The Vinyl Tourist Visits
New Orleans, a/k/a The Crescent City, The Big Easy, NOLA, and so on, is to the State of Louisiana what New York City is to the rest of its home state--a totally different world. It's reputation as a town whose values are at odds with its rural neighbors derives largely from its European (French and Spanish) origins and attitudes. Throughout the 19th century, French was commonly spoken and the revival of Cajun culture during the past few decades has rekindled interest in the native tongue.
For the record collector, the best shops are located in the Vieux Carré (Old Town), as the French Quarter is also known, and are all within walking distance of each other. To get around other parts of the city, a three-day transit pass for $12 is recommended and is valid for unlimited rides on all public transportation, including the Riverfront, Canal Street, and St. Charles Avenue trolleys. We purchased ours at the Tourist Info booth next to the Café du Monde on Decatur Street, but they can also be bought at the Lighthouse on the river side of the Jackson Brewery.
Because cuisine is a regional obsession, it's actually difficult to find a bad meal here, even at the lowliest diner. However, it is possible--avoid the Praline Connection (any location) at all costs.
Our favorite spots include:
- Villa Convento (616 Ursulines Street)
An unpretentious, family owned hotel at the quiet end of the French Quarter. Yes, the room decor is more Motel 6 then Belle Epoque, but the shaded courtyard and friendly hosts more than make up for it.
- Le Richelieu (1234 Chartres Street) is a more upscale alternative and quite affordable during the off-season. Paul McCartney lived here for two months and you can stay in his suite, too.
- Cafe Du Monde (813 Decatur St.)
- Croissant D'Or Patisserie (615 Ursulines Ave.)
A favorite with local residents, sandwiches, pastries, coffee are served in what appears to be a former Turkish Bath (Don't worry--it isn't). Lunch can be had for $5.
- Gumbo Shop (630 Saint Peter St.)
Popular and for a good reason!
- Mona's (504 Frenchmen St.)
Middle Eastern dishes and a neighborhood favorite. There are several other locations, but we like the one in the Faubourg Marigny district.
- Mona Lisa (1212 Royal St.)
Italian cuisine at neighborhood prices.
- Bennachin (1212 Royal St.)
Right next to the Mona Lisa, you'll find this delightful West African restaurant, specializing in fare from Cameroon.
- Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Ave.)
One of the best restaurants in the USA, famous for their Sunday brunch. Reservations and jackets (for gents) required.
In need of a local map? Try Google Maps.
Finally, if you haven't already done so, please read the Vinyl Tourist's Caveat.
- Louisiana Music Factory
210 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
If you're looking for Lou'siana tunes, be they Jazz, Cajun, Zydeco, Swamp, Pop or Blues, then this is the place! There are two floors of music -- compact discs on the street level and records one flight up. The vinyl section is well organized by genre and artist and there's a fine collection of 78s in boxes beneath the LP bins. Here I found many vintage goodies--rare mambo 78s from the 1940s on RCA's Mexicana label, an LP of John Zorn's Spillaine, a 78 of "Jesus Hits Like Atom Bomb" by Lowell Blanchard and some great Tommy McClain swamp pop reissues on CD. Very strong in jazz (all eras) and prices are generally good. They're also happy to let you preview sealed CD's, as well as LPs.
- Beckham's Book Shop
228 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Mainly a used book emporium, this three-story shop also carries a large variety of classical LPs, mostly in the $2-$6 range. Except for the most common titles and mono releases, Shaded Dogs and their audiophile cousins are scarce, but the otherwise large selection and very reasonable prices more than make up for this. Be sure to go to the third floor where most of the bins are located.
- Kitchen Witch Cookbooks
631 Toulouse Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
While principally a cook book and utensil shop, the Kitchen Witch is also the successor to The Magic Bus, formerly on Conti. While the bus and it stock survived Hurricane Katrina, the lack of new collections that weren't damaged by the storm, forced the owner to move to Austin, Texas. The Witch's owners, Debbie Lindsey and Philipe LaMancusa, still keep a few bins of LPs in the back for nostalgia and I was able to score a couple of original Miles Davis 6-Eye Columbia pressings for reasonable prices.
- Good Rockin'
635 Pere Antoine Alley, between Royal and Jackson Square
New Orleans, LA 70116
Tucked in the shadow of the St. Louis Cathedral on the east side, Good Rockin' is a cozy joint with a friendly atmosphere. The stock emphasizes local talent, including many who are long gone, from Armstrong to Gottschalk. Hours are often by chance.
- Jim Russell Rare Records
1837 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Now we venture into the real N'Awlins. Jim Russell's shop is a ground-floor warehouse in the Magazine Street antique district, somewhat removed from the French Quarter. When we walked in, Jim was sharing barbecue and beer with some neighbors who were watching a baseball game on an old color TV. The selection of records (mostly pop, rock, and jazz) is variable in quality and finding what you want can be a challenge. Condition generally tends to be sub-par and prices, when they're marked, are inversely high. However, there is a nice selection of rock 'n' roll 78s, mostly unpriced. Negotiation may be possible. Worth a visit if you're serious about 78s or if only to soak up the atmosphere.
- The Iron Rail
503 Barracks Street
New Orleans, LA
Nominally a volunteer-run activist collective with a free lending library of radical literature, The Iron Rail has a few bins of music. In about 15 minutes, I came away with some British and Jamaican LP reissues of early ska and reggae 45s.
- Dauphine Street Books
410 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
An antiquarian book store located in the French Quarter, this shop has a minuscule pile of overpriced jazz LP's way in the back corner. However, the owner mentioned that he has 5,000 records at his parent's home in California and is thinking of shipping them in. Where they could fit in this tiny space is a mystery that only Einstein could solve! While the record selection was a disappointment, I did find some photography books I was looking for at bargain prices.
1037 Broadway Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
It's a step back in time when you enter this 60's head shop. Mushroom is one flight up in a building on the western edge of the Tulane University campus and is where you'll find the usual rock suspects (in the usual rock condition), plus tie-dyed t-shirts, day-glow posters, incense, candles, rolling papers, et al. It might be worth a visit if you're a newbie to vinyl, but for the serious collector, it's only a place for fillers.
- Gimmick CD's & Tapes
3403 Paris Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70122
This shop was recommended by a correspondent, but time did not allow a visit. It's location, near Dillard University on the lake side of town, past City Park, requires a couple of buses or a car to reach. NB: The store was apparently wiped out in the flood following Hurricane Katrina, but is still listed in the phone book.
Two new places which opened since my last visit:
- Euclid Records
3401 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70117
Opened in June or July, 2010. Judging from their Facebook page, it looks like a happening place.
- Skully'z Recordz
907 Bourbon Street, near Dumaine
New Orleans, LA 70116-3120
Open since 2007, but somehow I managed to miss this place.