Bourbon Street Blues

Construction causes temporary headaches for long-term health

There are few streets in the United States as notorious as Bourbon Street. The French Quarter corridor has a reputation that has long played a role in defining New Orleans to the larger world – the rules of polite society are not quite so important here.

Of course, as with most reputations, they are earned but rarely fully accurate. I tell everyone who visits NOLA for the first time to walk down Bourbon at night one time to judge for themselves. Observe the ladies enticing from doorways, watch the college kids try to figure out the ingredients in a “hand grenade” and avoid being pelted with plastic beads from the balconies above. Sing along to the cover bands playing an endless version of “Don’t Stop Believin,” eat a Lucky Dog and avoid stepping in any puddles.

The neon lights, revelers and Evangelical Christians shouting to “repent” are all intrinsically New Orleans, but they are such a small part of the entire picture.

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Even the tawdry reputation of Bourbon Street itself is lacking in dimension. For the same people I advise to walk Bourbon once at night, I encourage to walk it during the day as well.

In the early morning, Bourbon is quiet. Workers are cleaning the sidewalks, the bands have gone home and the tourists have either found their beds or their breakfasts. The street never fully stops, but its character shifts with the position of the sun.

As one of the most traveled streets in our city, it’s no wonder repairs are needed. The City of New Orleans and Sewerage & Water Board began a $6 million infrastructure project on Bourbon Street in April that is scheduled to be completed in December. Block by block, drainage, power lines, gas lines, signage and paving are all included in the scope of work.

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“The integrity of the infrastructure under Bourbon Street is critical to the long term health and viability of all of our enterprises and the city's largest economic sector,” said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “While disruptive and uncomfortable for businesses and visitors alike, this work is essential to protect and modernize our infrastructure so our long term horizon is bright and safe.”

Starting with the 100 block, the street has been ripped apart and the fencing is up, but most importantly, the businesses are open and hurting from decreased foot traffic. Recently, NOLA business leaders, including Perry, have been making a point to encourage people to patronize those being impacted.

I did my part last weekend and ate lunch at Felix’s Oyster Bar, just off of Bourbon Street on Iberville. The construction starting at Canal Street made the journey on Bourbon a bit narrower, but it was manageable. And no amount of construction can keep me from Felix’s fried oyster poor boy.

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It's businesses like Felix’s that help shape the identity of our city. Some of our local brands have gone national, and some national brands have found a home on Bourbon, but when you combine all of the venues along that stretch you start to get a feel for just a bit of the magic NOLA brings to this world.

Ms. Chris Owens has been shaking what her mama gave her since 1977 at the corner of Bourbon and St. Louis streets. Let’s not allow the construction project of 2017 to end her glorious career, or negatively impact any of the businesses along this quirky stretch of the imagination.


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