Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, New Orleanians did their grocery shopping at open-air markets run by the city. Built in 1875, the St. Roch Market was one of these city markets, and it supplied the neighborhood with groceries until the mid-1940s, when the city sold it to private owners. It was a small seafood market and po’ boy shop until 2005, when it flooded during Katrina. The building sat vacant until 2015, when a huge renovation transformed it into its current iteration. Huge windows let in an abundance of light, reflected by the clean, white-tiled interior. The soaring ceiling is usually filled with the cacophony of dozens of patrons shopping and eating. The place is stunning, especially when you know how dilapidated it had become, but despite the makeover, its opening rankled some locals who were angry that the promised “market” was no more than a food hall.
What it is, though, is a restaurant incubator, and each of the stalls inside houses a rental space for purveyors of all sorts of cuisine, from baked goods to plate lunches. The one unchanging location in the market is the bar, Mayhaw. Named for a favorite local berry (try mayhaw jelly if you can), the bar offers a well-priced selection of wine and beer, as well as signature cocktails and seasonal favorites. You can even pick up some food from one of the stalls and carry it to the bar, or grab a drink from the bar and go sit at one of the food counters. The tile does not help with the crowd noise, and visiting can be challenging, but it’s hard to resist hanging out in the market’s lively atmosphere. When I want to talk without hollering, I take a seat in the back patio, away from traffic-heavy St. Claude. Despite the grumblings about gentrification, I’m glad the building has been so beautifully restored and has become a spot for nearby communities to eat and drink.