shops along Lower Decatur Street
A number of different echelons of shopping experiences await you in NOLA's "Vieux Carré." Many opt for the cheap plastic beads 'n breasts found throughout transitory shopfronts on Bourbon and Canal. Others, perhaps with a more refined taste, head on down to Royal and Chartres to shell-out big dough on high-end antique chandeliers and handmade Venetian-style Mardi-Gras masks! Set of Drifters recommends an alternative however, the middle-of-the-road route down “Lower” Decatur Street for its eclectic array of thrift stores and specialty fashion boutiques.
Emerging from Jackson Square facing the Mississippi River, walk east down Decatur (to the left) to find some of our favorites. You'll want to bypass the more common "Cajun-themed" souvenir shops blaring Zydeco music... that is unless you want to stock up on replacement bottles of “Blake’s Butt Bomb” or “Harry Pooter” hot sauce. Head on first down to Le Garage Antiques & Clothing. This popular spot is like a small historical museum, with one big difference! Here, you can touch everything - including elaborately-festooned Mardi Gras costumes of yore, lost and found art objects, military uniforms and a rather impressive assortment of unusual hats! On our most recent visit in October 2012, we were mesmerized to find, among other oddities, vintage “Statler” and “Waldorf” Muppets masks from the 70s - and originally made in France!
Set of Drifters tip: While Le Garage’s big pink door is usually open, this must-shop spot does seem to shift its hours around a bit. If you miss it on your first trip down Decatur, make sure to come back for a second chance. Also, there is a lot to see here, so plan ahead. If you’re not careful, you may end up losing a big portion of your day rummaging through the racks!
A few other great vintage shops worth taking a look at include Greg’s Antiques and Other Assorted Junk and Tiki’s Tavern of Trash and Treasure! The former is certainly an eyeful, laid out over three vast rooms and one outdoor patio! Highlights include one-of-a-kind art pieces fashioned out of local, so-called “junk” and a startling collection of antique furniture. During our last look-see, we spotted some great Art Deco bureaus, Chinese armoires and tufted settees - all at surprisingly reasonable prices! A bit kitschier perhaps, Tiki’s Tavern of Trash and Treasure serves up just that, with a fine display of retro wall clocks, wood-carved statues and maybe even that favorite childhood toy in its original box! (Sorry, we do not have the exact address of this place, though it is very close by Greg's, potentially next door?)
Elsewhere, Decatur shoppers may want to check out the Milk Handcrafts Studio, a consignment collection that featured New Orleans-vibed housewares, jewelry and clothing. While we’re not necessarily one to wear feathered chapeaus with bedazzled veils or small birds attached to them, Milk Studios’ inclusion of “Bedford Falls Headwear” will impress anyone interested in the “finer things in life.” Be on the lookout for some rather delicate “skull and crossbones” sun parasols that are about as cool as they come!
Another nearby shop that you might be interested in - particularly if you find yourself in heavy black eyeliner more often than not - is Wicked Orleans. Specializing in dandy Neo Goth, fetish leathers (or vinyls?) and splashy Vampire Chic, Wicked Orleans seems to grow in popularity each time we visit the Quarter. But buyer beware: with so many stripes, studs and stilettos overloading the shelves, you might just find yourself drowning in a sea of red, black and purple velveteen before too long! Ahhh, relax and just give in to the decadence!
Of course, on “Lower Decatur,” that’s all just for starters. Kitty corner to Le Garage, (and across from Cafe Envie - a nice spot to grab an afternoon coffee - see “sips”), you’ll find Gnome (1301 Decatur). While downsized a bit since our last trip, Gnome continues its pledge for urban wear and other treats potentially best suited for the Williamsburg or Silver Lake hipster in you! (Come on, you know who you are!) Other nearby emporiums worth a browse are Funrock'n (kitsch/ pop culture paraphernalia), Sole Starr ("Sailor Moon" meets skater-chic apparel, hosiery and shoes), and Kruz (for all you New Agey Indian/ Middle Eastern/ belly-dancing enthusiasts out there).
