The New New Orleans: A Stroll Down Freret Street

Everyone who visits New Orleans has strolled through the French Quarter at least once (whether they remember or not). Many shoppers have walked some of the three miles of Magazine Street’s commercial zone, while football fans have made their way through the Central Business District en route to the Superdome.

But Hurricane Katrina created an opportunity for other parts of New Orleans to come into their own. One place that many visitors have yet to find is Freret Street, in Uptown New Orleans. And even some locals stay away, because of Freret’s checkered history – which merchants and restaurant owners are doing their best to obliterate.

Freret began as a commercial area for people who were left out of New Orleans’ most powerful social groups: the French Creoles, who governed old society, and the wealthy “English” traders and business owners, who dominated the CBD and built their homes in the Garden District. Instead, the neighborhood, named for brothers William and James Freret, became a refuge for Italian and Jewish residents, who shared the commercial district.

But population shifts took place in the 1950s, driving middle class residents to the suburbs, and by the 1980s, when bakery owner Bill Long was shot and killed in the doorway of his store, Freret was disintegrating.

Help came in 2001 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation adopted Freret Street under its Main Street program. Yet, the neighborhood took a body blow from Katrina, whose damage can still be seen, and its comeback never seemed farther away.

But seven years after the storm, Freret is a symbol of the New New Orleans, where a handful of business pioneers and long time stall warts provided the nucleus for its growth to take place. Bars, restaurants, businesses, and a monthly fair have popped up in a few short years, and the sounds of construction resonate as cars and pedestrians ply the bumpy street between Tulane and Loyola Universities.

“You could see the revolution happening with just a few places, and just a few pieces finally falling into place,” says Greg Ensslen, a property developer and New Jersey transplant who has lived in the neighborhood since 1984.

%Gallery-170747%The growth has happened primarily with support from locals, and some help from out of towners like Chip Apperson, a veteran restaurateur who came down from Memphis with his wife after the storm to restore a home in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood.

Eventually, he bought Long’s bakery and turned it into the family friendly High Hat Cafe. The menu is divided between Louisiana and Mississippi Delta specialties, with home made pies and heavenly fried chicken, and a bar that invites people to settle in for hours.

Still, Apperson says, “It took a while for people to think about coming to this part of town.”

He and other business owners credit one of New Orleans’ trendiest drinking establishments, Cure, for leading Freret Street’s resurgence. Housed in a century old fire station, Cure has become a destination bar that has landed on many of the country’s top-10 lists for its individually crafted artisan cocktails and breathtakingly romantic atmosphere.

Its owner, Neil Bodenheimer, and his business partners envisioned a place that would pay homage to the drinks that made New Orleans’ reputation and create new cocktails tailored to individual tastes.

Ensslen, who can tell you the history of every building in the commercial district, thought Bodenheimer was way ahead of himself when they first discussed the ambitious project in 2008. “I said, ‘Freret isn’t mature enough. Come back in five or six years,’” Ensslen recalls.

Bodenheimer didn’t listen, and Cure began a comeback for Freret that seems to have picked up even more steam in just the past year. “We are farther along in our evolution than we ever thought we’d be,” Ensslen says.

Now, post-Katrina businesses serving everything from pizza to po’boys vie for locations amid places like Freret Hardware and Freret Paint that were already neighborhood fixtures.

One place drawing nearly as much buzz as Cure is The Company Burger, which opened in August 2011, and has already drawn high profile visitors including food television host and writer Anthony Bourdain.

Its menu is deceptively simple: burgers, from beef to turkey and lamb, fries, and a few desserts including brownies made from owner Adam Biderman’s mother’s recipe. But the food is restaurant quality, turned out by highly skilled chefs pulled from other New Orleans establishments.

Biderman, who grew up in New Orleans, decided in 2010 that he wanted to sell burgers and wanted to do so on Freret. “The burger thing was here, and I knew I had to get open,” he said. He found his spot: a 6,400-square-foot day care center in a strip mall with 40 parking spaces, and a week later signed a deal.

His parents were taken aback, not least because the street’s reputation. “I wasn’t allowed to come to Freret Street,” he recalls. And, despite Cure’s presence, his parents and business partners asked, “Are you sure about Freret Street?”

Biderman was. In his original business plan, he estimated the burger joint would attract 200 customers a day. “Now we do 200 a day at lunch on a weekday,” he says. He sold out on his first three days in business, and there are often customers waiting to get in each day when The Company Burger opens.

But despite drawing chefs and locals, Biderman says The Company Burger and Freret, in general, are still not a destination for many visitors. Without a car, Freret isn’t all that easy to reach. The business district is several blocks from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, with infrequent bus service. You may wait a few minutes or more for your taxi to arrive, although everyone says cab drivers are getting savvy to the activity.

