New Orleans is officially a hipster hot spot
Last Jan. 16 in New Orleans, thousands of locals flooded the French Quarter, boozing and marching to a second-line tribute parade for David Bowie.
It was one of the wildest non-Mardi Gras events to date, streets packed to the bone as Grammy-award winning indie-rock band Arcade Fire led the procession with a local marching band. While the otherwise impromptu parade paid tribute to the late musician, it also marked a moment in New Orleans history: the brink of a hipster revolution.
New Orleans has long been famous for its centuries-old voodoo culture, historic bed and breakfasts, Cajun food, ghost tours and, of course, Mardi Gras. But now, there’s contemporary Israeli cuisine, locally grown kombucha and a Warby Parker. Arcade Fire is leading parades, and hip hotels like Ace and Virgin are moving in.
Spellbinding for its mystique and distinctive Creole history, New Orleans is also fully adapting to a modern world ruled by hipsters. Call it a city-wide gentrification. Thanks to a steady influx of young, creative types both visiting and moving to the city, the Big Easy, having forever rested on its storied past, is finally merging with the future.
The biggest indication of a hipster-focused renaissance is in the Bywater District, a formerly rough neighborhood that’s become the East Village of New Orleans. “Bywater has always been very urban, and was pretty much built as a neighborhood to house workers along the river,” says Cari Roy, a nationally recognized psychic who has lived in the Bywater for 25 years. “Now all the hipsters are coming in.”
Joining famed BBQ eatery The Joint and Southern standby Elizabeth’s are sidewalk cafes, yoga studios and trendy restaurants like The Franklin and Red’s Chinese, the latter opened by an alum of Mission Chinese in NYC and San Francisco. A new independent cinema, high-end hotel Stateside and luxury condos are in the works, and the public streetcar system is expanding here by this fall due to demand.
On the other side of town, the Garden District is getting tons of attention, and not strictly because Beyonce and Jay Z reportedly bought a home here last May. The charming ’hood is home to six-mile long Magazine Street. Historically the place to see a seamstress or buy antiques, it’s brimming with forward-thinking restaurants, bike shops, art studios and fashion boutiques helmed by young designers. Fashion labels like Warby Parker and Kit & Ace opened in the past year, now sharing the sidewalk with recently moved-in chains like American Apparel, West Elm and Jamba Juice.
The most buzz by far is around Shaya, a hip dining spot voted best new restaurant last year by Esquire and Eater. Chef Alon Shaya, winner of the James Beard award for 2015’s best chef in the south, dishes out creative Israeli food. He serves traditional plates like hummus, but the lutenitsa (a puree of roasted pepper, eggplant, garlic and tomato) is the standout for foodies seeking bites beyond po’boys and jambalaya.
Alon isn’t the only hipster taking over food culture. A wave of cool new spots like Seed and Girls Gone Vegan pander to the growing vegan scene, and third-wave coffee shops are big (Revelator has a cult following).
Former New Yorker Alexis Korman introduced Big Easy Bucha, a homemade kombucha she literally created in her basement two years ago after she moved here. BEB is now carried at 35 stores, including Whole Foods and the mini-bar at the new Ace Hotel (from $189). “The hipsters that have moved to New Orleans from other demographics seem to have opened the door for me,” she says.
A crop of modern accommodations have further modernized New Orleans. Old No. 77 (from $147), a boutique hotel in the industrial Warehouse District, opened last year, featuring artful decor and the excellent New American restaurant Compere Lapin, from “Top Chef” Nina Compton.
Debuted in March, NOLA’s Ace Hotel is located in a beautiful, historic Art Deco building, with a restaurant run by James Beard finalists Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotel announced a 2018 opening, and the Pontchartrain, a 1920s hotel that’s been graced by famous faces like Tennessee Williams and Frank Sinatra, is reopening this June with the city’s first rooftop bar for night revelers.
“The hip kids are always chasing something new and fresh in nightlife here,” says Brett LaBauve, a local DJ and party promoter whose recent Gimme a Reason warehouse parties have spearheaded a new after-hours scene.
The young folks are finally finding refuge outside of jazz clubs, dive bars and strip joints.
LaBauve adds, “Places where you’d find queers, freaks and weirdos all night now merge with mainstream college kids, and they’re all looking for a new venue or theme or sound to keep them excited.”
This article was published by New York Post. Feature photo of the Ace Hotel bar by Fran Parente.