Grateful Patrons Swamp Re-Opened New Orleans Uptown Coffee Shops

For the past month, I’ve driven past my favorite coffee shop at least twice a week hoping that it would re-open. In Post-Katrina New Orleans, you just never know. Old businesses return, slouching toward normalcy, on a fairly regular basis. In fact, new businesses, including new coffee shops, have emerged in the wake of this chaos. But some of our old faithfuls remain shuttered.

Although I’ve never been to Seattle, the stereotypical Mecca for all things caffeine, I can’t imagine that Before-Katrina (BK) New Orleans couldn’t have given that city a sweaty-run for her money when it comes to quality local coffee shops. Yes, we have our Starbucks and our local chains, but in Post-Katrina (PK) New Orleans, the slate has been wiped clean.

Today I made the usual drive up Oak Street, several miles out of my way to check on Z’Otz. And today I found the door open, plants settled on their planters outside. Glory be, I thought, as I rounded the corner. The last hold-out from my BK routine is showing signs of life.

I poked my head in-the place was a mess, but smelled like lilacs compared to the other long-shuttered places I’ve ventured into this past month-and was greeted by the smiling face of one of the owners. “Hi!” I said. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

We exchanged basic niceties. He told me that they hoped to reopen that night, as long as somebody or other could come by and replace the filters on their coffee machines. I asked if they would be open tomorrow. They assured me they would and sent me on my way.

A half of a block away, I stopped and turned around. “Hey,” I said to the bald owner, “Do you need help?”

He started to tell me that he wasn’t sure where his employees were, and I interrupted him and said, “No, no. I mean NOW. Do you need help NOW? I have an hour to spareâÂ?¦”

He stuck a broom in my hand, and so I did my own teeny tiny part to help one of my favorite small businesses get back on its feet.

Z’otz, BK, was the first coffee shop in Uptown New Orleans to be open twenty-four hours a day. This goth-punk dimly-lit establishment features three eclectically decorated rooms showcasing local art and two of the most startlingly beautiful and creepy restrooms. Z’otz serves up one of the best iced mochas in the city, excellent bubble teas, and organic and vegan pastry offerings as well as a reasonably-priced light menu including very good hummus and extraordinarily good quiches. The back patio features a covered space that stays dry even when it’s raining. Throughout the coffee shop there are ample places to plug in a laptop (with surge protectors for our frequent storms) and free wireless service. BK, Z’otz featured theme nights including electronica, free movies, and belly dancing. Currently, the shop is operating with limited hours because of the 2am curfew. Eclectic music fans will enjoy the bizarre CD collection that provides the house music. I’ve heard everything from the Monkees to Leonard Cohen at Z’otz, although the usual soundtrack is some sort of mishmash of French/German torch music and ethereal goth.

With so many great coffee shops in New Orleans, even now that the options have been reduced by the hurricane, it’s impossible to put all of your loyalty eggs in one basket. And these days, we New Orleanians have the moral responsibility to spread our dollars around. The day I check to see if Z’otz was open, I was on my way home (albeit driving out of my way) from my current coffee shop home-away-from home, the Rue de la Course coffee shop on Magazine Street.

In the eight years I’ve lived in New Orleans, I’ve spent so much time in the various Rue de la Courses that I probably owe Jerry, the owner, several months worth of rent. BK, there were four Rues, but as of today only the one on Magazine Street and the one on Oak (just a block from Z’otz) have reopened. The other stores saw a good deal of damage from the storm. Rue de la Course serves up excellent coffee in a rotating array of varieties. At the moment, they’re serving all drinks in to-go cups, but BK their layered latte served in a tall parfait-like glass was a work of art. Rue offers reasonable, delicious sandwiches ($5.50 for a large sandwich and your choice of chips, delicious potato salad, or cole slaw), and an excellent selection of desserts and pastries. All shops feature free wireless and a decent availability of plugs. The Magazine Street location has been packed to overflowing during peak hours ever since it reopened. The Oak Street location is the most beautiful, a converted bank building with towering ceilings and a second-floor inside balcony smoking area. (At the time of writing the second floor was still closed for repairs, but should be opening soon).

CafÃ?© Luna, on the corner of Magazine and Nashville, was the first Uptown coffee shop to reopen after the hurricane, and if I didn’t like them before (which I did), I love them now for providing me with my first mocha at home. CafÃ?© Luna is housed in a sweet little Victorian house with a gorgeous front porch that seems to have been built to accommodate old dowagers with their mint juleps and lacy fans. (Alas, no mint juleps at Luna, but they have lovely iced teas and plenty of local characters). CafÃ?© Luna has a light menu featuring pastries, desserts, and panini sandwiches. It’s a friendly place with cheery, chatty baristas and owners. And in those first few days when it was the only open coffee shop in town, it was an oasis of good spirits in an otherwise dreary place.

Local chains CC’s and PJ’s coffee shops have slowly begun to un-shutter their stores. Still Perkin’ on Prytania and Washington in the old Rink building has been open for weeks. Noticeably absent from the caffeine landscape in the city is Starbucks-all three of the chain’s Uptown stores remain closed. New to the scene is Fuel, a lovely store that’s in an easy-to-miss shotgun house on the 4900 block of Magazine Street near Bordeaux. Laurel Street Bakery on Laurel and Octavia opened only on the weekends just a couple weeks before Katrina hit, and reopened very early seven days a week. The Bakery offers excellent pastries and baked goods (and is providing pastries to other coffee shops in the area); their almond bread and stuffed croissants are excellent.

Most coffee shops in New Orleans offer free wireless service.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ For many patrons, this is the only internet access that they have right now.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ After the Uptown area was re-opened by the mayor, residents camped out in front of shuttered coffee shops, poaching the free wireless.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Now that many of these establishments have opened their doors, it’s common to see patrons (including myself) whoÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½park themselves at Rue for hours, telecommuting.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

BK, deciding where to spend your coffee-marked dollars depended largely on atmosphere. Z’otz and Rue pretty much had the corner on the bohemian market in Uptown, whereas CafÃ?© Luna catered to the local young professionals and families. These days-to the city’s benefit-there’s much more diversity to be found in the coffee shops, as well as the restaurants and the bars. It’s a welcome change, and one that I hope persists.

(note: surprisingly, although all of these coffee shops are very internet-friendly, none has a web presence)

8210 Oak Street
BK-24 hours. PK-hours vary
Smoking everywhere, free wireless, music and other events frequently

Rue de la Course
1140 S. Carrollton at Oak
3128 Magazine Street
PK-7:30am-7:30pm due to extend hours soon
Smoking section, free wireless

Caf�© Luna
802 �½ Nashville Avenue at Magazine
PK- 7am-6pm due to extend hours soon
Smoking on porch, free wireless

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