Despite burgers and the hot dogs served at Dat Dog, some local business owners think the street is in danger of becoming overpriced, especially for the contractors who swing by the paint and hardware stores early in the day for supplies. There isn’t much retail, although there have been rumors a Trader Joe’s might open up nearby.

Biderman, though, sees “nothing but potential” for Freret, which he thinks is becoming its own brand. Even if tourists don’t find their way to the street, the New New Orleans will thrive regardless.

“People are aggressively taking back their own neighborhoods,” he says. “There’s a young, exciting energy among people who have decided to make their lives here.”

For more on the New New Orleans, click here.

[Photo credits: Micheline Maynard]

Welcome back to New Orleans

This isn’t a New Orleans story about disaster. It’s a story about rebirth. Despite all that has happened to New Orleans in the last five years – the damage, the loss of life, the oil spills – the fact remains: New Orleans is still one of the most musically rich, culturally vibrant and historically important cities in the world. This is not a city that gives up easily. In fact, we’re here to tell you that despite all you hear on the news, New Orleans is as good as ever, and it’s about time you came down to pay it a visit.

New Orleans is also much more than just throwing beads at Mardi Gras – there’s plenty to discover and celebrate about this amazing city year-round. From the genteel colonnade-lined mansions of the Garden District, the wide avenues shielded by shady canopies of old-growth trees, to the raucous nocturnal playground of Frenchmen Street, where funky brass bands and “go cups” of Abita Amber flow freely, to sinful culinary delights like Beignets and Muffuletta sandwiches, New Orleans is jam-packed with enough one-of-a-kind pleasures to please even the most jaded of travelers.

New Orleans is back, baby. Are you ready to take a whirlwind tour? Keep reading below to discover all this great city has to offer…Getting Around
Most New Orleans visitors arrive at Louis Armstrong International Airport, located about 15 minutes from downtown. The most convenient way into town is by taxi, which costs $33 for 1 or 2 passengers and $14/person for 3 or more. Many hotels in the French Quarter also offer their guests free shuttle service. If you’re doing New Orleans on the super cheap, the Jefferson Transit Airport Express is only $2.

Once you arrive in New Orleans, getting around by foot or public transport is relatively easy. Unless you need to get out of town, don’t bother with renting a car. Many of New Orleans’ attractions are either in the French Quarter or within walking distance. The city’s vintage street cars also offer connections to visitors hoping to get away from the French Quarter madness, all for just $1.25 per ride.

City Layout
The cultural heart of New Orleans lies along a series of bends in the Mississippi River, earning the town the nickname of “Crescent City.” The beating tourist heart of New Orleans is clearly the French Quarter, which has lots to do even if you don’t want to be drinking hand grenades all day on Bourbon Street. To the Northeast of the French Quarter is Faubourg Marigny, an up-and-coming neighborhood with a killer nightlife and live music scene. To the South and West of the French Quarter is the skyscraper-filled Central Business District (also home to a growing arts scene) and the southern-mansion-lined streets of the Garden District.

What to Do
You’ll never run out of activities in New Orleans. Simply walking the atmospheric streets, stumbling upon street musicians and the city’s beautiful architecture, is a joy in and of itself. Make sure to leave plenty of time to simply wander and take it all in. Here’s a few of our favorite highlights:

  • The food – if you haven’t eaten proper New Orleans cuisine, you simply haven’t visited New Orleans. Wondering where to start your Big Easy culinary tour? Try Central Grocery for a spicy Italian Muffuletta, Johnny’s or Mother’s for a Po’ Boy sandwich and Jacques-imo’s for Creole and Cajun specialties. And don’t forget a beignet and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde (preferably late at night when it’s less crowded).
  • Garden District tour - spend an afternoon getting a dose of old-school Southern charm by hopping on a street car to this historic New Orleans district of stately mansions and intriguing shopping. Grab a green line street car from the French Quarter and sit back as you’re transported back in time, past enormous Antebellum-style mansions fringed by gardens of lush greenery. Take a break on Magazine Street to find top-notch shopping.
  • French Quarter Wandering – most New Orleans visitors are already familiar with this quintessential neighborhood. But there’s much more to the French Quarter than Bourbon Street. Start your French Quarter wander with brunch at Stanley, where you can dig into Bananas Foster French Toast. Just across the street is the picturesque Jackson Square – make sure to check out the statue of U.S. President and commander of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson and take a peek at St. Louis Cathedral. From there it’s time to get lost, admiring the intricate wrought iron balconies, numerous thrift stores, record shops and art galleries that dot this historic neighborhood.
  • The music – New Orleans music is unrivaled in its influence, diversity and quality. For a burst of musical energy head to Frenchmen Street, where you’ll find concert venues like Snug Harbor and d.b.a. as well as streets packed with revelers bouncing along to street corner brass bands, banjo players and cellists. The music is just as good outside as it is inside. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears open for Second Lines, brass band street parades that unexpectedly fill the air with music and joyous dancing.
  • Volunteering – though “tourist New Orleans” is in great shape, many parts of the city outside the tourist areas are still in recovery mode. Looking to do your part to help rebuild? Check out the “voluntourism” page on the Official Tourism site of New Orleans

Where to Sleep
Staying in New Orleans can get downright expensive. Before you spring for a hotel, consider one of the city’s numerous private apartment options on sites like VRBO. You’ll not only save money, you’ll also get a more authentic neighborhood feel during your visit. If you simply must stay in a hotel, consider spots like the Iberville Suites, the Queen & Crescent or The Chines Bed & Breakfast as starting points.

