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While the Big Easy stays true to its roots, locals and visitors alike are seeing a major renaissance brewing, one that includes five-star hotel openings, James Beard Award winners and plenty of upscale, modern comforts. In addition to major growth (including a brand-new airport and updates to the local Regional Transit Authority), New Orleans’ luxury scene is also expanding, proving that the destination is embracing the finer things in life.
While quaint guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts once dominated the luxury market, recently opened and upcoming properties are now enhancing the hotel landscape. Ace Hotel New Orleans, opened last March, is spearheading the city’s contemporary hotel movement. The $80 million, 234-room hotel is housed in a historic art deco building and features killer views; high-tech, modern design; and a restaurant run by two James Beard Award nominees.
Reopening this summer, the historic Pontchartrain Hotel will feature 106 rooms and suites, a rooftop bar and food and beverage helmed by local chef hero John Besh. The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans stepped up its game last year with a $2 million facade restoration and the introduction of the renovated Maison Orleans Club Level guestrooms and lounge.
And in the near future, Virgin Hotels will be opening in the same neighborhood as the Ace, while Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts will take over the World Trade Center with 350 guestrooms, 76 condos, a spa, a rooftop pool and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
On the food front, the dining scene is steering gourmands to flavors beyond Creole, Cajun, Southern, French and seafood options. A far departure from traditional eats, Shaya, which opened last year, serves creative Israeli cuisine, and chef Alon Shaya even won the award for James Beard Best Chef: South 2015. Compere Lapin, the restaurant from Nina Compton of “Top Chef” fame, has become the stomping ground for foodies since opening last summer. The eatery, located in the new Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, is industrial and sexy, with a menu that flaunts Compton’s background in Caribbean cuisine. Tariq Hanna, arguably NOLA’s best pastry chef, recently opened Salon, a new parlor in the French Quarter that serves afternoon tea, baked goods and the chef’s takes on city classics such as fried-chicken sliders.
Magazine Street in the Garden District has been luring high-end shoppers with a slate of new boutiques. Independent designers such as Warby Parker, Kit + Ace and Kendra Scott have all opened shop within the past year. According to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, last year’s visitors spent some $7 billion, a 3.5 percent increase compared to the previous year. Either NOLA visitors are looking to splurge, or these increased luxury options are causing an increase in spending.