In deepest summer, there is a certain mindset in New Orleans that regards the outdoors as enemy territory. Maybe you’ve succumbed to it once or twice yourself.
When this mindset sinks in, the outdoors is something to be monitored and cordoned. You dash from door to door at your own risk, and air conditioning on an outing for dinner or drinks is as necessary as air tanks for a deep sea dive. When true fall arrives, of course, all is forgiven and an outdoor perch is the place to be.
Once you start looking around for them, you might notice something has changed. All around New Orleans, more restaurants and bars are making peace with the outdoors year round. The classic lush French Quarter courtyard is now joined by evermore variegated patios and beer gardens and repurposed open-air urban spaces.
The trend has filled the New Orleans restaurant scene with picnic benches and roll-up garage doors, sail-shaped canopies and, everywhere, overhead string lights, which are to this generation what the candle-mounted Chianti bottle was to the last.
The variety of this new outdoor landscape keeps growing, and can often offer surprising finds. Push open the stockade fence gate at the wine bar N7 and you see something you’d expect between vine rows in wine country, but instead it’s in the Ninth Ward. At Treo on Tulane Avenue, the lounge and gallery leads to a pocket park of picnic tables, plank board patios and colorful plants.
Rosedale, Susan Spicer’s neighborhood eatery tucked away in Navarre, the outdoor tables face a green, little-used railroad easement that functions as a linear park. If you remember Nino’s Pizzeria, way Uptown, it's now a combination Cajun butcher shop/chicken wing and daiquiri stop called Bourree at Boucherie, and the one-time parking lot is now a beer garden next to the clattering green streetcars on Carrollton Avenue. All the way at the other end of that avenue, by City Park, Blue Oak BBQ has colonized it's parking lot with canopies and pavilions and its own view of red streetcars.
The micro brewery tap rooms, which resemble family-friendly, beer-only bars, have added their own niche to the outdoor arena, and in the Bywater, a German joint called Bratz Y’all has turned a one-time bagel bakery into what feels like a permanent Oktoberfest installation, right down to the dimpled beer mugs and narrow beer garden benches.
And even at the modern Bucktown seafood restaurant Station 6, there’s a deck of tables and sofas sheathed by a slat-lined deck, right there between the lakefront levee and a pumping station.
The nonprofit-run Roux Carre food court in Central City looks like it was built from shipping containers and another newcomer actually was. That’s the Box Spot, on North Claiborne Avenue, with wings and fries in one container, salads and wraps in the other, and an open deck in between. Across town in Central City, ramparts of shipping containers frame an outdoor campus around Central City BBQ that covers half a city block.
All the new outdoor space is something of a gamble, knowing the fickle seasons in this town. But when the weather doesn’t quite cooperate, well, everyone looks a little better under the candle watt glow of those string lights, even if they are shining down on a light sheen of sweat.
1117 Montegut St., no phone
3835 Tulane Ave., 504-304-4878
801 Rosedale Drive, 504-309-9595
Bourree at Boucherie
1510 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-510-4040
Blue Oak BBQ
900 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-621-9837
617 Piety St., 504-301-3222
105 Old Hammond Highway, 504-345-2936
2000 O.C. Haley Blvd., 504-
The Box Spot
J’s Creole Wingery
1700 N. Claiborne Ave., 504-309-9444
The Fresh Side
1700 N. Claiborne Ave., 504-309-8888
Central City BBQ
1201 S. Rampart St., 504-558-4276