Best and Worst of 2020 French Quarter

I’ll do my best to refrain from making too many weary references to the past year. If I do, just kick me under the table and I’ll move on…

Walking around here during the holidays is usually a bustling, sparkly mood enhancement- lots of holiday lights, special events, and more local sightings than normal. Knowing most of you didn’t make it down here (and thank you for that), I’d like to bring you my “Best French Quarter moments.” And because it seems necessary, I am also going to list my “Worst French Quarter moments.” Here’s the thing: I am going to mix them all up. As I find more in my notes, I will add them.

Best/Worst of French Quarter 2020

Stanley’s adds seating outdoors and evolves its menu

Jewel of the South adds seating in parking lot next door and reopens

Many tourists ignore mask mandate

Manolito keeps making its signature drinks at window

Golden Lantern Bar follows the rules, does contact tracing and keeps its good cheap drinks and cheerful professional staff.

Mona Lisa has hilarious conversation with world via its daily window notes, also offers good Italian food

Mattassa’s continues its struggles, even with residents increased grocery needs and Rouses closing for long period in December

Valentino Hotels renovates

Le Richelieu Hotel renovates

Relaxed parking enforcement

Fewer cars in Quarter

Hard Rock* demolition is still not done by 1031 Canal Development

10 months later, neighbors’ remains (Anthony Magrette, Jose Ponce Arreola, Quinnyon Wimberly) are finally all removed from Hard Rock* collapsed building

Nelly Deli (Quarter Master) renovates

Cafe Envie on Decatur reopens in April with careful rules in place

FQ Rouses/A&P gets a whole new do inside with pretty floors and room to move about

My mom gets better after long spring/summer illness (not COVID) and comes home to her beloved Quarter

Blue bike racks become bigger eyesores

Copper downspout thefts increase again

FQ dogs are even more blissed-out with increased walks and long stretches of time with their people

Jackson Square artists’ carts and art are thrown into Mississippi River by malicious malcontent

Saint Ann construction is completed (?)

Soap hawkers on Royal continue to harangue passersby, rarely wear masks during COVID mandate.

Some bars ignore mask mandate

Mayor orders Willie’s Chicken Shack to close for duration after COVID restrictions are ignored

Clarinetist Tim Laughlin offers evening balcony concerts on Royal

Place d’Armes bell captain Chris Stall and valet staff maintain a cheerful and helpful vibe to neighbors and visitors throughout stay-at-home summer

Backatown Coffeehouse hangs in on Basin, keeps sweet potato pies and coffee flowing.

City Hall pays attention to the potential of the Quarter, asks for input

City Hall chooses the wrong place to suggest another pedestrian mall

Signmaker gets windfall with numerous “anti-mall” yard sign orders

#JazzFestingInPlace at WWOZ is a triumph

Neighbors sit outside nightly and talk quietly and safely on Chartres, on Barracks, on St. Philip, on Bourbon, on Saint Ann…

Reggie the cat remains at large; family still hopeful for return

Homer Plessy at the Little Red Schoolhouse announces renewal of its charter

After more than 100 years at that location, Tujague’s leaves its 823 Decatur home,

Tujague’s opens at 429 Decatur Street at end of the year

Chef Jerry Mixon moves on from Cafe Amelie

Vieux Carre Wine and Spirits keeps serving the liquor-needy.

Bike lane is added on N Peters/French Market to Elysian Fields

Pedestrian striping and traffic calming upgrades are added to area around Crescent Park bridge

Unhoused population get hotel rooms for short period in summer

Retail stores begin to disappear in summer. My last informal count: 15 establishments gone in last 6 months.

French Quarter Festivals does online Holiday Concert series, culminating in Christmas Even concert by Irma Thomas. Miss Irma’s “O Holy Night” rendition remains perfect

Heavy rain storms brought on by climate change are so severe across the city that even the French Quarter floods, a rarity (2 such came in October, November)

HNOC does #NolaMovieNight with clever social media commentaries during movies.

