Last year, we sent several reporters to spend one weekend night on Frenchmen Street to get a kaleidoscopic snapshot of the scene in words and photos. On March 14, we repeated the experiment on St. Claude Avenue during the street's monthly "Second Saturday" event.
Despite heavy competition from the final night of the Buku Music + Art Festival and the leadup to St. Patrick's Day shenanigans, it was lively. Here's what we found in 12 hours on St. Claude.
2:05 p.m. — Inside the New Orleans Healing Center, the annual Sacred Music Festival is underway. Norma Contreras and her business partner Sadith Paz-Barahona, who own Artisans' Well, buy and resell art from impoverished people in other countries. "If we were on Magazine St. this stuff would just fly [off the shelf]," Contreras said. They stay in the Bywater, however, because they say that they are surrounded by small business people with big ideas and the Bywater is growing.
2:35 p.m. — Joey Landry, owner of Arbor House floral shop, meets with a bride to make plans for her upcoming wedding.
2:55 p.m. — At the Sacred Music Festival, J.C. & Company Gospel Messengers plays to a crowd of 60 people, who are swaying to the music. The singer leaves the stage and joins the audience to show them how to groove properly.
3:15 p.m. — The renovated St. Roch Market stands freshly painted with "coming soon" signs on its exterior. Two men try to open the front door but keep walking once they realize it's locked.
3:18 p.m. — Byrdie's coffee house and gallery is nearly empty. It is home to a photography and pottery gallery, pottery studio, a coffee shop and hundreds of copies of National Geographic. The yellow magazines are crammed into shelves under a sign that reads "Bobby Jindal Memorial Zine Library."
3:50 p.m. — St. Coffee is packed. The mismatched wooden tables are crowded with 20-somethings. Two girls walk up to the barista and ask, "Is it happy hour for coffee yet?"
4:25 p.m. — A woman in the LA46 thrift shop sets up tables and chairs for the evening's Second Saturday. Another woman is kneeling in a back corner going through a bin of old high heels.
6 p.m. — The homeless man who sleeps on the porch of an abandoned building one house down from Red's Chinese is in his usual spot. This afternoon there are three people on the porch with him. They don't want to talk. "We just chilling. We staying out of trouble," says the woman, who gives her name as Stallion. "We hanging out with people folks don't wanna be with, even though they say they love the Lord. Like this gentleman, he's homeless. ... This is a nice peaceful block. You got a lot of view."
6:05 p.m. — A makeshift memorial to the late Bacchanal owner Chris Rudge sits on the sidewalk outside Red's.
6:30 p.m. — Christina Juran and Herman Kron, co-owners of the New Orleans Art Center at 3330 St. Claude Ave., are setting up for Second Saturday at their new gallery. There are unopened bottles of white wine and trays of cupcakes. "We don't get the tourist crowd," Kron says. "It's a much younger crowd, and they're locals." The couple used to operate Gallery Lafitte on St. Louis Street, and they returned to New Orleans recently after several years in California. "We were gone for many years," Juran says. "We're so excited to be part of the growth of the neighborhood."
6:51 p.m. — A man passes in a Mirliton Festival T-shirt that reads "BYWATER: cross over."
6:57 p.m. — A photographer from The New Orleans Advocate is covering the opening at The Front. He looks out of place in his suit and laminated ID badge. The drink of choice is Miller High Life in cans.
7:25 p.m. — A couple browsing the sidewalk sale just purchased an abandoned storefront in the next block. The woman is wondering aloud what they should do with the space. "What does this neighborhood need?" she asks. "Other than a grocery store — we can't fit a grocery store in there." Her ideas include an organic fresh-pressed juice bar, a French-style patisserie or a sandwich shop and sidewalk cafe. "There was no risk to us," she says. "It was very inexpensive." "Real low-key," promises her husband. "We're not changing anything. Just improving a dump."
