In New Orleans, there’s long been a natural order when it comes to enjoying a bit of natural beauty with your dinner and drinks. It was the courtyards of old French Quarter restaurants or a seat by the flaming fountain at Pat O’Brien’s. Watching streetcars rattle past from the porch at the Columns Hotel always qualified, and any balcony was fair game.
But now the game has changed, and here’s the latest twist: more restaurants and bars are going the full monty, devoting most of their space and much of their business model to the al fresco appeal.
They’re betting the house that outdoor space can be feasible and desirable year-round in New Orleans. How often will this city venture from the AC vent? If it’s a gamble, it’s taking lots of different forms.
Some resemble a mirage of a beach bar, with parking spots and bike racks at their edges instead of waves. To see what I mean, swing by the Tchoup Yard, which by day is nearly invisible behind fences in the Irish Channel but at night looks like some combination of a beer garden and Celebration in the Oaks. It’s a bar, and that bar is in a cabana facing a colorful grownup playground of yard games, pop-ups cooking in the corner and enough strings of lights to illuminate a carnival midway.
For a much smaller, much different example of going all-in on outdoors, there’s the Pagoda Café. This is coffee shop and eatery on that of Bayou Road branching off from Esplanade Avenue. The inside is about the size of a food truck. Everything else is outside, on a wrap-around deck and through a narrow yard variously shaded and screened by canopies. For quick breakfast, or just a fast break, it feels right, with eclectic flavors and an emphasis on fresh.
Years ago, the Bywater wine bar and eatery Bacchanal set a new standard for al fresco in New Orleans, and others have developed different variations on the theme. Not far away, there’s N7, which looks like the sort of garden and tasting room you’d hope to find in wine country. In Mid-City, Bayou Wine Garden has emerged next to the Bayou Beer Garden. Separate but related, it functions as one big patio stretching over two yards. You step through a garden gate from one to the next, going from cheeseburgers here to cheese plates there. It’s like waltzing between different pavilions at a world’s fair of booze and bar food.
Some of the new options for making a night of it outdoors aren’t even bars or restaurants. In Central City, the urban farm Paradigm Gardens holds different dining events, with chefs, food lovers and food producers together right there between the farm rows. And Grow Dat Youth Farm, a nonprofit based in City Park, has its own outdoor dinner series underway, mixing fundraiser and outdoor meal in a one of a kind setting.
In all cases, the appeal of al fresco goes beyond feeling the cool breeze. Outdoor spaces are inherently social. So are New Orleanians, in case you haven’t noticed. With fall upon us, it’s prime time to take it all in outside.
The Tchoup Yard
405 Third St., 504-895-6747
1403 N. Dorgenois St., 504-644-4178
1117 Montegut St., no phone
Bayou Wine Garden
315 N. Rendon St., 504-826-2925
1131 S. Rampart St.
For event details, see: paradigmgardensnola.com
Grow Dat Youth Farm
150 Zachary Taylor Dr., City Park
For event details, see: growdatyouthfarm.org