Neighbors on Saint Ann hold safely chalked early pandemic dance party with appropriate music

I decide to check off a bucket list item and move to the Pontalba apartments, hopefully increasing my work on Mercantile Jackson Square writing project

Frogs croaking from courtyard garden ponds and pools all through quiet summer months

City Hall baits the sewers to stem rat infestation

Mary’s Ace Hardware on Rampart reports bar owners, restauranteurs, and homeowners outnumber the usual contractors are coming in to their well-stocked, 2-story establishment.

Oversized and unmitigated “prayer event” is held on river in November, pointedly ignoring all mask and distancing protocols.

Protest for Black Lives Matter are peaceful, well-organized, and citizens follow mask and (mostly) distancing protocols asked for by its organizers.

NOPD attempts scare tactics by reporting phantom piles of bricks hidden near Black Lives Matter protest site, tells neighbors of phantom buses filled with counter-protestors, neither of which materialize or are proven with any photographic evidence.

  •  The Hard Rock Hotel is owned by 1031 Canal Development (Mohan Kailas).

Can the French Market be “saved”? (Part 2)

It was reported recently that our energetic and active mayor has decided to do something about the French Market. As a 20-year activist in food systems with a 40-year family residency in the French Quarter, I was certainly excited to hear that, although I think the setting has already been improved a great deal in recent years.The main reason this seems opportune is 1) the  limited availability of any public spaces in the city to try small, discrete pilots that center around cultural connections and entrepreneurial zeal means that this might be a unique moment, and 2) also because the current FM Director has been quietly impressive.

Part 2 (Part 1 here) of my four part post:

then Katrina happened:

By September of 2005 while still in exile, we (meaning the parent org of the Crescent City Farmers Market, then known as ECOnomics Institute) created an online bulletin board and chat room for our vendors and for customers of the Crescent City Farmers Market to keep in touch and to tell us when and where they wanted the markets reopened.

Once we knew that we could come back and reopen farmers markets in New Orleans ( because enough producers had product, enough consumers wanted fresh food, and we had places to live) we began to discuss where to put them. Because the “sliver by the river” area of town had not flooded, we knew it would be one of those areas. This was not to ignore the flooded areas, but since any and all space for construction drop off or house demo had to come first,  a pop up market was simply in the way in those early days.  The Girod Street market location had some damage, so that was out. That left the French Market and Uptown Square as the two locations under consideration, but we quickly realized that the French Market was barely functioning.

Even so,  we were still trying to help them by meeting with its director in those early days. I remember that we had dinner with him in early October, discussing how to use the French Market to help rebuild the city. We suggested that they allow Red Cross to use it as a station, and to have city departments set up there. Unfortunately, none of that happened for various reasons, probably most due to the inertia of the complicated system that the French Market was and is managed under.  It is important to point out that the public-private partnership it operates under is hard enough, and then one must take in its multiple roles:

  • the largest manager of city-owned historic property which stretches from Jackson Square (and includes the upper Pontalba building) down to Esplanade (and that was before the Crescent Park opened);
  • the retail manager of all of the storefronts included in those properties;
  • the manager of the parking lots bordering the river and those on Elysian Fields;
  • the operator and manager of the 2 open sheds at the end of the French Market, including its hundreds of itinerant, permanent vendors;
  • one of the primary event creators and managers in the lower river section of the Quarter.

The reason I bring up the post Katrina era (and the earlier revival era that I wrote about in  Part 1) is because the future of this venerable place has a lot of baggage to carry with it, and also has some hard truths of the surrounding area that cannot be denied before we can discuss what to do. And the city is almost a completely different one that what existed on August 28, 2005. I’d like to see that history really analyzed, much more than I have done here, and make that analysis public.

