The neighborhood was a thriving cultural and commercial hub in the mid-20th century, and the center of the city's modern Civil Rights movement. It suffered a downturn in the '70s and '80s and went into disrepair. Now, O.C. Haley Boulevard, as the locals call it, is in the midst of a refreshingly conscious revitalization that strives to preserve, serve and celebrate the community that created it.
Dryades Street (O.C. Haley Boulevard's original name) flourished as a business district in the late 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to enterprising Jewish, Italian, African American and German merchants readily serving a culturally diverse population that wasn’t always welcome in other parts of the city. Barred from other neighborhood clubs during the Jim Crow era, black musicians (including Professor Longhair) also set up shop here, making it a legendary cultural hub. The street was renamed in the late 1980s in honor of civil rights pioneer Oretha Castle Haley, and as a testament to its historical significance.
A walk up and down the main seven-block corridor of the boulevard will give you a good sense of the neighborhood as you pass places of worship, community centers and even the longtime mortuary, dotted with the shops, museums, restaurants and art galleries you’ll want to visit.
Ashé Cultural Arts Center
Arguably the anchor of the corridor’s current cultural renaissance, Ashé put down its roots in the business core in 1998, which at the time had been largely abandoned. Born from the vision to create and exhibit art programs that celebrate works by people of African descent, the center serves as both a gathering and exhibition space for the community’s artists and culture bearers.
Where: 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
More info: +1 504-569-9070; ashecac.org
New Orleans Tattoo Museum & Studio
Curated by the owner and resident tattoo artist Adam Montegut (with some assistance from a private investigator), this unassuming museum is dedicated to the history of tattooing in New Orleans. Here you’ll see photos and relics depicting the intriguing evolution of tattoo artistry in this town, including (but not limited to) traveling carnivals, Native American influences and the biker gang clashes that led to the 1981 ban on tattoo shops in the French Quarter, which is still in effect today.
Where: 1915½ MLK Jr. Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Mon., by appt. only; Tues.-Sat., 1-7 p.m.
More info: +1 504-218-5319; nolatattoomuseum.com
SoFAB & The Museum of the American Cocktail
Dedicating a museum to the food and drink culture of the American South is clearly a tall order, but one the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) does entertainingly well. Opened in 2014, the 10,000-square-foot space houses displays and vignettes with thousands of fascinating artifacts that tell the stories behind the dishes, ingredients, brands and personalities that define the region’s culinary heritage. Le Galerie d’Absinthe, for example, explores the fabled (and famously forbidden) “green fairy” spirit with a display of antique absinthe fountains and barware woven with stories of the famous bohemian artists who loved it.
Where: 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Weds.-Mon., 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
More info: +1 504-569-0405; southernfood.org
Eat & Drink
The melting pot of Mexico City immerses itself in the melting pot of New Orleans within the enchanting walls and courtyard of this destination bar and restaurant for Latin culture. The space is filled with art and salvaged materials that combine bright, tropical colors with subtle hints of darker folk spirits to create a festive and seductive setting. The ambience makes the authentic Mexican street food and extensive tequila and mezcal craft cocktail offerings taste even better. It hosts live Latin music five nights a week.
Where: 1719 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
More info: +1 504-427-0654; casaborrega.com
The fresh and hearty soul food served at this bustling neighborhood lunch restaurant is a testament to New Orleans’ love of good food and community. Established in 2000 to address the system of poverty, the nonprofit behind the cafe provides life skills and job training to help young people break out of that system, giving them the marketable skills they need to enter into the city’s prolific culinary scene, as many graduates have. You can’t go wrong with the traditional lunch plates (gumbo, po' boys, catfish) or daily specials.
Where: 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
More Info: +1 504-568-1157; cafereconcile.org
Dryades Public Market
Located inside a former school building, the Dryades Public Market is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that hasn’t had a grocery store within walking distance for quite some time. Shelves are stocked with local and traditional products at affordable prices, alongside specialty departments like a bakery, butcher counter and hot food bar. Order happy hour craft cocktails at Bar 38 (named for the former McDonough 38 school that once resided here) and freshly shucked oysters from the Curious Oyster Co. at the open bar in the center of the market, or enjoy one of the many cooking demos and tastings happening regularly.
Where: 1307 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Mon.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
More Info: +1 504-644-4841; dryadespublicmarket.com
Primitivo: Meat and seafood is smoked, grilled and roasted with local ingredients in a romantic space.
Roux Carré: Island-inspired outdoor dining, with a variety of up-and-coming small food vendors. Check the calendar for happy hours, cooking demos and live music.
Toups South: Southern culinary traditions and flavors are celebrated inside SoFAB.
Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market
Sleek and modern, this two-story performing arts venue and community center was sound-engineered specifically for jazz and is the residence of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. You can stop in to browse the Jazz Archive of books, albums and video performances by Irvin Mayfield, the resident orchestra and other renowned New Orleans musicians. The Bolden Bar serves drinks and coffee during regular hours and staffers are happy to receive visitors or put on a record of your choice, so stay a while.
Where: 1436 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Tues., 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Weds.-Sat., 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
More info: +1 504-371-5849; phnojm.org
Church Alley Coffee Bar
This charming little spot magically brews the values O.C. Haley Boulevard holds dear through really great coffee and tea (and a lovely little breakfast and lunch menu). Comfortable, humble and welcoming with mismatched vintage furniture and tables, it’s the kind of coffee shop built to hang out in for a spell. At least until you’re ready to wander upstairs to browse a boutique stocked with ecofriendly products.
Where: 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA
When: Mon-Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m
More info: churchalleycoffeebar.com
First Fridays: Restaurant food and drink specials, films, art exhibits, educational opportunities and performances on the first Friday of every month.
Central City Festival: Held the first week of November along the boulevard.