A new kind of guided tour has found a place in the Arts and Warehouse District.
[Updated] The Arts and Warehouse District has its share of great eats, bars, and landmarks, but it hasn’t been home to guided tours until now. Two years ago, Eric McVey founded Creole PubCrawl, a company that organizes small walking tours around the neighborhood. These guided “day crawls” and “night crawls” give tourists and locals an opportunity to experience a variety of food and drink from different venues in under three hours.
The idea of Creole PubCrawl initially came to McVey after a visit to Austin, Texas, where he learned of a company doing a similar thing. To better suit the culture of New Orleans, McVey wanted tours that weren’t entirely focused on alcohol. “We decided to merge pub crawl with a culinary aspect, instead of the London-style pub crawl, where you just drink and drink until you’re sick,” McVey says. “I think New Orleans is more about going from restaurant to restaurant. You can get a drink at each one, but you fill up on food, too.” From this idea, three of McVey’s “crawls” were born: the Party Crawl, the Historic Crawl, and the Culinary Crawl.
McVey’s first business move was to purchase a 12-passenger bike for the tours. Six people would sit on each side, facing each other and pedaling as 10 tandem gears turn two axles. The vehicle didn’t receive an instant stamp of approval from City Council, however. “They didn’t want another slow moving vehicle,” McVey says. “Given the city code, the safety and the permits, they wanted to see an electric-powered motor. We said, ‘Sure.’”
The approval of the Big Easy Bike is going back through the council this year, and Creole PubCrawl should have a commercial license for the engine-powered bicycle by March 28, McVey says. Despite this minor setback, the company has found other ways to keep business moving. In June of last year, it began to offer their tours on foot.
“We knew it was going to be a while before the bike got here again, but we still wanted to operate in the Arts and Warehouse District,” says Orlando Vega, who handles Creole PubCrawl’s sales and marketing. “We knew that it was a part of town with a lot of up-and-coming chefs and mixologists. People come to town and don’t know what to do outside of the Quarter, when right outside of it is a beautiful neighborhood.”
Creole PubCrawl’s tour are led by “social guides,” tour guides who are chosen on their ability to be an easy-going friend that you’d want to grab a drink with, Vega says. On the Historic Crawl, a social guide might take guests for a walk through Lafayette Square and down Julia Street, the first London-style building project in New Orleans. Included in the price of this crawl are traditional drinks like the Sazerac cocktail and the Ramos Gin Fizz.
McVey and Vega admit that their favorite crawl is the Culinary Crawl, which takes guests to restaurants for food and drinks. They’ve also found it's the most popular with locals. “With most of our vendors, we’ve negotiated 25 to 50 percent off almost anything on the menu,” Vega says. “Some of the venues have been gracious enough to design specific Creole Pub Crawl food menus. And no matter how big the crowd is, we have expedited service with the bar. The drinks are in your hands the second you walk in.”
The design of these crawls came naturally for McVey. A Jackson, Mississippi native, he experienced a casual kind of bar-hopping when he moved here several years ago as friends began to show him around New Orleans. “People would take me out and go from place to place,” McVey says. “We’d start off with entrées sometimes, and we’d move to the appetizers and dessert. Everybody would pitch in, and everybody would take the plates and pass them around. They’d say, ‘Get this cocktail here.’ ‘Do this here.’ We’d throw in the money, and we’d go to six different restaurants in one night. That became what I would show to people.”
Though this is new to the area, McVey says he hasn’t encountered resistance. Many of the councilpersons who are affiliated with the Arts and Warehouse District are supportive of the tours, he says. “If it keeps people flowing, then there’s more safety in the area,” McVey says. “It doesn’t impose on the neighbors but instead brings people to these establishments. There are restaurants that have only survived for so long here because the Quarter does take away business. We really want to see restaurants and bars feed off of the traffic that we could bring.”
Creole Pub Crawl will be unveiling the Big Easy Bike at their day-long Crawfish and Bluegrass Crawl on April 6. More information on how to book a spot on this crawl can be found here.
Updated, 3:11 p.m.
The story reported that the Restaurant Crawl went to Mike's on the Avenue. Since Mike's on the Avenue has closed, it no longer goes there. The text has been altered to reflect this.