For example, for any of us here at the time and now, it is clear that the post Katrina era gave the French Quarter some new life. Residents who still had property moved back in while they redid their own houses, others grabbed every rental available (which because there was no damage did not see its prices tripled as many other areas have done which was great cuz rents for larger, redone apartments there were already on the highest end of the spectrum), and -AND- the great luck of still having a walkable, vibrant area with public space, groceries, and cheery nightlife on the inner edge of the grey, sad, often toxic other 80% of our city was a comfort to all. So it became boom town for a little while and today, it still has an increase in renters and homeowners from the low population numbers it had a few decades previously.  The Homer Plessy Community School is livening up the corner of St. Philip and Royal,  a number of creative and unique shops are doing well (altho commercial space is at a premium), and a whole lot of activism and street life is still happening here. Interestingly though, still many locals repeat the old story about the French Quarter being “over” as a neighborhood when it is far from that.

That is another issue.

But in any case, the French Market didn’t capitalize on that boom. And unfortunately, lost great anchors such as Horst Pfeiffer’s Bella Luna who grew tired of waiting for his building’s roof to be repaired.

It simply didn’t have the structure or even the mandate to do capitalize. Instead, it remained an gentle afterthought in a booming Quarter, Marigny, Bywater which were (are) full of millennials terrified of being seen as participants in any setting that lacked an ironic twist or didn’t include a new take on an old place.

The French Market did however, add some very interesting counter restaurants in the sheds who continue to animate that very difficult space. And it also moved community radio station WWOZ into the Red Store building.  And the Dutch Alley Artists Co-op continues to attract local artists willing to operate the storefront as a collective. How do those additions change it is the question. Do they?  Are they as important to this French Market as Cafe du Monde and the Creole Tomato Festival were to earlier users?

And how does the new New Orleans (shudder) and the new life in the Quarter affect what is or should happen at the French Market?

 

 

 

-Part 3 will focus on the flea market on the end of the French Market, which must be dealt with, even though its history and its activity is not all as horrible as some residents make it out to be. As a place to show off the diversity of the entrepreneurial community new and venerable, it wears that well. The question is if newly arrived residents are still able to access the French Quarter?  The shift in population for immigrant communities moving away from the city center and to the suburbs and even rural areas seems to make the idea of a French Market business a little less ideal for those communities. The answer may be found in some sort of a organized incubator for those business at the French Market or even assistance in product development that may even cater to residents as well as visitors…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Quarter as classroom #enrollatPlessy

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Why do Plessy School students take weekly walking field trips?

⚜️Because instead of reading about the Louisiana Purchase from a book, we can walk to the room (Cabildo) where it happened.
⚜️Because the science behind why yeast, flour, and water rise is easier to understand if you are eating beignets (Cafe du Monde).
⚜️Because learning to spell M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I is memorable if you are sitting in front of it (Mississippi River).

Little Red Schoolhouse Reading Buddies Needed

Plessy teachers in the lower grades need our help to instill a love of reading in students and to improve their literacy skills.

Classes: First and Second Grades

Days: M Tu W Th

Between 8-8:45 for reading with 1 or 2 children using the green bags to build a love of reading (volunteers for this time would need to go through a short training on their first day on how to use the bags)

Between 8:45-10:15 to support with the independent reading center during literacy block. Volunteers will support by being available for children to read to them and support them with building strong reading habits (i.e. point with finger, sounding out words, etc.)

PLEASE CONSIDER A REGULAR DAY AND TIME FOR A RECURRING VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY. The program works best if students develop a relationship with the person reading with them. That being said, of course, any help is appreciated!

–YOU WILL NEED TO COMPLETE A BACKGROUND CHECK TO PARTICIPATE, which can be done at 715 S. Broad Avenue–

For more information, contact Christina Kiel (christina.kiel@gmail.com).

 

Location: Plessy School, 721 St. Philip Street

 

To sign up:

http://www.signupgenius.com/go/5080a48adac22a1fd0-reading