The 7th 8th and Upper 9th Wards section of New Orleans is very seldom visited by anyone outside the city. It is "back of town" (north/away from the river) from the Marigny and Bywater sections. The entire area was hard hit in the Hurricane Katrina flood disaster of 2005, and it is plain to see that the area has not recovered. Some portions have comeback, but other portions have not.
The area covered in this article includes a few basic subsections.
The westernmost is the old "7th Ward" neighborhood, from Esplanade Avenue to Elysian Fields Avenue. Historically, a predominantly Afro-Creole community developed in the 19th century similar to the neighboring and slightly older Faubourg Tremé; it was home to such early jazz greats as Sidney Bechet (whose childhood home on Marais Street was demolished in 2010). The areas along and near Esplanade Avenue and Bayou Road both have more elegant architecture and are doing better than most of the rest of the area.
Downriver (east) from Elysian Fields to Almonaster is the 8th Ward. Of most interest is the St. Roch neighborhood centered along St. Roch Avenue. It was settled mostly by German Catholic immigrants, but now it is a mixed neighborhood.
Further downriver, from Almonaster to the Industrial Canal, is a section of the Upper 9th Ward. In the "back of town" of this section is one of the post-Katrina redevelopment success stories, the Musicians' Village, with new homes in adaptive tradition influenced styles for families of local musicians and other working-class professionals who lost their homes in the Katrina disaster.
Furthest from the river is the "Florida" area. Most of this area was not developed residentially until the 20th century; part of it over an old city landfill and dump. Problem ridden even before Katrina with crime-ridden housing projects and neighborhoods built atop the old dump suffering from toxins leaking up in the soil, it was one of the worst hit parts of Greater New Orleans in the levee failure disaster in 2005. Five years later portions were still fenced off as uninhabitable, and the rest was rough at best.
A point of controversy has been the unwillingness of the federal government to reopen the housing projects that once provided homes for a good number of the area residents, who now largely remain displaced outside of New Orleans. The unspoken reasoning is that the government would have liked to shut them down, hurricane or no hurricane, as they were very high crime sections of the city. But locals are understandably angry that the projects, which were not terribly hurt by the hurricane, remain closed in a devastated area and a city with such desperate need for housing.
The sections of these neighborhoods closer to St. Claude Avenue have a budding bohemian community with its accompanying edgy, avant garde arts district, and a few far-flung foodie finds for the most adventurous New Orleans explorer. Some hope that in a few years it may experience an urban revival similar to the Bywater, especially if the planned restoration of the Desire streetcar line gets built. However such problems as architectural blight and violent crime still punish residents.
While it's possible to get here via Bus #88 along St Claude, it's far better to have a car around here, if only because this section of the city is unpredictable when it comes to walking safety. You can park on the side of most streets as the locals do. Crime varies from neighborhood to neighborhood and is difficult for travelers to know what areas are safest.
- St Roch Cemeteries, 1725 St Roch Ave, ☏ . Daily 9AM-4PM. Perhaps the most famous historic site in the area, although comparatively little known to visitors. This cemetery is a fascinating visit. It has above-ground crypts that rival many of New Orleans' more famous cemeteries, along with artistic stations of the cross. The old cemetery chapel and shrine of cures, however, are what makes the cemetery a must-see for lovers of the off-beat and quirky side of New Orleans. The central chapel was founded by one Father Thevis in 1876, following a yellow fever epidemic in the city. As history has it, his congregation prayed to Saint Roch starting in 1868, who famously aided the sick during the Black Plague, and none of them fell ill. The chapel and surrounding cemetery were built to honor the saint, as a means of thanks. Look inside the chapel (which houses Father Thevis' remains under the altar) for "cures" left by New Orleanians — charms left here to ward off various ailments or bring luck. Rumors of voodoo ceremonies within the chapel persist! As it is a New Orleans cemetery, safety is a concern, and you should come only in a group.
