Few American streets offer the astonishing variety of shops and boutiques that you’ll discover along Magazine Street, which follows the curve of the mighty Mississippi River for some 6 miles from the city’s Central Business District out to Audubon Park. Sassy secondhand clothiers, colorful oyster bars, jammin' music clubs, and gay-friendly java joints line the way, but it’s the lower stretch of Magazine--from about Canal to Jackson Streets--that possesses the city’s most fascinating and offbeat antiques district. Magazine Street’s prime antiquing row begins around Felicity Street and wends its way upriver to about Jackson Avenue, but there are plenty more pockets of antiques shops farther up.
Commercial activity along Magazine Street slows, intensifies, softens, regains strength, and then seems to disappear suddenly, like so many stages of a passing storm. Magazine Street is broken into little chunks of commerce interrupted by equally interesting rows of historic cottages and houses, in some cases grand and in others quite modest. The greatest thing about this street, apart from its sheer abundance of retail (and dining), is its quirky variety. The customer base along Magazine spans all economic brackets, ages, orientations, and styles.
The presence of a Starbucks at the corner of Washington and Magazine signals that even this fiercely independent shopping street is not immune to change, for better or for worse. A massive branch of the gourmet health-food grocery chain Whole Foods is right near Audubon Park, but otherwise major chain development has been pretty minimal. What's most appealing about the street and surrounding neighborhood is the variety - as you stroll up curious Magazine Street, you can find an auto repair shop sitting across the street from an Oriental rug shop, or the prestigious Neal Auction House across from a Popeyes fast-food restaurant. This is a real urban street, not just a place for tourists to spend money, and so the scenery and the people-watching are happily varied and unpredictable.
Art and antiques are a huge draw along Magazine Street, and here are a few notable establishments in this arena: Come to quirky Antiques-Magazine to admire the astounding variety of hanging chandeliers and light fixtures and sconces, tending toward the frilly and decadent sorts that can make or break a room - most of them date from the mid-19th century into the middle of the 20th, with an especially strong art deco and Victorian presence. Bush Antiques & Beds au Beau Reve is one store where you may want to sleep on your purchase - the dozens of beds sold here are quite spectacular and come from all over Europe and North America, from a mid-19th-century iron-and-brass four-poster to a whimsical cast-iron, green-painted sleigh bed. Other specialties include religious art (even some altars and ecclesiastical chandeliers) and decorative French ironwork. Head out to the rear patio and browse the extensive collection of folk art.
The Shop of the Two Sisters is a large corner shop, set inside a handsome Greek Revival townhouse, packed to the rafters with eclectic regional furnishings, mirrors, lighting fixtures, tailored sofas, and objets d’art--many of them from faraway lands. The Thomas Mann Gallery is filled with whimsical contemporary art, glassware, jewelry, colorful stemware, and other works in different media. Mann’s works are sold in galleries throughout the country, but this is the local flagship.
Dunn & Sonnier specializes in flower bulbs, iron garden furniture, and eclectic, mostly American-looking antiques. It’s a bright and happy shop. With more than 7,000 square feet of showroom space, Top Drawer Antiques is one of largest antiques shops Uptown, with original and reproduction pieces, plus paintings and accessories.
For fun gifts, consider Orient Expressed Imports, a funny little gift shop with amusing tchotchkes, hand-smocked children’s clothing, carved santos, and fine linens. A favorite stop for novelty items, curious gifts, fun clothing, and generally irreverent and teen- to adult-oriented oddities, Winky's (2038 Magazine St.) is a good place to find that boxing-nun action figure you’ve been searching for. Cameron Jones (2127 Magazine St.) sells kinetic, colorful, and contemporary housewares, plant stands, wine racks, and other cool fixtures and elements for the home. Mignon Faget has an almost cult following among New Orleans’s devotees of fine jewelry. Faget has won countless awards for her creations, many of which incorporate icons and images familiar to Louisiana, such as oyster pendants, red bean charm necklaces, and fleur de lis cufflinks.
If you’re looking for an indelible souvenir, there’s always Crescent City Tattoo (4800 Magazine St.), a safe and reputable piercing parlor is that offers a full range of designs, from traditional to edgy. Quirky Aidan Gill for Men is an unusual spot with old-fashioned barbershop memorabilia, upscale bath products, and ties and other accessories for men. The environmentally sensitive Earthsavers has earned a loyal following for its all-natural exfoliants, skin moisturizers, and other skin-care products. The shop also offers spa services and aromatherapy.
Food is another great find in the neighborhood. Although it deserves ample praise for being the city’s best wine shop, and one of its top gourmet grocery stores, Martin Wine Cellar does one thing as well as any restaurant in the city: deli sandwiches. The food here is more typical of Sonoma’s Wine Country than New Orleans - try the Steamboat (corned beef, ham, hickory-smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, onions, and Creole mustard on an onion roll). The list of sandwich options goes on and on, and there’s also a large wine and liquor store, plus shelves stocked with all sorts of imported and local savories and sweets. La Boulangerie (4526 Magazine St.)is a delightful storefront French bakery with great food. Here you can taste some of the lightest, flakiest croissants around, along with light sandwiches and delectable pastries. Blue Frog Chocolates specializes in sensuous, wonderful imported European candies and truffles, including whimsical Italian flowers fashioned out of candy.