Le Garage Antiques & Clothing - 1234 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 522-6639
Greg’s Antiques and Other Assorted Junk - 1209 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 202-8577, http://www.gregsantiques.net/
Milk Handcrafts Studio - 1309 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70016(504) 432-1890, https://www.facebook.com/pages/MILK-STUDIO-NEW-ORLEANS/444006085025 and http://www.bedfordfallsheadwear.com/
Wicked Orleans - 1201 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 529-4384
Gnome - 1301 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 309-2288
Sole Starr - 1222 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116
Kruz - 432 Barracks Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 524-7370, http://www.kruzshop.com
Set of Drifters Brady here. Imagine my shock - but ultimate joy - when I learned that Red Lantern, our faaaaaavorite clothing shop in New Orleans, had not just closed down its Decatur Street location, but relocated to a much larger storefront over on Royal! A perennial “MUST-SHOP” for years, Red Lantern presents a funky collection of men’s/ women’s apparel and shoes from both established and up-and-coming urban designers. (This was the first place we spotted Sanuk’s line of “not-a-shoes” back in 2007!) What we love most about this place is that, for the most part, Red Lantern buyers have assembled a collection of threads you just don’t see anywhere else. From military-inspired jackets for men to quirky socks, leggings and knit hats for the gals, there’s virtually something for everyone, or at least the Boho-fauxhemian inside you!
Previous scores at Red Lantern have included “vintage New Orleans”-inspired T-shirts, colorful striped shirts courtesy of Mission and a rad-ass pleather jacket from Dorsia that I still get compliments on even five years later. Come for the fresh interior design and reasonable prices on fun(ny), innovative clothes, and stay for the friendly service and conversation! My only wish is that Red Lantern had an online shop! (A query to one of the proprietors revealed that a previous attempt was just too much of a hassle.) No worries, we’ll be back again one day!
Red Lantern - 824 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 561-1017
Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo
In case you hadn’t noticed, your "Set of Drifters" tend to embrace things that are not necessarily the most popular. This is often true in the movies we watch, the music that we listen to, and yes, the places we visit. In fact, we cannot think of anything worse than enduring an afternoon (or even an hour) in "tourist hells" like San Francisco’s Pier 39 or Hollywood’s infamous “Walk of Fame.” That all changes, however, when it comes to New Orleans. Perhaps because of the multifaceted eccentricity found throughout the region, many of NOLA’s most tourist-heavy highlights are also just quirky enough to be appreciated by oddball travelers like us.
One of these “highlights” can be found while peeling back the layers of New Orleans’ rowdy, ribald and often recondite history. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when wealthy landowners bought and sold slaves to power their plantations, African-born immigrants to New Orleans (by way of Santo Domingo) were forced to assimilate any previous spiritual beliefs into the confines of Catholicism. The practice of Voodoo (and to a lesser-extent Rara and Santería) soon crept its way into the fields, homes and “quadroon balls” of pre-Civil War era New Orleans. And early on, Marie Laveau was its leader.
Born the daughter of a white farmer and a free Creole woman of color, Madame Laveau rose to fame (and later power) first as a hairdresser to New Orleans’ well- heeled families. It was her spiritual influence on them that ultimately granted her the moniker of "Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" with, at one point, over 12,000 city followers - both black and white, slave and otherwise. Many believed Laveau possessed supernatural powers, and not just because she could whip up some serious gris-gris. Quite frankly, Madame Laveau never seemed to age! (In truth, the glamorous charlatan duped the city for many years by enlisting a daughter to impersonate her - well beyond her death! For more on this, see “Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1” in “sights.”)
Throughout the 1800s, Marie Laveau (and/ or Marie Laveau II) continued to curry enough favor amidst her many followers that a purported sideline brothel was able to flourish without any disturbance from politicians - or police! But no matter what Laveau’s many detractors may have thought of her “reign,” one thing is for certain... This priestess/ entrepreneur’s often showy recipe for integrating African spirituality into the everyday lives of citizens somehow resonated with New Orleans’ diverse population - and still does even today.
As evidenced by our unplanned stumble onto “Voodoofest” (Halloween day, 2012), the spirit of the religion is clearly alive and kicking within the French Quarter. (See “the best time to visit NOLA” in “essentials” for more information.) If you find yourself curious while visiting, may we suggest a stop-off at “Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo?” Located in the heart of Bourbon Street’s hubbub, this is a great place to hit when you’re feeling a slight buzz and need to take a break from the lunacy outside. Supposedly adjacent to the property that Madame Laveau once occupied (and used to run her Voodoo practice), the small shop serves as both a haven for serious practitioners, as well as an introduction for those whose only knowledge of Voodoo stems from dolls with pins sticking out of them!
