be having a really good time every time I go in.
A walk down Frenchmen is the quintessential Marigny experience; if you don’t have much time to explore the neighborhood, Frenchmen is incredibly accessible to the French Quarter – less than a five minute walk – and offers a completely different New Orleans experience from the T-Shirt shops and bro-bars on Bourbon street.
Washington Square Park
Washington square is the beloved green space of the Marigny. Big leafy trees tower over children on playgrounds and couples stretched out on the grass. The square is bordered by its rowdy neighbor Frenchmen street but is seemingly a world away.
One of my favorite things to do is spend an afternoon strolling through the park. If there were chaos in New Orleans, this would be the place to get away from it. But the city is just so easy – everyone is having a good time – and this is especially evident in this park.
Interestingly enough, Washington Square is one of the few public parks that is not operated by the city government, but rather by the residents of Marigny. Because of this, it is especially well kept and is certainly one of the more beautiful parks in the city.
As you cross Esplanade avenue (the dividing line between the French Quarter and Marigny), there is a pretty clear delineation between the neighborhoods in architecture alone. While the French Quarter is known for its wrought-iron balconies adorning elaborate plaster fronted homes, the Marigny explodes into a colorful display of shotgun houses and creole cottages.
The color pallet expands as do the architectural styles. Vibrant hues of teal, yellow, chartreuse, and even hot pink adorn the houses here. The houses here are more reminiscent of a Caribbean island than an American city.
Many of the houses in the Marigny were built back. Houses built in this style are referred to as ‘shotgun houses’ and they appear in many incarnations in the Marigny. The basic layout is pretty standard – a narrow street facing front where you have to go through one room to get to the next one. You might enter the house in the living room, walk back through to the kitchen, continue on through and office, before finally arriving at the bedroom at the back of the house.
The saying goes you could shoot a shotgun at the front of the house it would sail straight through if you had all the doors open. This was an extremely popular housing style during Marigny’s growth and its popularity in the neighborhood is evidence of this.
Mardi Gras Decor
During my most recent visit to New Orleans, the city was gearing up for Mardi Gras, and nowhere was this more evident than in the Marigny. The decorations were far more elaborate than any I’ve seen for Christmas, Halloween, or any other holiday I’ve celebrated in the city. Streams of green, gold, and purple covered houses. Beads were out in full force and Mardi Gras masks adorned the doors, railings and front porches of almost every house in the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, I missed the Mardi Gras festivities by a few days, but it was still incredible to see the city decked out in preparation for the big event.
Whimsy is the word that perhaps best captures the spirit of this neighborhood. Everywhere you look, there is some sign, street art, graffiti, or other display that can generate a smile. The neighborhood is a living canvas – every time I visit, old favorite pieces are gone and new ones have taken their place. Below are some examples just from my most recent trip.
The diversity and openness of the Marigny has made the neighborhood a feast for the eyes – everywhere you look, there is something interesting and different. A tree covered in Mardi Gras beads, a regal cat watching passersby from an elegant porch, artistic fleur-de-lis’ decorating a picket fence, a house painted colors that would surely be not allowed by any normal HOA…but somehow it all seems to fit right in with the neighborhood.
The neighborhood is also pulsing with music, and it’s not just from the clubs on Frenchmen street. As I stroll past houses, it’s not uncommon to hear music blaring from the radio with people inside singing along. Many musicians also call the neighborhood home, and I’ve often heard rehearsals and impromptu jam sessions either within the house or on the front porch as I wandered the streets.
I think it is this artistic passion and zeal for life that combine to create such the unique place that is Faubourg Marigny. There is no other neighborhood like it, and few places I’d rather be.