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We had just entered the Dr. Bob folk art studio in Bywater, the funky New Orleans neighborhood, passing the gas station-like sign into the junkyard/art studio. A cavalcade of funky bottle cap laden art greeted us. Much of the studio was filled with mass-produced silkscreen prints, while other sections were decked out with ambitious, original works in progress.
While exploring the space, our attention shifted to the far corner of the gallery where Dr. Bob, the eccentric artist himself, was playing a game with his dog, testing the canine’s strength with a rope-like dog toy.
A visit to Dr. Bob’s folk art studio on the outskirts of town is a definite ‘must see’, but an interaction with the good doctor himself immediately immerses you into the culture of the crescent city. And what a city it is.
It amazes us how so many people go to New Orleans and never leave the French Quarter. We once met a guy at the airport who never left Bourbon Street for an entire week. To us, that’s just crazy.
We acknowledge that there are gems in the French Quarter and, yes, even on Bourbon Street. Despite the throngs of tourists, we have enjoyed many a meal, drink and beignet in the tourist mecca of a neighborhood during our trips to the Big Easy.
However, we prefer to explore and eat in other neighborhoods such as Faubourg Marigny, Tremé, the Garden District, Uptown and Mid-City. For us, a favorite New Orleans neighborhood is the Bywater.
When we travel, we always seem to connect with gentrifying areas that are brimming with art and food. This happened to us in Lyon with the Croix Rouge and in Paris with Belleville, just to name a couple cities.
We connected with the Bywater neighborhood’s urban, hipster vibe.
Nestled between Faubourg Marigny and the 9th Ward and right next to the Mississippi River, the Bywater is a thriving neighborhood where you can walk around and explore. We love gazing at the houses and street art. Even the smaller shotgun houses feature interesting design elements and vividly colorful exteriors.
On a previous New Orleans trip, we bumped into Dr. Bob’s art studio where we heard about The Country Club, a cool spot to dine and swim in the Bywater neighborhood where clothing was optional at the time of our visit. On this trip, we bumped into the St. Roch Cemetery and the St. Roch Tavern during an epic walk with friends Heidi and Karl.
St. Roch Cemetery
The St. Roch Cemetery dates back to the 19th century, circa 1868, and is named after the patron of miraculous cures and dogs. Also known as Campo Santo (Holy Country), the cemetery grounds are fascinating to explore with decorative tombstones, mausoleums and statues.
There are many Italian names memorialized in the cemetery, but there are also Spanish, French and Germans names, some of which appear to be Jewish. Just like the city itself, the St. Roch Cemetery is a cultural melting pot.
There’s a small chapel on the cemetery grounds. The chapel is full of interesting offerings for St. Roch, all related to his ability to heal the sick and infirm. It’s an interesting yet peaceful spot in a hectic city.
We learned a lot about the cemetery due to the serendipity of meeting a volunteer named Rock (coincidence?) soon after we arrived at the cemetery. His family connection to the cemetery goes way back, and he was kind enough to act as our impromptu tour guide and educator.
Hopefully it was a nice break from caretaking for him. It was certainly a memorable interlude for us.
St. Roch Cemetery is located at 1725 St. Roch Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA.
St. Roch Tavern
Lucky for us, St. Roch Tavern appeared in our vision just as we needed a pit stop.
If not for the imminent need for a toilet, we would have walked right by the corner building. If we had, then we would have missed out on this divey neighborhood bar chock full of character and cheap drinks.
We loved the kick-ass bloody marys, which pro bartender Wendy served with finesse and PBR chasers. It’s the kind of bar that we would frequent regularly if it were in our neighborhood.
St. Roch Tavern is located at 1200 St. Roch Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 70117, USA.
Dr. Bob Folk Art
The Dr. Bob folk art studio is a fun stop to make when in the Bywater. You can see Dr. Bob’s art all over New Orleans. Those folksy bottle cap signs that state “Be Nice or Leave” – that’s Dr. Bob.
You can buy and peruse art in the funky art studio junkyard and, if you’re lucky, you can also meet the eccentric doctor himself. We didn’t meet him on our first visit, but we got to meet him on our second visit and chat about such colorful topics as post-Katrina New Orleans, gentrification, fracking and, of course, Po-Boys.
Don’t be deterred by the junkyard exterior of the studio, as it’s an intriguing spot and a great place to buy reasonably priced folk art that will remind you of New Orleans when you’re back home. We definitely recommend a $30 purchase here instead of at a tourist trap store in the French Quarter, unless you’re shopping for a snow globe for your niece, as happens.
Dr. Bob Folk Art is located at 3027 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA, USA.
Brunch at Elizabeth’s Restaurant
Since we already mentioned that the Bywater is one of our favorite New Orleans neighborhoods, it should be no surprise that there are many spots for great food and coffee. Not far from Dr. Bob’s studio is Elizabeth’s Restaurant.
We dug this homey spot with good food and drinks. Dr. Bob must dig it too since his art adorns the walls both inside and outside of the cosy two-story eatery.
Our brunch at Elizabeth’s Restaurant featured comfort food with a New Orleans twist. Daryl ordered the table’s favorite main dish – the duck waffle.
As good as the duck waffle tasted, the star of the brunch was the praline bacon. This appetizer was the perfect size for four people to share. Even so, Karl was so enamored that we decided to order a second serving to share. In other words, Bacon + Pralines = Delicious.
Elizabeth’s Restaurant is located at 601 Gallier Street. New Orleans, LA 70117, USA.
Dinner at Booty’s Street Food
** Important Update – Booty’s Street Food is permanently closed. **
There are many other interesting spots to eat in the Bywater neighborhood. Maurepas Foods has been recognized by many national reviewers. Satsuma Cafe is a popular café known for its coffee and baked goods.
As for us, we decided to check out Booty’s Street Food based on its diverse tapas menu featuring street foods from all over the world. We were intrigued by the global menu as well as the deep cocktail program.
Four small plates to share was perfect since we were on our own for this meal. Our favorite plates were the Queijo Na Brasa (Brazil) and the Narcissus Kofta (Iran).
Even though we were the only diners in the restaurant late on a Sunday night, we enjoyed the flavorful food, not to mention the Bywater Bomber cocktail.
Booty’s Street Food was located at 800 Louisa Street, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA. It is now permanently closed.
Final Thoughts on the Bywater Neighborhood
When we visit a city, we often visualize ourselves living there. We agree that if we lived in New Orleans, we would likely live in the Bywater neighborhood.
Hip yet chill, the Bywater is a real New Orleans neighborhood. In case you forget where you are, the Mardis Gras beads are there to remind you.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.