Cure restaurant started a wave of hip businesses on Freret Street. // © 2014 Kevin O’Mara
For New Orleans residents, Freret Street, located in the heart of the city, was a commercial corridor on the decline, mostly used as a quick route for uptowners to reach downtown. So when Matt Kohnke and Neal Bodenheimer were looking to open a hip lounge and restaurant in the Crescent City, Bodenheimer kept balking at Kohnke’s insistence on a Freret Street location.
“It was pretty desolate,” Bodenheimer said of Freret Street when they first contemplated their restaurant, Cure, in 2008. “Everybody I knew tried to talk me out of going there.”
The duo took a chance and purchased a 1903 firehouse, a unique building that became obsolete when larger, modern fire trucks needed to be housed there. After renovations, Cure opened in February 2009 when only a handful of businesses existed along Freret.
Cure immediately started a trend. Today, the eight blocks of the “New Freret,” or the Freret Arts & Entertainment District, stretches from Jefferson Street to Napoleon in Uptown New Orleans and is one of the most happening spots in the city, offering restaurants, boutiques, coffee shops and more.
The corridor is close to Tulane and Loyola universities, the popular St. Charles Avenue with its streetcars and mansions and Aubudon Park. On the first Saturday of the month — except for the hot months of July and August— there’s a Freret Market selling “food, art and fleas.” In the spring, Freret Street offers an annual festival with five stages of music that grows every year.
“It’s become massive,” Bodenheimer said of the festival.
Most of the restaurants attract a young, hip crowd. Top finds include Cure, with its adventurous cocktails and small plates; the innovative hot dog creations at Dat Dog; fried catfish at The High Hat Cafe, where the Mississippi Delta merges with Louisiana cuisine; and creative sushi such as the “funky margarita” — a crawfish roll layered with tuna, salmon and guacamole — at Origami. There are also spas, salons, a music school, a garden center, Crescent City Comics and art exhibits and workshops at DuMois Gallery. There is even a local newspaper, the Uptown Messenger.
The scene is a far cry from what the area was like only five years earlier.
Bodenheimer believes the health of a commercial corridor within a city reflects the city as a whole, and the resurgence of this once-vibrant commercial area demonstrates how New Orleans is recovering post-Katrina.
“I think a street like Freret shows that New Orleans is doing really well now,” he said.