8 p.m. — Every table at Sneaky Pickle is full. The specials board offers boudin-stuffed squid with shrimp & tomato sauce and carrot mint salad ($8.50). At the first table, a young man discusses the nature of freedom. I order a vegetarian Reuben sandwich, made with tempeh instead of corned beef.
8:14 p.m. — A young blonde woman wearing ankle boots and a paisley dress is the nucleus of a group of tourists (hailing from San Francisco and Kansas City) swirling between The Front and a gallery at 4036 St. Claude Ave. They are trying, unsuccessfully, to get a cab. "It's impossible. I've been calling for hours. He's off duty," she says, gesturing toward a cab at a stop sign. "How do local people get around?" They're all staying at Airbnbs because hotels are "dumb" and have "stupid prices." "Have you ever seen Treme?" one asks as they set off on foot for the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar.
8:15 p.m. — Both performance spaces at Dancing Grounds are overflowing with people watching dances choreographed for the studio's third anniversary party. The Rollin' Fatties food truck is parked out front, and there's a short line for burritos, nachos and tacos. Isaiah Daste, a co-owner of the food truck, was born and raised in Uptown New Orleans. Growing up, he says, he came to St. Claude "all the time," but the street was different. "It wasn't as mixed," Deste says. "It's changing. It's changing everywhere. I see it in my travels around the U.S."
8:32 p.m. — Outside Dancing Grounds, the neutral ground is packed with cars and a food truck. A young woman with a hoodie and an undercut sells copies of The Hood Health Handbook: Volume 1 and T-shirts that read "Police Murder People."
8:46 p.m. — Next to a closed OB/GYN office with burglar bars is the New Orleans Art Center, where a show by Ray Cole is on view. The gallery is almost empty except for a cluster of people talking about their respective pop-ups.
8:55 p.m. — Collette from the Never Met Her vintage shop sells her headdresses alongside her friend Utahna and her 9-year-old son, Nolan. The boy sells crayon and sticker art for "75 cents, or whatever you think it's worth." I buy an abstract by Nolan for $1.
9:04 p.m. — A group of voodoo practitioners, dressed in white, dances ecstatically to drums in the window of the Healing Center, while observers document the event with smartphones.
9:16 p.m. — Charles Stevenson sells barbecued sausage and chicken outside the AllWays Lounge. He says he doesn't get too many vegetarian requests, but sometimes people do ask for bread and cheese. Jokes from the Local Uproar comedy show filter out of the lounge.
9:40 p.m. — Daniel Degrassi, 28, just moved into a half-shotgun on St. Claude Avenue. He's taking a break from painting the interior to have a drink on his stoop. "I used to live on Villere [Street], so this is safer. The road is loud, but whatever," he says. "There's a bunch of thrift stores on this street. They're putting in an art gallery next door. It's good. People walk by, say hi."
9:47 p.m. — The homeless man is still on the porch next to Red's. Everybody else is gone. A girl rides by on her bike with a 4-foot-high plush sunflower strapped to her back.
9:55 p.m. — A trio of young women wearing face paint and green beads sits down at AllWays. Visitors from Minneapolis and Philadelphia, they've been "drinking all day." They found out about the burlesque show from Google, and haven't done any Second Saturday stuff.
10:01 p.m. — New Movement theatergoers take a break in the string-light illuminated courtyard to hang out at the picnic tables, smoke cigarettes and talk. Stephen Glindmeyer grew up Uptown and never came to St. Claude much. "If I did, it was in passing," he says. "I had a good friend who lived on Piety Street. It's slow to change."
10:10 p.m. — On the street in front of The New Movement, it's a different scene entirely. A neighbor dressed in a white tank top walks down the sidewalk and into his unlighted home. Outside of the house, there's an empty 20-pound bag of dog food on the curb, leaning against a pile of trash. Streetlights are out. Everything is dark. No one's around.
