The OffBeat office has been on Frenchmen Street for over 20 years. When we moved in, the only music clubs on the street were Snug Harbor, Café Brasil and the Dream Palace.
We were happy as hell when Mona’s opened across the street. Another place—a high-end restaurant, Belle Forche—also opened, but didn’t last too long. In two decades, Frenchmen Street has turned into a party street. Snug is still there, the Dream Palace became the Blue Nile, after several owners came and went. Alas, Cafe Brasil and its cool vibe and music is now “Favela Chic,” shall we say, not Café Brasil.
What used to be a haven for local music lovers has become the equivalent of Bourbon Street without the strip clubs and T-shirt shops, a place for a younger, somewhat hipper crowd to party hearty. I would venture to guess that the foot traffic on Frenchmen has increased 100-fold in two decades, as bars, clubs and pseudo-restaurants (restaurants in name only, to conform with zoning requirements) operate and draw crowds that certainly rival those of Bourbon.
Yet the street still has not been able to get the attention from the city vis a vis an ongoing, steady police presence. Where there’s a lot of alcohol consumption, lots of people with partying on their mind milling around in crowds, street traffic (which Bourbon doesn’t have), unlicensed food and merchandise vendors, you’re going to have crime and incidents, and the possibility of injury. Combine the imbibing (or drugging) crowds and all the other factors with the numbers of vagrants, homeless and alcoholic and mentally ill people who hang out in that area, and it’s a recipe for trouble.
To be perfectly clear, the city of New Orleans is taking a big risk because it has not deemed Frenchmen Street as a safety priority when it assigns police details. The presence of the New Orleans Police Department on regular patrol—and being highly visible—is crucial to the continuing success of one of the city’s largest entertainment districts. If the city and NOPD don’t find the financial resources to put police on Frenchmen, there will be more and more incidents on the street.
There have been rapes, shootings, armed robberies on Decatur. Every day I see severely incapacitated alcoholics, drug addicts and mentally ill people and homeless, stumbling and sleeping on the sidewalks and in doorways during daytime hours. There are no bathroom facilities. There’s a sanitation issue, of course, and the drainage on Frenchmen is horrendous.
The music is still great, but at some point in time, New Orleans’ second largest entertainment district is going to suffer.