- St Roch Market, 2381 St Claude Ave, ☏ . This building at St. Claude Avenue & St. Roch is an historic landmark. Before Katrina it was a bit on the ramshackle side, but still busy specializing in fresh seafood; the city's second oldest functioning market after the famous French Market in the French Quarter. More than 6 years after "the Federal Flood", it remained boarded up and unrestored. There has been no shortage of talk about getting repaired or repurposed and reopened, but thus far still zero action.
- William Frantz Elementary School Building, 3811 N. Galvez St. (Between Pauline and Alvar Streets). One of the iconic images of the American Civil Rights Movement era is of the brave little Black girl Ruby Bridges walking into school while crowds of furious White segregationists yelled bile, some of them prevented from physically grabbing her only by the presence of Federal marshals. This is where it happened. Part of the less well-known back story is that at the same time, many New Orleans Church schools and progressive private schools were already integrating quietly and with little fuss. The Public School Board, however, was controlled by segregationists. When pushed to integrate by the Federal government, they did all they could to make integration a failure. The School Board mandated that the first "experiments" with desegregation would be in the neighborhoods with the most opposition to it. Thus the then White working class Upper 9th Ward neighborhood around this elementary school building was selected. Ruby Bridges and her family, however, dealt with the situation with fortitude and quiet dignity. She didn't miss a single day of school that year. She recalled it took about a year for things to calm down. As of 2011, the 3-story Art Deco school building is vacant and surrounded by a chain link fence. By the way, this little square of New Orleans also has another quite different link to history -- right across Alvar Street from the school was the childhood home of Lee Harvey Oswald; it was demolished after being totaled in the Katrina flood.
- L'Art Noir New Orleans, 1216 St Roch Ave, ☏ . By appointment only. A gallery devoted to underground and "lowbrow" art finds its home further off the beaten path than its old home on St Claude these days. Things are quite quiet lately, but give them a call and see if anything is going on.
- Hi Ho Lounge, 2239 St Claude Ave (At the corner of Marigny Street, a block down from Elysian Fields and across St. Claude from Old Marigny), ☏ . Local bar with more of a Marigny than 7th Ward vibe; live music, trivia contests, movies, and other events.
- New Orleans Candle Factory, 4537 N Robertson (At Japonica Street, just before the Claiborne Avenue Bridge over the Industrial Canal). Also known as "NOLA Candle Factory" or just "the Candle Factory"; an old Upper 9th Ward factory/warehouse space converted to venue for art workshops, underground shows, and other events, especially during FringeFest.
- Old New Orleans Rum Distillery, 2815 Frenchmen St, ☏ . Tours: M-F noon, 2PM, 4PM; Sa 2PM, 4PM. What a cool thing to do in the city that no one has heard of! For a measly ten bucks, you get to tour a rum distillery and have a rum tasting. The guides, who work there, are extremely knowledgeable and ready to impart any information related to the rum process (or simply field questions on what type of rum you should be drinking). The rums are quite high quality too, with several bottles winning international awards yearly. Free van ride from the French Quarter M-F by reservation. $10.
- Sweet Lorraine's Jazz Club, 1931 St Claude Ave (just across St. Claude from the back edge of Old Marigny; between Pauger and Touro Streets), ☏ . Noted neighborhood jazz venue, just a few blocks from the Frenchmen Street music strip in Marigny. Local modern jazz; they also serve dinners of Creole and soul food 5PM-10PM.
- Domino Sound Records, Bayou Road (in from Broad).
- Green Project, 2831 Marais St, ☏ . M-Sa 9AM-5PM. While generally of little use to tourists, this is a really neat shop. Their mission is to reuse and recycle the massive amounts of salvaged materials left around the devastated city post-Katrina. So they have a little of everything, mostly focused on building materials and home furnishings, but also tons of stuff useful for artists (including artist paints). If it's Mardi Gras season, stop by and check out what second hand items and costumes are kicking around!
