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Last year’s Gulf Coast oil spill threatened to muck up a revitalization movement that had been building in New Orleans since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina first galvanized the city’s creative class to help rebuild. Yet, with characteristic resilience, the city continued to surge ahead, and since last summer, three exceptional nightspots have opened, with keen visionaries at their helms.
Folks who’ve been coming to Oak Street since the inception of the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival in 2007 have witnessed the rebirth of a neighborhood – one eclectic new boutique, eatery, and gelateria at a time. Take Oak (pictured above), a notable addition to the streetscape, which local lawyer Katie Winters opened last summer.
“Because of Katrina, I felt a huge obligation to the city to come back and be a part of the redevelopment,” says Winters, who helped fill a citywide void in upscale gastro-wine bars with Oak. In addition to small-plate dishes created by chef Aaron Burgau of the restaurant Patois, Oak serves up nightly live music, from jazz piano to funky brass. Winters’s cocktail of choice is the Clara Bow: Prosecco and St-Germain liqueur with a twist. But she can’t choose just one favorite dish, citing both the duck confit and the hanger steak bruschetta as her top choices. 504/302-1485; oaknola.com
Nearby Mainstay: Maple Leaf, one of the city’s most popular music joints, features live jazz and funk.
Ste. Marie, Central Business District
Leon and Pierre Touzet, owners of the revered Uptown restaurant Patois, recently partnered with their friend Robert LeBlanc, who helped reinvent New Orleans nightlife post-Katrina with his chic lounges Republic, Loa, and LePhare. Their effervescent lovechild, Ste. Marie, opened in late January. Inspired by French champagne houses, Ste. Marie’s menu includes mustard-braised rabbit, and alligator soup with quail egg and gremolata. LeBlanc insists that entrepreneurs aren’t as afraid to take risks after living through Katrina and the oil spill: “Young chefs are changing things up, but with the same quality.” The diverse bubbly on offer includes six champagnes and 22 sparkling wines, but splurge on a bottle of Veuve if you want to leave your mark: Guests can sign the labels of their empties before adding them to Ste. Marie’s centerpiece, an illuminated champagne-bottle tower. 504/304-6988
Nearby Mainstay: Emeril’s New Orleans, chef Emeril Lagasse’s classic Creole flagship, celebrated 20 years in 2010.
Eiffel Society, Garden District
A steel cage that once sat atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris is now home to a lively lounge and restaurant, Eiffel Society. “[It] was our way of contributing to the regrowth of the city,” says managing partner Jeff Gapultos. “The underlying theme we used to inspire us was transformation.” Before Eiffel Society officially opened in September, the owners invited artists to live in the space on voluntary lockdown for 30 days. During this stretch, the resident artists produced custom installations for the interior and created a biodynamic farm, whose pea shoots and radish sprouts now complement the chef’s grilled shrimp skewers. “There’s no fence around our garden, so we don’t mind if people want to take some of the produce,” says Gapultos. In that same generous spirit, no menu items – not even the plantain tostones with smoked pork or the tasty Filipino lumpias (both Gapultos’s top picks) – cost more than $20. 504/525-2951; eiffelsociety.com
Nearby Mainstay: The legendary Commander’s Palace still serves some of the city’s best Creole cuisine.
From the Spring/Summer issue of Smart Luxury Travel magazine by ShermansTravel.com.
For general trip-planning information, see our New Orleans Travel Guide.