In the 200-plus years since the Louisiana Purchase, Poydras Street has grown – both physically and economically – from a simple cross-street in an undeveloped suburb into a six-lane thoroughfare through the heart of New Orleans’ commercial center. As the Faubourg Ste. Marie grew into the American Sector and the epicenter of the Central Business District, more and more commercial buildings rose in the neighborhood; government offices ping-ponged between the CBD and the French Quarter, but corporate commerce remained firmly entrenched upriver of Canal Street, the one-time barrier between the traditional center of the Creole city and the growing ranks of American settlers.
The stretch of Poydras Street from the river to the Superdome, which cuts through the center of the CBD, is a marriage of New Orleans’ commercial identity to its cultural mainstays – food, hospitality, art and, more recently (and appropriate to the one-time American Sector), football.
The newest editions to the Poydras Street cuisine culture are Happy’s Irish Pub, Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Grille and a Jamba Juice franchise, all located within a block of each other and within striking distance of the Superdome.
Happy’s Irish Pub opens onto Poydras with tall, paneled doors, with a long wooden bar to one side and a tavern-style, bifurcated seating area to the other, broken further into high-backed booths. Huge flat-screens circumscribe the interior, but (at least in the afternoon) there is music playing at a reasonable volume. The mirror behind the bar – which boasts copper beer taps – is sandblasted with the likeness of “Happy” Jack Mooney, a storied New Orleans restaurateur.
Mooney was the grandfather of Jack Warner, who owns Happy’s along with Brandon Landry. Warner’s grandfather dreamed of owning an Irish pub but ultimately earned his fortune running country clubs.
Behind the bar, which is tended by young women in short skirts and blouses that show plenty of midriff, there are impressive selections of draft beers and Scotch, Irish and bourbon whiskeys, with many generations of Jameson’s represented. “We have a ‘liquid lunch’ happy hour every day,” says manager Veach Tucker. “That’s two-for-one everything, all the way up to Johnny Walker Blue. And we have a late-night happy hour Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.” Liquid lunch runs from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and, on those late nights, the two-for-one special runs until closing time (2 a.m.).
Above the two rooms of the tavern proper, there are VIP rooms that will be opening in November, says Tucker, which will be available for private parties.
Next door to Happy’s, and also owned by Warner and Landry, is Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Grille, named for the walk-on athletes who predated athletic scholarships. Continuing the theme of festive costuming, the servers at Walk-On’s – again, young women – wear outfits like cheerleader uniforms emblazoned with purple, green and gold shoulders. The bar rises like an altar in one corner, and a good portion of the seating is booth-style.
The fare at Walk-Ons is mostly pub grub. “We’re famous for our burgers,” says manager Lisa Miller, who favors the Black-and-Bleu Burger. But there are a few items that show real ingenuity, like the Angels on Horseback (shrimp stuffed with oysters, then wrapped with bacon and fried).
“We don’t have game day specials,” says Miller (who adds that they’re packed full on game days anyway), “but we do have different happy hour specials.”
Those range from $2.50 pints to $5 pitchers to other wine and beer specials, and run from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day Sunday.
Happy’s and Walk-On’s occupy the building at 1009 Poydras St. that used to be home to Smith & Wollensky’s Steakhouse and, before that, Maylie’s Restaurant (originally Maylie’s & Esparbe). Smith & Wollensky’s, a New York-based chain, was uninterested in building business back up after Hurricane Katrina, making room years later for local boys Warner and Landry, who are Baton Rouge natives and Louisiana State University alumni. Happy’s and Walk-On’s are also chains, but limited to the state of Louisiana; Happy’s has two locations in Baton Rouge, as does Walk-On’s, and there’s a Walk-On’s in Lafayette as well.
Situated kitty-corner to Walk-On’s and Happy’s at 930 Poydras St. is a new Jamba Juice – the first (and presently only) in Louisiana (the next nearest store is in Houston). “We do pretty good business during the day,” says manager Charlie Rareside, who credits the store’s success to their all-fruit smoothies and steel-cut oatmeal. He adds that a second Jamba Juice will be opening soon at the intersection of Louisiana Avenue and Magazine Street.
Reginelli’s Pizza (or one of them, anyway) sits next to Jamba Juice at 930 Poydras St. Reginelli’s is another homegrown chain, born in 1996 to Darryl Reginelli and Bruce Erhardt, with locations in New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner and Baton Rouge. They serve outside-the-box pizza and sandwiches and have $2 pitcher specials (with meals) on Mondays and Tuesdays – so you can fuel up for Monday Night Football. They also deliver, if you prefer inside-the-box pizza.
Also located at 930 Poydras St., Ste. Marie, named for the neighborhood where the CBD is now, has been open for the last year, a recent installment from Leon and Pierre Touzet and Robert LeBlanc, the gentlemen who have brought us loa and LePhare. The restaurant draws its influence from French champagne houses and offers an impressive selection of sparkling wines, both on their own and as components of recipes.
A few steps toward the river from Jamba Juice at 920 Poydras St. is Horinoya Japanese Restaurant. Guests are greeted by Horimoto, a brusque sushi chef who oversees the no-nonsense sushi bar. Horimoto considers himself an expert in “all kinds of sushi,” which is available in addition to the restaurant’s selection of traditional and contemporary appetizers, soups, salads and entrées – everything from tempura and teriyaki to udon and sashimi.
Café Adelaide and its Swizzle Stick Bar have been catering to guests at the Loews New Orleans Hotel at 300 Poydras St. for the last seven years. The bar runs weekly drink specials and the kitchen, now run by chef Chris Lusk, offers punched-up Creole and bistro fare.
A block off Poydras Street, at 575 Convention Center Blvd., Grand Isle advertises “Fresh Seafood & Cold Beer” on its marquee. The menu draws from Louisiana favorites such as shrimp and grits, but also borrows flavors from as far away as northern Italy with their Pasta au Pimonte. The kitchen is headed up by Mark Falgoust, who cut his teeth under Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski at Cochon before making the move to Grand Isle in 2008. They run a two-for-one happy hour drink special (at the bar only) Monday through Friday from 4 until 6:30 p.m. and open at 10 a.m. on game days.
Advertising “The World’s Best Baked Ham” and famous for their debris and baffling ordering system, Mother’s is a breakfast (and lunch) mainstay at the same spot (401 Poydras St.) where it opened in 1938, long before the high-rises and the six-lane version of Poydras Street we know today.
Ed. Note: As of press date, Chris Lusk was in charge of the kitchen at Café Adelaide. On October 14, Café Adelaide announced the appointment of Chris Barbato to the position of executive chef.