• Image about Kermit Ruffins
As the French Quarter has grown more upscale and touristy over the years, the adjacent Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, just downriver, have become what the French Quarter once was: a gritty haven for innovators, artists, and musicians. The houses in these areas are ancient and gorgeous, situated tightly on small lots. Some of them remain run-down, but many have been restored to their exquisite original glory.

White, for one, doesn’t see much reason to leave.

“I really never get out of this neighborhood,” he says. “I’ve got a bar, a coffee shop, and a grocery store all a block from my house.”

The comment strikes a chord with me: I’m mostly the same way in my corner of Uptown, just off Magazine Street -- a skinny thoroughfare that runs from Uptown to Downtown and teems with New Orleans culture. I can walk to Rouses Market grocery; any number of world-class restaurants; two famous music clubs, Tipitina’s and Le Bon Temps Roule; and my favorite bar, the Kingpin Bar, where I’ve met more friends over the years than I can count.

That’s the beauty of the city -- it’s unlike so many suburbanized, homogenized areas of the country. In almost every New Orleans neighborhood, houses and shops and bars and restaurants happily coexist on the same streets rather than in separate zones designed by city planners. It’s a model more European than American.

White migrated to New Orleans a week after Katrina for reasons he leaves vague. He wears patched and frayed denim, a tattered cap, and not a few tattoos. He hands me the Mimi’s tapas menu, which includes delights as diverse as seviche, fig and blue cheese, and “lollipop” lamb chops.

One entry catches my eye: “Trust Me” is all it says. I order it and am pleased when a bowl arrives filled with mussels, braised cherry tomatoes, and garlic, all covered with a mildly spicy sauce that White and I theorize must include chiles the chef has brought from North Louisiana, where his parents live.

Before long, a steady stream of working-class men and waiflike women come in to visit. I strike up a conversation with Bobby, who’s sitting next to me. He and White both hail from the Northeast but now call New Orleans home.

All of a sudden, a pretty blonde with curly hair walks in the door and starts shouting. “Bobby! Bobby!” she yells. He jumps up, grabs her, and lifts her off the ground, her legs swinging like a rag doll. She sits down, orders a drink, and joins the rest of us in conversation. The tattoo predominately displayed below her neck is appropriate for the warm feeling in the room.

It reads, simply: “Family.”