Central City is a section of New Orleans to the west (upriver) of the Central Business District and north (lakewards or away from the river as locals say) from the downriver section of Uptown. Some locals also call it "the 3rd Ward", although legally that designation includes a wider area including much of the Central Business District.
The area of "Central City" centered around Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (historically known as Dryades Street) was a center of African-American commerce and culture in the first half of the 20th century. The end of racial segregation ironically hurt the neighborhood, as much of the African-American business as well as people went to other parts of the city. The area perhaps hit bottom in the 1980s, then the first projects to revitalize the historic neighborhood began.
Another blow came in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. As the city repopulated afterwards, Central City became notorious for shockingly high rates of violent crime, as rival gangs and drug dealers exchanged gunfire in the streets.
Although crime has gone down from mid-2009 to early-2012, Central City is still a dangerous neighborhood, not recommended for casual visitors. Projects to revive the historic O.C. Haley business strip are starting to show fruit, though it still has a long way to go. Those who decide to visit should be particularly aware of their surroundings and inquire about conditions in advance.
A car is without a doubt the best way to get around Central City, if for no other reason than that it is much safer to avoid waiting at bus stops and taking long walks through the neighborhood. Parking is relatively easy. Taxis will drop you off here, but you may have a lot of difficulty getting one to pick you back up, even when called.
Bus 91 runs from Rampart St at the north end of the French Quarter (a good pick up spot is at Canal and Rampart) and will take you directly along Oretha C Haley Blvd to the art centers and Cafe Reconcile.
- 1 Ashé Cultural Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, ☏ . Ashé's mission, essentially, is to be a community gathering space for the creation of art, but also to help drive community renewal. You'll need to check the website, but they have occasional events that would appeal to a visitor, like drum workshops, film screenings, etc.
- 2 Lafayette Cemetery #2. Unlike the interesting Lafayette Cemetery #1, #2 has not been maintained and is not terribly safe anyway. The same can be said for adjacent St. Joseph Cemetery #1. New Orleans has many more interesting and safer cemeteries; skip these.
- 3 Southern Food and Beverage Museum, 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. W-M 11:00AM - 5:30PM. Museum founded in 2004 about the food of the southern US. $10.50.
- Mardi Gras Indians Uptown Super Sunday Once a year, "Mardi Gras Indian" tribes from the upriver sections of the city have a grand parade, with elaborate costumes and multiple brass bands, starting around LaSalle Street on the downriver side of Washington Avenue. Usually held on a Sunday shortly after St. Joseph's Day (March 19); check with local publications or radio WWOZ 90.7 FM for details if you're in town this time of year.
- 1 Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, ☏ . This is a really cool complex with art films/indie films shown nearly every night. Check the calendar before coming, but mostly just to see what's on—it's a busy, thriving arts complex! On the second Saturday of each month 11AM-4:30PM, Zeitgeist opens the Och Gallery, which always has interesting art exhibits. The store is a great browse too, and is open one hour before nightly events. $7.
- Ashé Boutique (inside the Ashé Cultural Center), ☏ . M-F 9AM-5PM. The Ashé Boutique has a good assortment of art, jewelry, handbags, etc. made both locally and from parts afar (mostly African). It's a small shop, but it's worth stopping buy if you are in the neighborhood, and the proceeds go towards the upkeep of the arts facility.
Eat and drink
There are a couple really good places in Central City, with Cafe Reconcile being by far the most famous and popular, and Ms Hyster's being by far the tastiest food! There are no real bars to speak of, but most establishments have no problem with you bringing in a beer from a liquor store.
- Cafe Reconcile, 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, ☏ . M-F 11AM-2:30PM. Reconcile is one part tasty Creole restaurant and one part social work—the mission is to train 16-22 year-olds from the neighborhood for a career in the restaurant industry, by giving them experience and instruction for serving and line cooking. So you'll be eating well and feeling good about where your money is going. The interior is a really nice bright place to hang out too. For dessert, you must try their award-winning Bananas Foster Bread Pudding. $8-16.
- Cajun Seafood, 3957 Washington Ave, ☏ . 10:30AM-9PM daily. This is a great takeout for seafood boil (crab, shrimp, and especially the spicy crawfish), but it also has good po' boys, wings, and MSG-laden Chinese food for good measure. In other words, this place is take out for a party in your hotel room just waiting to happen. $3-12.
- Ms Hyster's BBQ, 2000 Claiborne Ave, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-8PM. Ms Hyster has easily some of the best BBQ in New Orleans, and that's saying something. The popular sampler platter comes in at a great deal of just $6 and is more than enough for one. Even if you are not planning to come by Central City for any other reason, if you are a real fan of BBQ, this one is worth making a special trip. $5-12.
- Philly's Cafe, 2816 Claiborne Ave, ☏ . Solid Philly cheesesteaks in a town where a good cheesesteak is hard to come by. $4-8.
- Podner's Barbeque, 2520 Felicity St, ☏ . New Orleans' most dangerous BBQ. It's quite good, but the neighborhood is rough. Even the inside looks like it might cut you if you look at it the wrong way. If you have any fear of the city, this place is not for you. If on the other hand, you will brave the mean streets for some mean meats, by all means, stop by and grab some ribs. "BYOB". $3-10.
- Crescent Palms Motel, 3923 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, ☏ . This is actually quite a nice motel, with a cocktail lounge, gated parking lot, a classic 1960s look to it, a big renovation (post-Katrina) a couple years ago, and a good bit of history. The property originally opened as Mason's Hotel, a black-owned hotel where black guests would be welcomed. As such, it attracted and hosted not a few African American celebrities, like Mary Wells, The Drifters, the Marvelettes and Martha and the Vandellas. So while the neighborhood is a bit rough, if you have a car you will be perfectly safe, and will be staying in a historic property just a five minute ride from downtown, for a mere fraction of the price of one of the downtown hotels—not a bad deal. $60.
- Central City Library, 2405 Jackson Ave, Building C, Room 235, ☏ . M-Th 10AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-3PM. Free public internet.
Travel pretty much in any direction and you will see a big contrast (try the upscale old money Garden District just a short drive riverwards/south!), as Central City is much poorer than the surrounding neighborhoods. If you are in New Orleans with an interest in African American history, the Tremé is really the local star.