The New Orleans Corner Store

Following Katrina, the description of the process sounds eerily premonitory. To a proper uplander, it was not exactly restaurant conversation. More like kitchen table conversation, and for good reason: the New Orleans corner restaurant has always been, in more ways than one, an extension of the kitchen. New Orleanians did and do eat out much more frequently than the average American, and the regulars at Norby’s were very like an extended family.

More literally, these businesses were often the actual homes of their owners. Norby’s had been, though it had ceased being so by 1977. Clancy’s still was. There, behind the counter, three or four steps led up to the kitchen, which served both the restaurant and the owner’s home. You can still see that change in level between business and residence at Clancy’s, as you can at Patois, as you can at Parasol’s, further downtown at Third and Constance. It is the distinguishing characteristic of the New Orleans corner restaurant, or bar, or store.

While the roof volume shelters both house and store, the two meet the ground in notably different ways. The store is a single step up from the sidewalk, while the residence is several steps up, the usual height above the sidewalk in pre-ADA America, keeping the pedestrian from looking directly into the home and allowing the resident to view the neighborhood over the heads of passersby. Where there are street-level windows in the business (often, in a store, there are only high windows to make room for shelving), both windows and doors signal the difference in floor height. The break in floor height serves, simply and effectively, to distinguish the public from the private, without having to put space between them: a basic principle of New Orleans urbanism.

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