[Photos courtesy Mike Lee and Jonathan Rodrigues]

20 great destinations for shopping

Shoppers of all kinds will fall in love with the places that made this list of the top 20 cities for shopping. Whether you live nearby or are planning a trip, this list offers places ideal for anyone in need of some retail therapy.

New Orleans, Louisiana

The French Quarter and Bourbon Street are only the starting point in the unique shopping destinations you’ll find in New Orleans. Stroll the French Market and pick up vibrant art from street vendors, or dash down a side street and discover one of the many galleries and specialty shops that sell one-of-a-kind items. This is also where you’ll find all manner of New Orleans themed clothing, voodoo dolls, postcards, and other tourist finds.

After exploring The Quarter, head to Magazine Street, where many of the city’s college students and young professionals flock. If treasures for the home are what you are looking for, then trek to Aux Belles Choses, a “shabby-chic” shop where the owners hand-pick each addition to their store. For the hottest fashions, try Buffalo Exchange and Funky Monkey, where hip fashionistas trade in their old clothes for new outfits and accessories. Be on the lookout for the latest trends and vintage frocks and accessories.Toronto, Canada
I love the the Distillery District, a pedestrian mall and historical district where a number of Toronto’s emerging artists and designers have shops. Tour the works of art at one of Thomas Landry Gallery’s two locations or browse rack after rack of denim masterpieces at Lileo. Peruse the collections of artists like Wendy Walgate, who create pieces with deep meaning out of familiar materials.

Established in 1975, Courage My Love is a Bohemian shopping mecca and is where Hollywood stylists and starlets flock to accessorize. It’s like looking through a friend’s closet, if the closet just happened to take up an entire store. If luxury is more your style, then make tracks to Zenobia, where a personal shopper will compile a perfect wardrobe for you. Your Zenobia representative will help you craft your style months in advance then have your pieces tailored in season.

Tokyo, Japan
The pomp and ceremony at Mitsukoshi is incredible. Founded in the 17th Century, this Japanese department store chain has the most outstanding customer service I have ever seen. Here you can find everything from traditional Japanese garb to gardening tools. Visit the main store in the Nihombashi District or one of the other buildings placed conveniently throughout the city. Another historical and traditional store is Kyukyodo, which sells stationary and writing supplies. Here, even sheets of paper can be works of art.

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is a city of American prestige and history. While you are here, take in the sights and enjoy the city’s luxuries. At Firestone and Parson, you can find fine exquisite antique estate jewelry and silver as as well as new baubles. Louis Boston is one of the world’s premier sellers of fine clothing. The staff is second to none, and they go the extra mile to get to know their customers. They will work with you to ensure your new wardrobe matches the current fashion climate and your own personal style. While you are in town, design a custom handbag at Lill Studio or, if you don’t have the time, browse their ready-made collection. This innovative store makes shopping an affair to remember.

Marrakesh, Morocco
For Western travelers, Morocco is an exotic and exciting shopping destination. This is why the winding streets around Marrakesh’s Djamaa El Fna Square, with its labyrinth of treasures, plus its hustlers and haggling shopkeepers, is a must see. For a dizzying array of local and international herbs and spices, visit Herboriste du Paradis.

Beijing, China
Beijing is a flourishing shopping city set in the shadow of the iconic Great Wall. You can visit the traditional night market and pick up the usual tourist trinkets, but it’s the quiet cultural revolution taking place here that really gets me excited. China’s art scene is exploding, and I’ve found that it’s easier than ever to find works by contemporary Chinese artists. Formerly a state owned factory district, the 798 Art District is an amazing collection of designer boutiques and galleries, where you can find everything from pop art to chic designer clothing. It is breathtaking to see how the artists-in-residence have transformed and divided their space.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi is a land of luxury and excess for travelers. Enjoy the modern feel and energetic nightlife, but I would suggest visiting shops with a more local feel. Al Motahajiba sells traditional head scarves and Muslim dress, but you can also find glamorous party dresses and formal wear. Some of these dresses will leave you breathless (but so might the price tags). And, if you truly want to experience Middle Eastern luxury at its best, shop at The Paris Gallery, where you will find traditional perfumes and exclusive luxury products.