10:15 p.m. — Vinsantos, a self-described "f—ing gorgeous but rapidly aging drag queen," opens the Blue Book Cabaret at the AllWays: "Welcome to Lucky Pierre's on Bourbon Street!" The audience, largely out-of-towners, doesn't get the reference.
10:28 p.m. — A homeless man yells for money on Port Street just off St. Claude.
10:28 p.m. — While Louie Monnig attended Tulane University, he and his friends visited St. Claude to check out bars and restaurants. "I live around here now," he says, adding, "Hank's takes credit cards now. They have a Verifone machine, so things have come a long way. They even painted the building!" Monnig says he's seen St. Claude's gradual growth: "It's gone from meat markets and bodegas to these locally owned, locavore things in abandoned buildings."
11:05 p.m. — Alex, the bearded doorman at Siberia, raises his voice over the DJ (blasting Sissy Nobby's "Beat It Out the Frame") to tell me "bounce night" hasn't started yet. The club is largely empty, though the chalkboard on the sidewalk says the doors opened at 9 p.m.
11:06pm A white woman is attempting to twerk and failing badly in Hank's parking lot.
11:10 p.m. — I order a $3 Budweiser at Siberia. Inside, a few dancers kill time on the empty stage and dance floor waiting for bounce queen and show headliner Katey Red to take the stage.
11:18 p.m. — Saturn Bar is coated in a thin layer of cigarette ash. It's about a third full. The crowd is drinking age, but only just. The band (Bent Denim) plays slow, bummed-out rock that's also super-loud. Beanies for men are the look.
11:41 p.m. — Overheard in the balcony at the Saturn Bar: "Can you roll a spliff?" "Uh, yeah! Can I do that in here?" a girl asks. She's visiting from Nashville, but the group consensus is that New Orleans is vastly superior.
Midnight — Fresh Da Kid, wearing bedazzled stuffed animals on his sneakers, instructs three women twerking onstage at Siberia. Katey Red, wearing a pink cardigan with a matching belt and Ugg boots, tells Fresh she loves his shoes.
12:15 a.m. — DJ Soul Sister's Hustle dance party inside Hi-Ho Lounge begins to fill with people hopping from cabs. Allen and Jenny Blow and Chelsea Beaver sip white wine from the lone pub table on the sidewalk. They're self-described "burners," attendees of the annual Burning Man event in the Nevada desert, and hold regular events with their "regional" community. The Blows live a few blocks away and are longtime fans of Soul Sister's WWOZ-FM radio show. Beaver, who moved to New Orleans two years ago from Australia, wears glittery shamrock stickers on her cheeks.
12:38am The last band at Saturn Bar, Alex G, opens by playing the first verse and chorus of "More Like Me, Less Like You" by Linkin Park and the crowd loves it, though it's questionable whether it's ironic.
12:55 a.m. — Wearing sunglasses and a Viking helmet, pop-punky goofball rapper Saucy Yoda hops around the stage at Siberia, flanked by a dancer in a red tutu and another dancer dressed like a fancy cupcake. Siberia still is fairly empty, with dancers waiting in the wings and playing on their phones.
1:05 p.m. — Red's Chinese is closed and the Rudge memorial is gone but the doors are still open. The bar is still open at Junction. A few girls ride by on bikes, but for the most part it's quiet.
1:15 a.m. — An older man in a blue polo shirt belts out Frank Sinatra's "My Way" to a small crowd of young hipsters at Kajun's. Two nervous young men perform a shaky, then triumphant, rendi-tion of Tenacious D's "Tribute."
1:20 a.m. — Shirtless rapper Sex Party sweats onstage at Siberia as extremely graphic solo porn screens behind him.
2 a.m. — A group of bros, decked out in St. Patrick's Day green and drinking bottles of High Life, has commandeered a bike-mounted trailer parked outside Hi-Ho. "Honestly, I just wanted to sit down," one of them explains, "and I'm waiting for someone to tell me this is theirs."