- Broad St Cafe, 2005 North Broad Street, ☏ . lunch & dinner. Creole and po-boys. Live music some evenings.
- Buttermilk Drop, 1781 N. Dorgenois St. (just of St. Bernard Avenue), ☏ . 7th Ward sweets bakery with a small sit down space for Creole soul food breakfast and lunch. Baker/owner Mr. Henry used to run Henry's on St. Claude Avenue; loyal customers followed him here.
- Coco Hut, 2515 Bayou Rd (between Broad and Dorgenois), ☏ . M-Sa 9AM-7PM. Jamaican/Caribbean. Delivers.
- McHardy's Chicken & Fixin', 1458 North Broad Street (just off Bayou Road near Esplanade Avenue). Fried chicken is all they do at McHardy's, but they do it right. Pick some up to go. Cheap, just be sure to count your change before you go out the door.
- Poppa's Seafood & Deli, 3311 N Galvez St, ☏ . A small decent place with meat and crawfish pies, as well as good seafood at very low prices.
- Sammy's Food Service & Deli, 3000 Elysian Fields Ave, ☏ . M-Th 7AM-5PM, F 7AM-7PM, Sa 7AM-4PM. A rough neighborhood, but some of the best cheap food in the city. Garlic roast beef po' boys, greasy diner breakfasts done right, crawfish, burgers, fried seafood, etc. It's as far from upscale as you can get, but it's dearly beloved—expect long lines around lunchtime. $5-13.
- Stewart's Diner, 3403 Claiborne Ave, ☏ . A top-notch soul food diner way off in the uncharted waters of eastern Claiborne Ave. The photos on the wall are a bit amusing—only a truly disaster could have landed G.W. Bush in a place like this! However if there's one thing locals agree with the former president on, it's that places with the fortitude to reopen early after the disaster deserve patronage. It's cheap, and hard to go wrong anywhere on the menu. Cute atmosphere.
- Bullet's Sports Bar, 2441 A P Tureaud Ave (at N. Dorgenois). Not quite as rough as the name might suggest. Sometimes hosts live jazz combos, including local favorite Kermit Ruffins - this is a more intimate venue than the more famous jazz halls visitors are likely to catch him at.
- Gabby's Daiquiris, 1525 Franklin Ave, ☏ . Fairly run-of-the-mill New Orleans take out daiquiri joint. Nothin' wrong with that.
- Hi Ho Lounge, 2239 St. Claude (At the corner of Marigny Street, a block down from Elysian Fields and across St. Claude from Old Marigny), ☏ . Local bar with more of a Marigny than 7th Ward vibe; also has live music and other events some evenings.
- St Roch Tavern, 1200 St Roch Ave, ☏ . Daily 5PM-extremely late; kitchen open until midnight. This is the sort of edgy dive where you will leave with both a strong impression and an opinion of the place. New Orleans bounce rules most nights, but Sa nights past 1AM turn into a punk party with plenty of dancing. Other times there may be brass bands, R&B, and other eclectic local entertainment. Otherwise, it's just a real dive of a place, with regulars who may or may not be friendly... Drinks are real cheap, the Mexican food is a nice change of bar food pace, there is occasional free red beans and rice, and there are a bunch of dogs milling about at virtually all hours.
Few options; as of early 2012 the branch Public Library on St. Bernard Avenue was still vacant and gutted with no planned date for reopening announced.
While the city has less crime than it did before Katrina, it is still much higher than most cities in America. The areas closer to St. Claude are generally less dangerous than those further north, but none of this area is 100 percent free of crime. You should follow basic urban precautions, know where you're going, don't go alone especially after dark, as well as come via non-flashy car (preferably one that doesn't have out-of-town plates!). Crime varies from neighborhood to neighborhood which is difficult for travelers to know. One block can be reasonably safe but a 5-minute walk away could be in a rough area. Crime is high due to high poverty rates and racial segregation in the city. There is violent crime, and tourists have been victims..