Mumbai, India
Mumbai is a bustling, busy, and sometimes dirty city. My favorite shopping destination was Mangadalas Market, where there are plenty of bargains on everything from textiles to clothing, both modern and traditional. This is a great place to find accent pieces (and fabrics to make your own) for your home. Women should definitely check out Naina’s, where you can order customized saris. And, Cottage Industries Emporium has an unbelievable selection of crafts made by skilled Indian artisans.

Tahiti, French Polynesia
For me, Tahiti is THE place to buy pearls. You can find the natural marvels in every shape, color, and size. At Te Tevake Creations, carved mother of pearl and natural pearls are used in exquisite jewelry combinations. Robert Wan offers pearl jewelry in distinctive designs. If you’re looking for more traditional arts and crafts to prove you were here, try the market Le Marche.

Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is full of fascinating bazaars and traditional retailers. I loved navigating the stalls at The Grand Bazaar, even though I only got to experience a handful of the loud, bustling marketplace. It has more than 4,000 shops and was established in the 15th Century. The Spice Bazaar is much smaller, but the selection of edible treasures in the form of spices, teas, and more is dizzying. And, at Melda Silverware, the traditional silver is simply stunning.

– The above was written by Wendy Withers, Seed contributor



Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii

I stumbled upon the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, while searching for a place to buy sandals and I ended up spending hours there. Besides having almost 300 popular stores, the indoor/outdoor setup of the Ala Moana Center provides the ideal environment for both enjoying the Hawaiian heat and cooling off.

Chinatown in Seattle, Washington
Having visited the Chinatown districts of many cities, it’s safe to say that Seattle’s International District beats them all. Besides the shopping, it offers numerous art galleries, restaurants and bars. The Venus Karaoke bar is a must for experiencing karaoke the traditional Asian way, in a private room without strangers watching as you belt out a tune.

Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, Arizona
As I strolled around the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was walking in a stunning desert park. It’s a place where you can easily spend an entire day. After visiting the shops, I enjoyed an outdoor dinner as I watched the sun set. After the meal I relaxed and painted pottery at the As You Wish Pottery Painting Place, and played video games at Dave & Buster’s while waiting for it to be finished.

Georgetown Flea Market in Washington, DC
The Georgetown Flea Market is perfect for bargain hunters searching for vintage items. Perusing the market is half the fun, rummaging through the antique pieces wondering what you will find. I was lucky enough to come across 3 vintage 1950′s dresses, all for a discounted price significantly lower than anyplace else I have purchased them in the past.

Greenwich Village, New York City
The Greenwich Village shopping experience is unlike any other and is what landed it on this list of the 20 best cities for shopping. Every trip made to Strand Bookstore results in a rare find, and I still love the bright pink fishnets purchased at Ricky’s. The best find of all time? An authentic vintage Chinese wedding gown for the low price of $100, found amongst other unique items at Stella Dallas.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Lancaster, Pennsylvania offers diverse shopping. I scored an Amish rocking chair then enjoyed a family-style Pennsylvania-Dutch home cooked meal. The city’s multiple outlet centers prompt return trips every year, and is especially beneficial for school shopping. Extensive sales often bring the prices down to less than $10 an item, and on my last trip to the Lancaster outlets, I left with 12 items for less than $100.

Siena, Italy
The shopping in Siena, Italy provides a noteworthy alternative to the shops found in Rome or Milan. In addition to the many boutiques, Siena offers a variety of weekend markets. I purchased handmade bowls at a tremendous discount as well as several homemade bottles of olive oil that incidentally were selling for $10 more in Rome.

Piccadilly Circus in London, England
A major intersection in London, at first glance Piccadilly Circus doesn’t seem to have much to offer for shopping. However once the weekend comes, Piccadilly springs to life. The weekend market is the perfect place to purchase small trinkets and inexpensive souvenirs. I was able to score postcards, small purse and handmade paper, all on a student budget.

South Congress Street in Austin, Texas

South Congress Street in Austin, Texas, better known as “SoCo,” epitomizes the Austin experience. With a motto of “Keep Austin Weird”, the city boasts several unique and odd places to shop. Staying at the famous Austin Motel on SoCo allowed me to feel like a local, drinking coffee at the trendy Austin Java while taking in the shopping on a daily basis. I came home with loads of fun accessories, one-of-a-kind clothing items and handmade soaps all made by local Austin folks.

The Grove in Los Angeles, California
If you enjoy shopping at a traditional mall, you will love the last of the 20 best cities for shopping, The Grove in L.A. Instead of housing the shops in one building, The Grove spreads the stores across an outdoor pavilion riddled with water fountains. The atmosphere is ideal for taking in the beautiful Los Angeles weather, and I was able to meet several local people who recommended night spots.

– The above was written by Rebecca Reinstein, Seed contributor

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