Down Bayou Road, New Orleans’ Oldest Passageway

Get off the beaten path on your way to Jazzfest

Any seasoned Jazzfest attendee knows that some of the best music you’ll hear all day is en route to the Fair Grounds, with young brass bands blaring away on front porches. The path to Jazzfest also holds other great finds worth seeking out on the way. Take a detour along the oldest passageway in New Orleans—Bayou Road.

Bayou Road was originally used for more than 4,000 years by Native Americans, who subsequently introduced French settlers to the route 300 years ago, as a way to get from Bayou St. John to the banks of the Mississippi River, where the French Quarter now stands. Cutting through the Tremé, Seventh Ward, Bayou St. John and Fair Grounds neighborhoods, it’s the reason why New Orleans was settled where it was. 

Bayou St. John New Orleans

Bayou Road has served as the central artery for New Orleans even before there was a New Orleans, and is now a colorful corridor for an often-overlooked but culturally rich area just a stone’s throw from the Jazzfest revelry.

Right before Bayou Road splits off from Esplanade Avenue is the Degas House, a historic home and B&B where French impressionist Edgar Degas lived for a short time. The neighboring le Musee de f.p.c. is a carefully curated museum chronicling the lives of New Orleans’ free people of color and the work of both local and national black community organizations throughout the decades; visits are by appointment only.

Cross over to Bayou Road and turn left, passing Benachi House, a wedding and events space, the art incubator Joan Mitchell Center and Club Caribbean, a reggae nightspot. Check out the unique architecture of the Pagoda Café; grab a cup of coffee or a snack while you’re there.

Pagoda Cafe New Orleans

The stretch of Bayou Road that intersects with Broad Street counts a variety of black-owned and Afro-Caribbean businesses, restaurants and nightclubs. The Community Book Center, one of the oldest businesses in the area, in operation for 35 years, serves not only as a bookstore, but also as a local gathering ground for neighborhood writers. 

On the Center’s exterior wall, facing striking St. Rose de Lima church, is a mural depicting a child reaching for a book by artist Brandan Odums, who created 2017’s Jazzfest/Congo Square poster of Jon Batiste. Soaring in the middle of Bayou Road shops, the church was recently converted into the new home of the Southern Rep Theatre

Community Book Center New Orleans

Next door to the Center is Material Life, a boutique that offers black- and African-centric books, clothing, jewelry and art, as well as great conversation. Connected to Material Life is February, a small gallery largely focused on photography. The cash-only Domino Sound Record Shack boasts the largest reggae selection in the South, and has an extensive collection of punk, blues, soul, hip-hop and other genres. 

Domino Sound Record Shack New Orleans

Hungry? There’s authentic Caribbean cuisine at Coco Hut (which also has vegetarian and vegan options), cupcakes and pie shots at CupCake Fairies, gumbo and char-grilled oysters at Half Shell on the Bayou, smothered tater tots and bacon-wrapped dates at Pirogues or fried chicken to go at McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin’.

When evening rolls around and the Fair Grounds are clearing out, swing by Whiskey & Sticks to enjoy a post-fest cocktail or cigar. It’s a welcoming setting with space inside for conversing and a large backyard for congregating.

 

Nora McGunnigle
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