Whether you are a believer or not, we bet you’ll be easily hoodwinked by House of Voodoo’s staggering floor-to-ceiling presentation of spellbooks, potions, ritual candles and bath salts, gris-gris bags, tarot cards, claw and bone talismans and African and Haitian art! While those inclined can ask about customized services (including offerings and potions), this really is just a fantastic spot to pick up more unique souvenirs for peeps back home! And let’s be honest, who can’t do without a little "Money Oil" every now and then? Complete with a “psychic reading room” and Voodoo altar, Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo is open Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 AM to 11:30 PM and Friday and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 1:30 AM!
Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo - 739 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 581-3751
Faubourg Marigny Art & Books
Located on Frenchmen Street in the heart of the grooviest neighborhood in New Orleans (see “sights”), Faubourg Marigny Art & Books impresses with an eclectic selection of new and used books stacked from floor to ceiling. While proprietor Otis Fennell’s shopfront is apparently one of the oldest gay bookstores in the South, don't let that distinction stop you non-homos from visiting, particularly if you are on the hunt for cool and unusual books about New Orleans and its history. Quite frankly, this is your best source for vintage Mardi Gras posters, retro travel guides from NOLA and beyond, fun and kitschy greeting cards, and well... one of the largest collections of 70s gay smut we’ve ever seen! (You’re sure to find at least 10 copies of Mandate and Honcho!)
During each subsequent visit to “FAB,” we’ve talked to ex-New Yorker Otis at length. We’re always so appreciative of the time he takes to answer questions about his far-spreading collection, of which an original full-color program of the 1976 Off-Broadway “sex musical” Let My People Come was a recent (and highly treasured) purchase!
Faubourg Marigny Art & Books is open daily from 12:00 NOON until at least 10:00 PM, though if Frenchman is-a-hoppin’ Otis is sure to keep the doors open longer. How else is he gonna move those male nude pencil drawings!? Set of Drifters tip: Ask Otis if he has any copies of Lost New Orleans by Mary Cable, The French Quarter by Herbert Asbury or Geoscopic Wonders of New Orleans by Jon Newlin and photographer D. Eric Bookhardt. All three books are bound to keep you glued to New Orleans long after your visit is complete.
hats, hats and more hats!
Just like Virginia is for lovers - New Orleans is, apparently, for people who like to cover their heads! No seriously. How else can you explain the one-two-three punch of Bedford Falls, Goorin Bros. and Meyer The Hatter? We’ve already discussed Bedford Falls’ wonderful veils and vintage-inspired headwear for the lasses (you can find them at Milk Studio on Decatur), so for now we’ll concentrate on the lads.
Goorin Bros. may be new to the French Quarter scene, but certainly not to men’s heads in general. In fact, the family-run business has been in existence since way back in 1895 when daddy Cassel Goorin ran a custom-made hat service right off his horse cart! Cassel prided himself in offering one-of-a-kind pieces tailor-made to each individual head, and he passed this attention to detail down to sons Alfred and Ted when they took over in 1921. Under their direction, the company expanded, moving from Pittsburg to San Francisco, where new ventures included accessories for hunters, as well as gloves, mittens and socks for skiers. (Goorin Bros. became the official headwear sponsor for the 1960 Olympic Winter Games.)
Though the popularity of men’s headwear took a nosedive in the 1970s and 80s, a resurgence began in the 90s that continues to this day. Now run by Cassel’s great-grandson, Goorin Bros. is surprisingly hotter than ever, with handsomely-outfitted shopfronts popping up all across the country. From New York to California (and now in Canada), perhaps there is already a store near you? The French Quarter outpost in New Orleans is joined by another Uptown location on Magazine Street, further solidifying the brand’s newfound “hipster quotient.” (Come on. Where did you think all those street musicians got their bowlers?)
Whether you are in the market for a new cap, fedora or beanie (or cloche for the ladies), we think you’ll be more than impressed by both the quality of product, and by the way each versatile style is merchandised. Sure, the price point at Goorin Bros. may be a bit higher than you’re used to spending on a hat, but with such rich materials and innovative designs to choose from, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more dapper haberdashery! Set of Drifters tip: For more modern interpretations on classic hat shapes, check out the 1333 Minna Line designed by artisans back at Goorin Bros.’ San Francisco headquarters.
