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My Bywater: An Interview with Nick Vivion [Sponsored]

The menu at Booty’s Street Food is as international as they come, with tacos, ramen, and fish and chips reflecting the globetrotting adventures of travel writer and owner Nick Vivion. The lively scene is unmistakably New Orleans—with a friendly crowd of Bywater residents gathered around the tables and the bar every night of the week. (As are the bathrooms, which are redecorated on a regular basis as temporary installations by local artists.)

We sat down with Nick to learn about what brought him to Bywater and learn about his NOLA.

Addresses and contact information for all of Nick’s recommendations can be found at the end of this article. You can also find all of Nick’s NOLA favorites with this interactive map and guide.

How long have you lived in Bywater and what first brought you there?

I’m in my third year as a Bywater resident, although I first visited Bywater about six years ago on assignment for a travel publication. I stayed at the wonderful Maison de Macarty bed and breakfast, and was here covering the Halloween celebrations that take over the city. At first, we were wandering around and just enjoying the architecture, atmosphere, and hospitality. But as the visit went on, my partner Kevin and I began talking about moving here—New Orleans was once his home, and after losing his house and belongings in Katrina, he was aching to get back.

Once we discovered the building for rent at 800 Louisa—with an apartment above—we knew that this was the one. We were thrilled to be able to experience the age-old “live above the shop” life. Especially in a building that was built in the middle of the 1800s, where the original tenants had raised their entire family in that very same space above what was then the neighborhood pharmacy. New Orleans is a town with history, and the paramount beauty here is being able to live in the present amidst the past.

What gives Bywater’s cultural scene its unique energy?

The people, without a doubt, make the place. This neighborhood vibrates at its own resonance, and is full of colorful, opinionated people who are never afraid to stand up for their beliefs. It’s a very engaged place, and as neighbors, we are all in this together. That doesn’t mean everyone gets along—it’s more that people express themselves relentlessly in a variety of ways, which leads to a vibrant collection of experiences throughout our neighborhood. We have bright homes, historical architecture, emerging businesses, and neighborhood favorites.

The Schwegmann brothers opened their first grocery store here in 1869, so we have a long history of local merchants providing goods and services to their neighbors. We also have a cadre of creatives representing different generations of music, film, art, and design that call the area home. So combine all this together with a centuries-old neighborhood, and you have a recipe for a multi-faceted community with diverse experiences.

Where would you send a visitor to Bywater to see art? 

In New Orleans, our homes are works of art in themselves! So my favorite art viewing is anytime I’m biking around town. I’m a bike nerd and I love to explore the city to take in all the various types of architecture. New Orleans is flat, so this is a great way to experience some of the most beautiful visual assets we have.

Bywater has seen a number of new galleries and collectives open, especially along the St. Claude Ave. corridor. St. Claude has been targeted as an area for new cultural businesses, so many are flocking to open theaters, galleries, and other cultural venues there.

Second Saturday is our monthly art crawl night, so that’s a favorite time of mine to go see new works. Good Children and The Front are two mainstays, and there are many galleries peppered around the neighborhood. And there’s our own bathroom art installation here at Booty’s called Bywaterloo, where we feature two new artists in our bathrooms each month. It’s a lot of fun and a surprising way to experience art.

Where should people go to hear live music in Bywater?

While Frenchmen Street has the most legit music venues, Bywater’s Bacchanal Wine is my go-to for more casual live music. Its laid-back vibe and backyard party atmosphere has made it incredibly popular, so it can be quite difficult to get a table these days. Live music happens every night, wine can be purchased up front, and the cash-only food is ordered from a window out back. They recently added an upstairs with a full bar so the scene has been expanded significantly. It’s the place to come with a group to be able to make merry while listening to music.

Another can’t miss is Vaughan’s on a Thursday night, especially if dancing is in the cards. While the bar’s turn on HBO series “Treme” has brought a wave of attention from visitors, a solid group of locals still drops in to let loose. Prepare to get close and sweaty, as it’s impossible not to get into the music. It’s a fantastically intimate place, and even though Kermit Ruffins has retired from his legendary gig, the music packs in a crowd every Thursday.

Another option is the Marigny Opera House, just across the tracks in Marigny. The venue has a steady complement of live music and theater, so that’s also a wonderful spot close to home for live performances of a more sit-down nature in a stunning setting.

Besides Booty’s, what are your favorite neighborhood restaurants and bars?

Bywater has experienced a dining surge, with many former corner stores being put back into service. A recent addition, Oxalis, is a favorite, as is Suis Generis and Maurepas Foods. I spend most of my money at Pizza Delicious, as I’m a complete pizza hound!

