Jun 4, 201309:18 AM
The Lighter Side

Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy

What Makes the Bywater So Hipster?

hip·ster (hip'stər) - n. A person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns (as in jazz or fashion). – Merriam-Webster Dictionary


If you live in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, you probably hear the word "hipster" thrown around at least five times a day. The same could probably be said for the Marigny, Treme, Bayou St John, Irish Channel and any other up-and-coming neighborhood that I'm not cool enough to have the skinny on.


At first it was cute. Now it's starting to get on my nerves.


Everyone is calling us Williamsburg, as in the hipster mecca of Brooklyn, N.Y., like the HBO show "Girls" could somehow exist in our little artsy Big Easy enclave in a double shotgun instead of a trendy apartment building. As if you'd find groups of neurotic 20-something girls with no self-awareness in the Bywater. Ha! Move over "Hollywood South!" Some of us live in the "Williamsburg South.”


But what is a hipster? No one seems to want to admit to being one. Everyone scoffs at them, even the people who wear ironic T-shirts and twee A-line skirts from ModCloth. So even the hipsters are scoffing at hipsters.


One of the best blogs poking fun at hipsters that I've come across is Halloween or Williamsburg. It's funny because you can't tell if it's Halloween anymore because all these wild and crazy hipsters are wearing bunny suits on the subway and Darth Vader outfits to get their Monday morning coffee. And true, it wouldn't be that out of the ordinary to see someone wearing a bunny suit on any seemingly-ordinary day in the Bywater either, but I don't think it's quite the same thing. I mean, have you been to New Orleans? We dress up for everything.


Seriously, everything. We are like a city of perpetual Comic Con cosplayers. We think up Mardi Gras, Halloween, Jazz Fest, hell even Running of the Bulls costumes weeks, months, sometimes years in advance. And it starts young. The cutest thing I've seen all year was a bunch of toddlers dressed up as jawas in the Krewe of Chewbacchus Mardi Gras parade. That shit doesn't happen where I grew up in Grove City, Ohio.


Our Batman villain cosplay... Mardi Gras or Bywater?


So calling the Bywater "hipster" because people dress funny around here doesn't cut it. The whole city dresses funny.


Is the Bywater "hipster" because there are a lot of transplants that live here? I admit to being friends with quite a few fellow transplants, but they're all spread out from Mid-City to Harahan and most of the people I know who live on my street are from Louisiana, including my husband. And I've yet to receive my invitation to the "transplant headquarters" in the heart of the Bywater. But really, if New Orleans is going to grow and be the new hub of innovation that people are saying it is, the folks who move here to be a part of that are going to have to live somewhere. So where should we all go? The suburbs? Forgive me, but I didn't move here for that. I could have had that experience in Ohio. I wanted to live in New Orleans.


One of my favorite things to do while standing in a long line at the store or waiting for 20 minutes for a bagel with cream cheese and a $7 orange juice at Satsuma, is to read Yelp reviews on my phone. The Yelp reviews for Walmart and Burger King are pretty damn funny and entertaining, but I also like to read what people think about New Orleans staples like Commander's Palace and Café Du Monde. However, when you get to the restaurants around my hood like Maurepas Foods, for example, review after review says the same thing: "Awesome food! But, ewww, can't stand the hipsters! Their rampant use of Apple products and ironic facial hair ruined my meal."


I mean, what is that all about? It's like having to dine next to a hipster is akin to finding hair in your food. It's like finding out that the cook doesn't wash his hands after using the bathroom.


But I admit it, I myself have been that person muttering under my breath. My husband and I will be driving down one of the bumpy narrow streets of the Upper Ninth Ward with cars lining both sides so that it's impossible to pass the guy on the tall bike who's wearing a Superman cape. We'll both look at each other and say "ugh, hipsters." Except not quite that nice.


I think what it comes down to is that archaic human need to be there first, to feel like you were the original, that you marked the territory. You listened to The Black Keys first (because they're from Ohio and you saw them for $5 in a venue as big as the Hi-Ho). You watched "The Wire" when it was actually airing on HBO, you're not one of these folks who just bought all the DVDs, binge-watched every season in two weeks, and then started wearing an "Omar Rules" T-shirt. And you moved to this neighborhood when they first started calling it Bywater in the 1940s. And anyone who does any of these cool things after you? Poser! Ugh, hipster!


