Restaurants and bars have been pioneers for reinvesting in areas across New Orleans. Local dining writer Ian McNulty says the next example is taking shape along Tulane Avenue.
It takes a lot more than restaurants and bars to get an economic revitalization going and turn the corner. But still, when you’re first kicking the wheels into motion, new places to eat and drink are not bad places to start, especially when you’re talking about redevelopment in New Orleans.
It takes a gutsy type of person to invest in areas that don’t look too prosperous or that carry a bad reputation. But a lot of us are led by our stomachs and New Orleans tends to take a more open-minded view of a place when good food and good times are on the table.
The leading local example for this is probably Freret Street, which rose from a depressed backwater of Uptown to one of the city’s most vibrant restaurant rows. Something similar happened along a longer arc of time on Magazine Street — and the Warehouse District, once widely considered a skid row, is another example. A friend of mine still loves to recall how his mother would correct his behavior with warnings that he could wind up being a bum on Camp Street, which today would be considered a pretty prime spot for a restaurant.
The restaurants and bars didn’t do it all by themselves, but they were in the first and riskiest wave, and they helped get others to take another look, slow down and stop for a spell. The latest experiment is shaping up along Tulane Avenue.
The impetus here, of course, the multi-billion dollar factor, comes from the two huge hospital complexes rising between Tulane Avenue and Canal Street. Lots of people are betting on big changes across the whole region once these hospitals come online. But before all the doctors, staff, patients and families arrive, new hospitality business are stepping up.
Just last month, the owners of the popular Mid-City watering hole Finn McCool’s Irish Pub opened a new place called Trèo. It’s an artfully designed, upscale lounge with flowers and candlelight, craft cocktails, small plates and a second-floor art gallery for exhibitions and parties.
Trèo is the Irish word for “direction,” which the owners picked to signify the changing prospects they see on the horizon for Tulane Avenue, and every new addition brings the potential here into focus.
For instance, earlier pioneers on the food front here include Avery’s Po-boys, a first-class spot for gumbo, roast beef and fried shrimp, and Pizzicare, a cool, marble-trimmed pizzeria with an array of pies ready to serve by the slice. There are the old favorites too, like Anita’s Grill, a classic New Orleans diner, and Boswell's Jamaican Grill, home to great jerk chicken and one of the city’s better lunch buffet deals.
And the changes are starting to pile up. Two blocks from Trèo, the next generation of a local Vietnamese family transformed their parent’s battered old convenience store into a sparkling new pan-Asian restaurant called Namese. It even has an outdoor patio where you can dunk your spring rolls and sip your martini right there at the very top of Tulane.
Cocktail shakers, small plates, po-boys and pizza — these might not sound like the levers of economic development policy. But along Tulane Avenue these days, they really do seem to point in a new direction.
2122 Tulane Ave., 504-523-1542
2510 Tulane Ave., 504-821-4110
Boswell's Jamaican Grill
3521 Tulane Ave., 504-482-6600
4077 Tulane Ave., 504-483-8899
3001 Tulane Ave., 504-301-4823
3835 Tulane Ave., 504-304-4878