The Big Easy is hardly an under-the-radar destination—after all, the good times have been rolling here for centuries—but the decade-long post-Katrina efforts by entrepreneurs, environmentalists, developers, and lawmakers has in the last few years led to a noticeably “new” New Orleans, one with a start-up culture that’s attracting a young, energized workforce for whom lifestyle is as important as a career. As a result, neighborhoods beyond the much-touristed French Quarter are now booming with hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops, expanding the city and—for both residents and visitors—the possibilities for leisure.
Just down river from the Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny is best-known for its Creole cottage architecture and the live music venues along lively Frenchmen Street, which have already been drawing a grown-up, decidedly un-Bourbon Street crowd, while neighboring Bywater is a bit rougher around the edges, but growing fast. Together, these neighboring areas offer a new energy, an independent, artistic edge, and a local expression of the nation's current culinary zeitgeist. (In other words, many of the restaurants here vibe more with restaurants in Brooklyn, San Francisco, or Chicago, as opposed to their predecessors near the Quarter—though that's not to say they don't feel distinctly like New Orleans.) Our favorite spots to check out in the Marigny and Bywater include The Franklin (2600 Dauphine St.; 504-267-0640; thefranklinnola.com), for hand-crafted cocktails and dinner at the bar; Bacchanal Wine (600 Poland Ave.; 504-948-9111; bacchanalwine.com), a converted home with a wine store up front and garden seating with live music out back; Paladar 511 (511 Marigny St.; 504-509-6782; paladar511.com) for light, fresh fare in an airy, industrial-chic former warehouse space, and St. Roch Market (2381 St. Claude Ave.; 504-609-3813; strochmarket.com) for a charming, well-edited local food hall experience.
For a fun and informative overview of the area (as well as trendy Treme and the revived City Park), hop on the guided Creole & Crescent itinerary from Freewheelin’ Bike Tours. Or take a stroll or ride through Crescent Park: stretching for 1.4 miles along the Mississippi River, between Elysian Fields Avenue in the Marigny and Poland Avenue in the Bywater, the public art-lined green space is the first phase of the city’s waterside Reinventing the Crescent urban regeneration project.
Areas on the other sides of the Quarter are also being reenergized. In the South Market and Warehouse Districts, new arrivals like the Ace New Orleans (from $190; 600 Carondelet St.; 504-941-9191; acehotel.com) and The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery (from $100; 535 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504-527-5271; old77hotel.com) are drawing a steady stream of locals; the former boasts a live music venue, packed rooftop lounge, and two see-and-be-seen restaurants, while the latter’s onsite Compiere Lapin is helmed by Top Chef fan-favorite chef Nina Compton. In the historically African American Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard area, the recently opened Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market, founded by award-winning musician Irwin Mayfield, is part community hangout, with a jazz library, lobby bar, and family programming, and part state-of-the-art performance venue, in which guests (and the onstage musicians) can text their drink orders to the bar. In the residential Garden District, visitors have the chance to feel like locals at intimate new hotels like the Henry Howard (from $160; 2041 Prytania St.; 504-313-1577; henryhowardhotel.com), whose 18 lovely rooms are set in a converted 19th-century Greek Revival mansion, and The Ponchartrain (from $180; 2031 St. Charles Ave.; 800-708-6652; thepontchartrainhotel.com), revived and relaunched this summer with retro-chic interiors and the Mississippi River–facing Hot Tin Rooftop lounge, so named in honor of playwright Tennessee Williams, who lived at the hotel while writing “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Finally, another emerging aspect of New Orleans is luxury travel. Though five-star hotels like The Ritz-Carlton, The Ambassador, and The Windsor Court have long provided a plush base for travelers, the city was notable lacking in exclusive, upscale activities. Enter companies like Bespoke Experiences, whose plugged-in experts plan and execute impeccable private itineraries based on guests’ interests—whether they want to visit working artist studios and musician rehearsals, helicopter out to the bayou, or just cut the line at Café du Monde.