And it's the same with just about anything that becomes popular. Are you a Miami Heat fan who doesn't live in Miami? Ha! Fair weather fan.


There can only be so many originals. There can only be so many people who were there first, or listened first, or watched first. And there can only be so many lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fans. You get too many people claiming to be "authentic?" Ugh, hipsters. People start giving you the side-eye.


But in all seriousness, I get it. I understand not wanting your beloved city or neighborhood to change too much too fast. Sometimes I wish things could slow down a little bit. Or a lot. Because while I think it's cool to see the Bywater mentioned in The New York Times and Food & Wine Magazine, I also don't want the secret to get out that our little sanctuary on this earth is the most awesome place ever. I don't want people coming here and changing everything, because once something is observed, it is automatically changed. And I'd like a place to park my car at the end of the day, and not around the corner from my house because all the spots are taken up by people going to all the new hip restaurants.


And no, the lady does not protest too much. I'm not a hipster because, yes, I have a car – so what if it's a Volkswagen – but also because I hate Arcade Fire. It's required to love Arcade Fire to be a hipster, so I could not possibly be one. But I digress.


I don't think hipsters are the real problem. The guy riding on his tall bike down the street with his Superman cape isn't the real problem. The real problem would be the soul-sucking opportunists who just see something new and popular and want to profit from it, thus diluting what makes it great in the first place.


So down with corporate greed! We must rise against the 1 percent trying to take away what little originality we have in our lives, only to have it sold to the highest bidder!


Down with Monsanto!


Oh crap, I'm starting to talk like a hipster.


Signing off. See you next week.

Reader Comments:
Jun 4, 2013 11:03 am
 Posted by  Judyconner

Mostly, there's a bright side to be found. Thanks for pointing out another: while I'm old, perpetually uncool, permanently ensconced in The Snuggery - all this makes it IMPOSSIBLE that I will ever be referred to as a hipster. (A word now second only to phlegm!)

Jun 4, 2013 12:08 pm
 Posted by  Wooley

I have bad news for you.
The Bywater is the unquestioned Hipster Haven of New Orleans. Absolutely, utterly, unequivocally. But don't feel bad, lucky for you, it is dying a slow death right now as gentrification has already set in and the hipsters are up in arms, and, from what I hear, Central City is the next one.

Jun 4, 2013 12:17 pm
 Posted by  Wooley

And I think I have some further bad news for you.
The Bywater will be developed in the coming years and will become part of the continuous "Downtown" stretch from the far edge of the Warehouse District all the way to Poland Avenue, the different neighborhoods will be more like neighborhoods in Manhattan, each with their own character, but all continuous and well-populated and probably expensive.
It's already in the works, so you might as well get ready for it.
And the truth? It's what's good for the city. It's what the city needs. And, in the long run, it will make the city better.

Jun 4, 2013 01:31 pm
 Posted by  The Racket

Hipsters are, more or less, willing cultural lab rats. Let's categorize hipsters as the anti-trend set, which ironically is a trend. An aside: The sight of a grown man on a bike, in a flannel, loaded with sweat, under a full-face lumberjack beard in New Orleans in August is equal parts comedy and cultural irony.

As it pertains to location however, hipsters are actually very valuable when it comes to low-end (anti-trend) real estate. Reason being that they are willing colonize relatively questionable neighborhoods, and kick-off the gentrification process. They are able to do this for two reasons. One, the threat of gentrification isn't present from the onset (non-threatening to existing residents). Two, hipsters generally don't carry the gentrification process forward themselves, either by inability and by unwillingness so they are never a culprit in the gentrification process.

What they do bring to these neighborhoods is the fleeting concept of cool, in the form of very small but very interesting small businesses and modestly improved buildings and properties (just enough). Small coffee shops, small breakfast nooks, so on and so on. They lay the groundwork for what could be a thriving neighborhood – as long as higher incomes arrive to fuel more of these small businesses to the point there exists a well defined, thriving neighborhood (again). There is a second layer of hipster, or ex-hipster (married, upwardly mobile, new or soon to be parents) that truly drive gentrification of these neighborhoods forward. These are the bank approved investors who come in flocks for $150K pieces of real estate, and sell for 2/3/4 times down the road, only to become the next uptown wave of east and west coasters. Who ironically (in true ex-hipster fashion) will have the dough to invest in rentals in mid-city down the line when it becomes the next hipster enclave. Ripe for the picking.