Now if Goorin Bros. is feeling a bit too up its own top hat for you, there is another nearby option that’s easily as impressive, at least from an inventory point of view. Serving local New Orleans residents from its perch just outside the Quarter, Meyer the Hatter has survived more than a few hurricanes in its almost 120 years of business. Like the aforementioned Goorin Bros., Meyer The Hatter is also a family-run outfit, and with salesmen Cedric and Christopher on the floor, now in its fifth generation! While the jam-packed shop has no pretty wallpaper or vintage threading machinery to marvel at, what it does boast is a long wall of celebrity autographs and photos of the fans that have walked through its St. Charles Avenue glass doors.
Aside from stellar customer service (if 88 year-old Sam is not in the shop, ask for son Michael), what makes Meyer The Hatter worth a look-see is its unparalleled diversity. Not just catering to the modern urban hipster, this is the place to find everything from derbies and berets to collapsible satin top hats and safari mesh helmets! Stetson cowboy hats? Check. Greek sailor’s caps? Check. Bailey, Dobbs and Kangol? You bet. There’s a reason Elvis Costello, Neil Patrick Harris and the costumers of Boardwalk Empire have all stopped here. Quite frankly, Meyer The Hatter has it all!
Goorin Bros. New Orleans (two locations) - 709 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 523-4287 and 2127 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70118, (504) 522-1890, http://www.goorin.com/hat-shops/french-quarter
Meyer The Hatter - 120 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130, (504) 525-1048, http://www.meyerthehatter.com/meyer/
The French Market/ Cafe du Monde
First timers to New Orleans are going to have a hard time ignoring The French Market, the tourist mecca that mixes together open-air restaurants with live jazz alongside a staggering array of vendors all-too-eager to sell you their (mostly innocuous) wares! Yes, this truly is the best place to snatch “NOLA”-inspired souvenirs for those you don’t want to spend too much of your booze fund on. (Ten faux Voodoo doll keychains will probably set you back only $3 USD, but you better believe they’re made in China by peeps who probably have no idea who Marie Laveau is!)
The French Market began as a trading post for Native Americans on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1791 - oddly during the 35+ year Spanish occupation of the city. In the decades that followed, the market expanded by leaps and bounds, and became the place to find fresh fruits, vegetables and fish in New Orleans. Traditional food stalls will still impress to this day, but more has changed then stayed the same in the 200 years since the market’s debut! These days, high end, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces are pressed right up against baggies containing an assortment of plastic beads - complete with "boobies that squirt milk out of them" (or worse!)
To be fair, The French Market does have some cool and unique handicrafts to discover - antiques and vintage clothing too! Just plan on spending some time sifting through mass-merchandized crap to locate the good stuff! (In our visits over the years, we’ve resurrected from the masses some rather neat vintage postcards and a few art and photography books at rather decent prices.) If so inclined, this might also be a nice place to stop for a bit and people watch. There are some straight-up freaks up in this place! A nice vantage point is from the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen; see “eats” for more information.
Speaking of sustenance, one the market’s bigger draws is Cafe du Monde, the original 1862 coffee shop that has been serving patrons cups of chicory-flavored java ever since. Intrigued by the sweet scent of beignets? You better anticipate some pretty nasty lines. This is one of those times where we have to ask you "list checkers" out there if it's really worth it. Do you really need to have a coffee from the original "Cafe du Monde" stand? Wouldn't it instead be more efficient to avoid the crowds altogether and check out one of Cafe du Monde’s ancillary shops nearby? You can pick up the exact same handsome tin of chicory coffee, or a box of that treasured beignet mix from any one of them! And if it’s just the quick fix you crave, why not hit up our favorite spot - Cafe Beignet over on Royal Street? There’s rarely a long wait here, even at the height of the breakfast rush, and those beignets are just as powdered with sugar as you’d expect! (See “eats” for more information.)
Still, if it's a list that you must check off... Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours a day - seven days a week, and according to their website, closes "only on Christmas Day and on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans." We recommend beating the crowd early during the 6:00 AM hour, or staving off until after the hordes of caffeine-whores have moved onto that other treasured New Orleans liquid - booze. (Oh wait, in NOLA, that’s pretty much a 24 hour affair as well.)
Set of Drifters video: Check out our YouTube channel for videos from The French Market! And for more on what makes this New Orleans mainstay such a hit, enjoy this insightful University of New Orleans article that mixes 'n mingles with many of the local "voices" behind the French Market.
The French Market - French Market Place (just off of Decatur Street), New Orleans, LA 70116, http://www.frenchmarket.org/
Cafe du Monde Coffee Stand - 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 525-4544, http://www.cafedumonde.com/