A Marathon with a Side of Beignets – a Uniquely New Orleans Experience! – Episode #005
Beyond Bourbon Street is the podcast where we explore the food, music, places, people, and events that make New Orleans unique. Whether you are planning a trip, currently living in New Orleans or simply wanting a taste of the Crescent City from wherever you are, you’ve come to the right place!
The inspiration for this episode came from the upcoming Rock n Roll New Orleans marathon, but even if you are not a runner this is still for you. I was thinking about how I could give runners a preview of the 26.2-mile course and still make it interesting for everyone else. I realized a marathon that wanders through the city would be a good, semi-random way to offer a glimpse into New Orleans from a unique perspective.
We’ll use the actual race course as our canvas, and meander off the path to explore interesting places they appear on our map. Along the way, we’ll discover neighborhoods, events, and history. The more I got into this one the more I enjoyed uncovering things along the route. I think you’ll find lots of insider tips and places to explore so sit back and enjoy as I take you on a run through New Orleans!
Here are some of the highlights discussed in this episode:
Start to Mile 8: One Shell Square, the Garden District and Uptown New Orleans, streetcars, two World’s Fairs, National WWII Museum, cemeteries, and places to eat including Commander’s Palace.
Your race course starts on Poydras St, where you’ll have your backs to the river just a few blocks away. Poydras runs through the city’s Central Business District (CBD). On your left is the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Behind it is Lafayette Square a popular place for small festivals and a free music series called Wednesdays in the Square. Soon after the start, you’ll notice a tall white building on your right. This is One Shell Square. At 51 stories and 697 feet, this is the tallest building in New Orleans and in the state of Louisiana.
Near mile marker 1 your journey down St. Charles Avenue begins in an area called the Lower Garden District. As you left Lee Circle and crossed under the Expressway, you also crossed into the land of the Muses! The first nine streets here are each named after a daughter of Zeus. New Orleanians famously mispronounce three of these streets, so Calliope becomes Cal-e-o, Melpomene is Mel-po-mean, and Terpsichore is known as Terpsichore. Did you know that many New Orleans carnival organizations, better known as krewes, take their names from Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythology? In fact, one of the most popular parades is the Krewe of Muses, an all-female organization and one of the highlights of the parade season.
As you cross Erato, look to your left. There on the corner is Chef Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico. The restaurant first opened for business in 1895 serving traditional Creole food. It was purchased by Emeril and reopened in 1998 after a major renovation.
As you continue along St. Charles, you’ll enter the Garden District. This neighborhood is bounded by St. Charles Avenue, Jackson Avenue, Magazine, and Louisiana. This area was designed in 1806 by Barthelemy Lafon – in fact, he’s buried in the neighborhood in St Louis Cemetery #1. Also, in this neighborhood is Commander’s Palace – a great place to celebrate your marathon or to enjoy a fabulous meal.
As you run down St. Charles Ave you’ll notice the green streetcars running down the neutral ground – the wide strip of grass in the middle of the road, known as a median in most other places. The St. Charles streetcar line is the oldest continuously operated streetcar line in the world and has been operating since 1835. Streetcars are used by both tourists and locals and cost $1.25 each way.
Shortly before you reach the turnaround point on St. Charles Ave. you enter the University District, also known as the Audubon neighborhood. Here you find Loyola and Tulane universities, as well as Audubon Park, named for the naturalist John J Audubon. If you weren’t already running a marathon, I would direct you to Audubon Park for a nice run or walk under the oak trees. Here, you’ll find a nearly 2-mile loop circling a small golf course. Audubon is one of the largest parks in the city and is home to the Audubon Zoo. The park was designed by John Charles Olmstead whose father and brother were also leading landscape architects in the late 1800s and into the 20th century. The site where the park now sits was also the location for the 1884 World’s Fair.
Miles 9-10: French Quarter, Cafe du Monde, museums, the Old US Mint.
As you cross Canal Street and reach mile marker 9, you are entering the French Quarter and the original footprint of New Orleans. Founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, New Orleans was built out around the Central Square, today’s Jackson Square which you’ll pass in just a couple blocks. Besides the restaurants, bars, museums, and t-shirt shops the Vieux Carre is home to approximately 4,000 residents.
Just past Jackson Square, you’ll find Central Grocery on your left at 923 Decatur Street. It is one of the small groceries opened by Sicilian immigrants, this one in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo. It is known today for the muffuletta, an Italian sandwich served on a large Italian bread. This is a great meal to pick up and take on a picnic, or to eat over on the moonwalk overlooking the Mississippi River. Probably not the best for you before the race, but maybe as a celebration afterward. For those who might be watching the race, this would be a good sandwich to take with you and eat while you’re cheering on the runners!
Miles 11-14: Esplanade Avenue, Edgar Degas, Carrollton Avenue and more.
Esplanade Avenue is your path to Midcity and City Park. You are actually tracing a historic route here – in the 19th century, Esplanade Avenue was not a street but rather a portage route connecting Bayou St. John & Lake Pontchartrain with the Mississippi River and the French Quarter. Back then this path was known as the Grand Route St. John.
Just after the 11-mile marker in the marathon, you’ll come upon 2306 Esplanade. It will be on your left. This home is known as the Degas House. Originally built in 1852 by the Musson family, these were relatives of Edgar Degas on his mother’s side. In fact, his mother, Celestine, was born here in New Orleans. Degas lived at this home on Esplanade Avenue with his ‘American’ family for several months in 1873. Today, the home is a bed and breakfast and a sort of mini-museum.Portrait in a New Orleans Cotton Office
About 3/4 of a mile, further along, Esplanade is a restaurant named Cafe Degas. It will be on your right as you head away from the river and is one of my favorite places for Sunday brunch or a late night dinner, especially on a rainy evening. If you go for brunch, order the grillades and grits, then send me an email and let me know what you think of the place.
I describe the next couple miles in detail during the podcast, but two places on Carrollton Avenue I want to mention here. One is Angelo Brocato’s located at 214 N Carrollton Ave. A great place for spectators to stop in and get ice cream, a cannoli or some Italian seed cookies while you watch the runners. The second is Venezia’s Italian restaurant, just down the street from Brocato’s. Venezia’s is at 134 N Carrollton Ave, and would be a good place for a pre-race meal. Good food, casual and lots of pasta!
Mies 15-18: Old grove oak trees in City Park, Bayou St. John, and Old Spanish Fort.
Lots of detail in the podcast, but I wanted to share a beautiful picture by my friend Scott McCrossen. Scott is a wonderful photographer and is the creative genius behind the artwork for the Beyond Bourbon Street show. This picture is of the Water Nymph and her fountain. It is located on the City Park Avenue side of the park and is among the oldest grove of oak trees. Some of these trees are 800 years old.
Miles 19-22: Lake Pontchartrain, Katrina and the damaged levees, Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park.
Miles 23- Finish Line: City Park.
Lagniappe: Multiple options for spectators including the best places to watch the marathon, and helpful tips for what to do and eat while you’re waiting for your favorite marathoner!
Thanks for listening!