As much as "locals" may dislike what is happening, it is happening—faster than you think.

Jun 4, 2013 04:15 pm
 Posted by  Judyconner

I welcome all these new contributors - but the term makes my teeth itch . Ironically.

Jun 4, 2013 04:16 pm
 Posted by  Jacquelyn Lydia Purple Moon

There's lots I could say but I won't about this wave of wannabbees who eventually get bored & move on. Or grow up. I hope either happens. Soon.

BTW, to the author I love this article.

From a former Bywater resident.

Jun 4, 2013 04:26 pm
 Posted by  Jus'My2Cents

As a "local" who was born and bred here, and who can trace my NOLA family roots back before the turn of the 20th century, I unequivocally agree that this place is being run over by hipster transplants. And yes, many of us "locals" have a problem with it. We have contributed to and built the culture that made the city what it is, and every time I turn around there's some post-Katrina transplant writing a blog about "real" New Orleans, telling me what's REALLY cool/uncool in my own birthplace, debating what should happen to NOLAs future, and scoffing at the suburbs (where many of us raise kids and live productive and fulfilling lives because it costs too much to own property in the city proper AND send kids to private schools b/c the public schools are, and always have been, in shambles).

I do get that change is inevitable, and new blood and new ideas are necessary for this town's survival, but I seriously wonder how much all the newbies/hipsters will be invested in NOLA when it's time for them to have kids and grow into middle age and retirement. Sure, call me an un-hip "establishment" curmudgeon, but I wouldn't be surprised to see many of them move away to somewhere more "sensible" when the party dies down.

Jun 4, 2013 05:48 pm
 Posted by  9thWard

What makes a hipster a hipster in Bywater?

1. Completely forgetting how much people lived through just a short 8 years ago in this neighborhood when we were still pulling bodies out and rebuilding houses and in a neighborhood that was relatively unscathed, housing our friends and neighbors and helping one another recover while digging our heels into the swamp and refusing to leave while living through chronic power outages and without grocery stores.

2. Not saying hello to your neighbors, the ones that live on your block and the ones that pass you on the street.

3. Parking in front of your 80 year old neighbors house so they can't carry groceries in while screaming about how it's a public street and you can park where you want to.

4. Playing only songs that you know on the jukebox, which means no New Orleans jazz and only knowing the Doors, Bob Dylan or a band formed after 1990.

5. Moving next to bars that have been there for decades and complaining about the live music.

6. Not supporting neighborhood businesses that have been there for decades and only supporting what is hip or cool.

7. Trying to bring another city, the one you left behind, into NOLA because it should be just like there, instead of what it is, a culturally distinct city without a Target or Ikea.

Jul 28, 2013 09:43 am
 Posted by  Vnus

Something no one has mentioned yet is that Bywater is within the HDLC boundaries. It takes money to restore and maintain an historic property, if you are doing it within the Commission's guidelines. None of these post-K transplants complaining about gentrification and high rents are contributing to the historic conservation of New Orleans architecture. They seem to have flocked here specifically for the lawlessness and squatter-friendly blight that unfortunately characterized Bywater post-K, and from which it has still not recovered. I, for one, will be happy when the renters either side of me who don't pick up their dog poo, don't cut back the weeds, and skin animals in the yard to make hats, are forced out for a better class of tenant. "Gentrification", a term every person seems to have their own interpretation of, is what restores our historic neighborhoods. Thanks for considering this point.

Nov 18, 2013 10:00 pm
 Posted by  JLS

I grew up in the Bywater in the 80's, and we never woulda imagined what it became ... welcome change. Y'all even started calling it the Upper 9th Ward like the old timers.

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The Lighter Side

Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy


Annie Drummond is a graphic designer and artist from Columbus, Ohio. She has a degree from the Columbus College of Art & Design. Two years ago she made the move from the Midwest to New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood and fell deeply in love as she discovered the rhythms and traditions of her new city. In addition to The Lighter Side, she writes about food, art and design (and other stuff) at www.AnniedelaDolce.com.




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