Another popular place to while away the afternoon is out back at the Country Club, where the clothing-optional pool has attracted a gaggle for over 30 years. A recent renovation has given the place a new shine, but the party still happens pretty much every day by the poolside Tiki bar.

Like most neighborhoods in New Orleans, Bywater also has a full complement of neighborhood bars. Bud Rip’s recently changed owners, and has a steady regular crowd. Markey’s is popular with service industry folks, as is J&Js and BJs. There’s plenty to make up a weekend of bar crawls and food explorations!

Who are some of the artists and musicians working in Bywater who you find most interesting?

Bywater has an ensemble cast of creative characters; some have called the neighborhood home for generations, others are more recent arrivals. Bywater has been proud to see the success of Benh Zeitlin and the Court 13 crew with Beasts of the Southern Wild, and has also been wonderfully supportive of folk musicians Hurray for the Riff Raff. The band is a favorite of Ani DiFranco, who moved to the area some years back.

My neighbor Jane Talton is a perennial favorite, with her whimsical approach to portraiture. Her intellectualism is mirrored only by a wicked sense of place that pulls you in and makes you want to meet the characters in her paintings. She recently started a series of paintings that places favorite pets in familiar portrait poses from historical works—two of them sit in another neighbor’s house, with the household menagerie regally lording over the living room in Victorian style. It’s perfect.

Dr. Bob has been selling his signature style for decades from his warehouse on Chartres—you can’t miss it—and has really defined a specific aesthetic with his “Be Nice or Leave” signs. His art is everywhere, and Dr. Bob is prolific in representing Bywater.

Quintron and Miss Pussycat are longtime musicians working in the community, with their famed Spellcaster Lodge. The couple has deployed their immense collective creativity to invent fascinating instruments and musical styles. Currently, they are on a summer tour in Europe.

It’s also rumored that Alex Ebert (of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) recently purchased the Piety Street Recording Studio. So the neighborhood continues to breathe and evolve as it has since it was sliced off into its own discrete ‘hood in the mid-1900s.

Are there any celebrations or festivals in Bywater that travelers to New Orleans should know about?

In addition to the Second Saturday art walk, we have a maker fair and market on that same day each month. The Piety Street Market is in the Old Ironworks at 612 Piety. They host other events periodically, such as the Thredhead annual fundraiser during Jazz Fest, among many others.

Fringe Fest is one of the most dynamic and creative times in the area, as the festival takes over Bywater/Marigny with a myriad events by troupes from all over. The event has grown exponentially in recent years, and has become quite the draw. The creativity is palatable, and, as the festival has expanded, the theater scene overall seems to have flourished. From dance to comedy to drama, there’s something for everyone — and this scene has expanded to reach nearly every day of the year, city-wide.

Another neighborhood staple is the annual Mirliton Festival, held each November. The venue has been moving around the past couple of years, as the festival has grown immensely in popularity. In addition to music, crafts and vendors, the festival features local food producers selling delicious items made with mirliton, a local vegetable. This one shouldn’t be missed! 

Nick’s Picks 

Bacchanal Wine 600 Poland Ave; 504-948-9111; bacchanalwine.com.
BJ’s Lounge 4301 Burgundy St.; no telephone; no website.
Booty’s Street Food 800 Louisa St; 504-266-2887; bootysnola.com.
Bud Rip’s 900 Piety St; 504-945-5762; no website.
The Country Club 634 Louisa St; 504-945-0742; thecountryclubneworleans.com.
The Front 4100 St. Claude Ave; nolafront.org.
Good Children Gallery 4037 St. Claude Ave; goodchildrengallery.com.
J&J’s Sports Lounge 800 France St; 504-942-8877; jjssportslounge.com.
Maison de Macarty 3820 Burgundy St; doubles from $139; 504-267-1564; maisonmacarty.com.
Marigny Opera House 725 Ferdinand St; 504-948-9998; marignyoperahouse.org.
Markey’s Bar 640 Louisa St; 504-943-0785; no website.
Maurepas Foods 3200 Burgundy St; 504-267-0072; maurepasfoods.com.
Oxalis 3162 Dauphine St; 504-267-4776; oxalisbywater.com.
Piety Street Market Second Saturday of each month; 612 Piety St.; 612piety.com/piety-street-market.
Pizza Delicious 617 Piety St; 504-676-8482; pizzadelicious.com.
Suis Generis 3219 Burgundy St; 504-309-7850; suisgeneris.com.
Vaughan’s Lounge 800 Lesseps St, 504-947-5562; no website.