The stretch of Harrison Avenue between Canal Boulevard and City Park operates like its own little town within the Lakeview neighborhood. There is a grocery store, a few churches, a few banks and enough restaurants to keep families fed Monday through Sunday. It is the kind of place where the barista at Starbucks knows your usual order, and where restaurants borrow from each other if they run out of ingredients.
The street has been like this for a while. According to the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association, Harrison Avenue emerged as Lakeview’s commercial hub between 1927 and ’49. But that was well before Hurricane Katrina, when the floodwaters reached 10 feet after the storm and much of the area was demolished. Lakeview was one of the hardest hit after the hurricane that rocked New Orleans, and the future of Harrison Avenue looked grim.
But take a look at Harrison Avenue these days, and you’ll see a beautiful, “Pleasantville”-esque street that still serves the neighborhood of Lakeview. Thanks to the area’s supportive neighbors both new and old, Harrison Avenue is a hotspot again, maybe even more so post-Katrina. While there are many reasons for the change, one big one is that the demographics have morphed, says Todd Wallace, the president of the LCIA. Property values dropped after Katrina, and people who may not have been able to afford a house in the neighborhood could now buy a lot or buy a house and fix it up, making the neighborhood a popular spot for young families.
“It’s definitely more lively,” says Susan Spicer, owner and chef of Mondo (900 Harrison Ave., 224-2633, MondoNewOrleans.com). Spicer, a longtime Lakeview resident herself, says the street has always been like a “quiet village,” but she’s noticed more street traffic and more people walking around since the street’s post-Katrina makeover. “It’s always been a cool little street,” she says. “There was always the dry cleaner, the bank and the post office, but now there’s just more fun stuff.”
A lot of that fun stuff revolves around food. At the head of the Harrison Avenue dining table is Spicer’s Mondo. Opened in 2010, the eatery is known for its variety of dishes on the menu, which is summed up in the eatery’s tagline “flavors of the world with a New Orleans accent.” It is clearly a popular restaurant, judging by the wait on a Friday or Saturday night. It is also an example of Lakeview residents supporting their own neighborhood. As a Lakeview resident, Spicer has always been a fan of the neighborhood. She told The Times-Picayune in 2010 that she wanted to open Mondo to give Lakeview “something cool.”
Another example of Lakeview residents opening stores close to home is Nola Beans (762 Harrison Ave., 267-0783, NolaBeans.com), a café and coffee shop that opened in 2008. The owners are Lakeview residents Danette Murret and Kristi Palmer, who lost everything in the storm. They came back to Lakeview to open a store on Harrison Avenue, something they had always wanted to do.
“We wanted to give back to the community to get everybody coming back,” Palmer says. She and Murret surveyed neighbors to see what kind of business Lakeview needed. Word had been spreading that the popular café Coffee and Company wasn’t coming back, so the business partners decided to open a similar establishment with soup, salad, sandwiches and coffee.
There are lots of other different kinds of eateries that dot the street, including The Steak Knife (888 Harrison Ave., 488-8981, SteakKnifeRestaurant.com), which has been on Harrison Avenue since the 1970s. There is also Lakeview Harbor (911 Harrison Ave., 486-4887, NewOrleansBestBurger.com), in business since 1993. Next door is The Velvet Cactus (6300 Argonne Blvd., 301-2083, TheVelvetCactus.com), a relatively new spot known for dinner and a margarita on its funky patio. For those just looking for drinks, Parlay’s (870 Harrison Ave., 304-6338, ParlaysBar.net) is the neighborhood bar and has been in the Lakeview neighborhood for more than 25 years.
On the shopping side, the street doesn’t have a ton to offer, but it’s still enough to make a dent in your wallet. There’s the cute Sneaker Shop (904 Harrison Ave., 488-9919) and Fini (6250 General Diaz, 304-0633), a one-stop-shop that offers women clothing and jewelry, airbrush tanning and makeup.
But the must-visit shopping stop is Little Miss Muffin (766 Harrison Ave., 482-8200, LittleMissMuffin.biz), the street’s retail flagship that sits smack-dab in the middle of Harrison Avenue. The store has been around for almost 30 years, and while the original location was across the street from where it is now, Little Miss Muffin has earned its reputation as a destination on the street. “We’ll have people that come from out of town and make sure they go to Little Miss Muffin,” says General Manager Becky Fleming.
The rest of Harrison Avenue is a mishmash, making it the perfect place for Saturday morning errands. There’s Lakeview Grocery (801 Harrison Ave., 293-1201, LakeviewGrocery.com), Young’s Dry Cleaning (905 Harrison Ave., 872-0931,YoungsDryCleaning.com) and the Robert E. Smith Library (6301 Canal Blvd., 596-2638, Nutrias.com). If you need something sweet while you check off your to-do list, you can grab a latte at Starbucks (800 Harrison Ave., 486-8829) or an ice cream cone from Creole Creamery (6260 Vicksburg St., 482-2924, CreoleCreamery.com). You can even schedule a check-up for your pet at Lakeview Veterinary Hospital (6245 Memphis St., 482-2173, LakeviewVet.vetsuite.com).
The street is also home to the Harrison Avenue Marketplace (HarrisonAvenueMarketplace.org), which happens the second Wednesday of the operating months. The outdoor market is a family-oriented event where guests can enjoy food, live music and information from local vendors. The next market happens this month on Wed., Nov. 14, at 801 Harrison Ave.
The mix of businesses along Harrison Avenue seems to be a successful formula as Harrison Avenue’s list of commercial offerings continues to grow. The Lakeview Pearl, for instance, is an Asian bistro and sushi bar under construction on the corner of Harrison Avenue and Canal Boulevard. It will open in 2013. The Gingerbread House, an Italian restaurant and bakery, is slated to open in the next few months.
While the street attracts visitors from around the city, there is still evidence of the neighborhood’s residents supporting their nearby eateries. “When they come in, they let you know they’re from here, that they walked here,” says Scottie Dickinson, general manager of The Velvet Cactus. “They love it. They always come and say, ‘We want to support you.’”
Wallace says the fact that Lakeview locals have opened and supported their neighboring businesses has been a big part of Harrison Avenue’s success. “Lakeview residents have taken the opportunity to invest in their own neighborhood,” Wallace says. “When you have people investing in their own neighborhood, then the businesses are going to be first rate.”
The variety of businesses provides Lakeview residents and beyond with everything they need to live and live well. “You really don’t have to leave here if you don’t want to,” Dickinson says. “You can get a burger, you can get Italian, you can get fine dining, you can get Mexican. A lot of people that live here don’t really leave because everything is here.”