Walking through the vibrant New Orleans of today, it is easy to forget that not long ago, many people wondered whether the city was even salvageable. After Hurricane Katrina, there were serious calls to transform New Orleans into a Colonial Williamsburg-style theme park. Thankfully, other voices prevailed, and the city reemerged as a real place, not one entirely dependent on tourists.
In many respects, the Big Easy is better than ever — an opinion based on regular visits over the past 25 years. The streets are clean, buildings have been repainted, the street life is lively (especially, as you might expect, the honky-tonk scene on Bourbon Street) and the justly renowned restaurant scene has dozens more options than before. Frenchmen Street contains a wide selection of bars, restaurants and one-off shops, and there is animated life in neighborhoods west of the Quarter, such as Magazine Street, which has a thriving thoroughfare of boutiques and cafés. A recommended stop is the thoroughly engrossing National WWII Museum, set in the revitalized Warehouse District. Jazz clubs jump with everything from traditional Dixieland to more experimental contemporary music (the bars d.b.a., Snug Harbor, Palm Court Jazz Café and Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse offer terrific live music programs).
Beer, Wine and Cocktails
New Orleans is justly renowned for its mixologists. Bar Tonique (820 North Rampart Street, Tel.  324-6045) hosts a mostly local crowd with just about everything made in-house except the spirits themselves. The Sazerac Bar (130 Roosevelt Way, Tel.  648-1200) in the Hotel Roosevelt is an art deco room where you can enjoy the drink for which the bar is named. And a visit to Cure (4905 fFeret Street, Tel.  302-2357) is worth the trip to Freret Street for complex, inspired cocktails and high-end bar cuisine.
Keep the wine flowing at Bacchanal (600 Poland Avenue, Tel.  948-9111), a wine shop and bar with a lush backyard patio, near-nightly live music and a diverse selection of wine from around the world. The people behind Bacchanal have recently opened the Elysian Bar, housed in the former rectory of a church campus that has become the Hotel Peter & Paul in the hip Marigny neighborhood.
Magazine Street Shopping
The French Quarter has long dominated the shopping scene, but Magazine Street is an interesting rival. I especially like the stretch between Jackson and Louisiana streets. Don’t miss Mignon Faget (3801 Magazine Street, Tel.  891-2005) for locally made jewelry designs that are inspired by New Orleans, Aux Belles Choses (3912 Magazine Street, Tel.  891-1009) for English and French treasures from the countryside and Magazine Antique Mall (3017 Magazine Street, Tel.  896-9994) for all manner of quirky finds in 6,500 square feet of space.
While it may not be a white-tablecloth restaurant, Parkway Bakery (538 Hagan Avenue, Tel.  482-3047) is a must-visit for po’boys, the overstuffed sandwiches for which the city is famous. This institution is popular, so prepare to wait in line. I recommend the fried-shrimp po’boy, or the hot roast beef with “debris” (slang for the falling-apart-tender pieces of meat that have been soaked in brown gravy).
Despite its reputation for being a city of revelry, New Orleans also has plenty of green space. Peaceful Audubon Park (6500 Magazine Street) stretches to the Mississippi River, while in Mid-City, sprawling City Park (1 Palm Drive) is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art and bordered by Bayou St. John, the perfect spot for an afternoon paddle.