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The Big Easy is living up to its status of fastest growing city in the country with brand new hot spots — ranging from upscale hotels to groundbreaking museums. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors have the details on what’s new in New Orleans.
Where to Stay
To kick off summer, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Windsor Court Hotel completed a $22 million renovation — the hotel’s first in more than 13 years — complete with a new pale blue color scheme, Frette linens and iPod docking stations in the 316 guest rooms. The club level, pool, Grill Room restaurant and Polo Club lounge were also refurbished, and a new cocktail bar was added in the elegant Le Salon space, serving craft cocktails inspired by pre-Prohibition times, such as the Gable Meets GaGa, made with Old Tom gin, hibiscus syrup, green tea, lemon and egg whites. Guests are greeted with a booze amuse (a sampling of the cocktail or punch of the day) and there’s live music four nights a week. Windsor Court’s renovation also added a 4,500-square-foot spa with a wet room, couple’s treatment room, sauna and salon.
In the French Quarter, The Saint Hotel opened its doors in January 2012 in Canal Street’s landmark Audubon Building. A $45 million renovation converted the structure into a 166-room, eight-story boutique hotel. Guests can catch the live jazz at the speakeasy-inspired bar and meals at the brasserie-style Sweet Olive restaurant. In early 2013, the hip hotel will open a rooftop bar and lounge aptly named Halo.
Where to Eat
Tamarind, the newest restaurant from chef Dominique Macquet of the popular Dominique's on Magazine, opened inside the Hotel Modern in December 2011. Named after the tropical fruit the chef ate growing up in Mauritius, the restaurant explores Vietnamese cuisine with a French twist (spicy, bright flavors meet classic French techniques). Small plate starters work well for sharing—the sashimi-style yellowfin tuna with crispy pineapple, soy ginger and grapeseed oil, and crispy Colorado lamb confit with Vietnamese crepe and greens are standouts. The impressive cocktails are created by mixologist Kimberly Patton Bragg, who relies on local and Vietnamese fruit such as kumquats, lychee and (you guessed it) tamarind to infuse the liquors used in her drinks.
June 2012 saw the opening of Restaurant R’evolution, the highly anticipated new eatery from James Beard Award-winning chef Rick Tramonto and Louisiana chef John Folse. The 200-seat restaurant and bar offers modern, imaginative translations of classic Cajun and Creole cuisine, with a focus on Louisiana’s raw ingredients. Following that? The famous Commander’s Palace restaurant group teamed up with the W New Orleans French Quarter to open SoBou in July 2012. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzales of Houston’s Bistro Alex runs the kitchen, turning out modern Creole cuisine including street food-inspired small plates such as pig-fired pecans or shrimp and tasso pinchos. Get ready for an emphasis on cocktails — this is New Orleans, after all—with barrel-aged concoctions and house-made tinctures and bitters. Self-serve wine on tap and a hidden courtyard with a beer garden — the tables have taps — anchor the new spot.
What to Do
After celebrating its fourth anniversary this month, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum — dedicated to the South’s culinary heritage — broke ground on the new, larger location in June 2012, where it’ll move Spring 2013. Meanwhile, visit the museum at the Riverwalk Marketplace to see the “Louisiana Eats! Laissez Faire – Savoir Fare” exhibit that explains the development of the cuisine that we’ve come to know and love today. Then head over to The National World War II Museum, where a $300 million expansion is underway. The facility will soon have a new pavilion that will house two galleries exploring the Allied campaigns in Asia and the Pacific and the European Theater. Visitors will receive an imprinted "dog tag" so they can follow the journey of an actual soldier, tracking their actions through a number of interactive kiosks throughout the exhibits.
There's more New in New Orleans than at any other time in recent memory. New Orleans has received publicity from a series of high-visibility events including Super Bowl 2013 that have only added to its tourism boom. The city is host to a vibrant comedy scene, has been named an entrepreneurial hub by Forbes Magazine, and is becoming even more of a foodie paradise with cutting-edge chefs making it a destination for their culinary pet projects.
Add to that the fact that New Orleans is now considered the Hollywood of the South thanks to tax credit incentives to filmmakers, and you have the makings of a cultural renaissance in an already culture-heavy city. Case in point, just off the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street hosts a vibrant new music and club scene, with an arts market adjacent to the clubs. If it's been a few years since you visited, old favorites abound but the new New Orleans adds event more entertainment bang for a traveler's buck.