For residents of the blue-collar Bywater-Marigny area of New Orleans, access to the Mississippi River has been blocked for years by decaying industrial buildings. But it won't be much longer, thanks in part to R. Allen Eskew, an architect whose firm has been hired to turn a mile and a half of piers and wharves into a riverfront park to open in fall 2011, Step 1 in the nearly $300 million Reinventing the Crescent plan.
The park is one of many projects, small and large, growing in the fertile soil around the Mississippi. Amid colorful shotgun houses (left), tucked away on streets named Piety, Desire and Independence, a wealth of cafes, boutiques and bars offer a calmer alternative to the excesses of the French Quarter, just upriver.
3218 Dauphine Street
Satsuma, which opened last year, takes its name from a popular local citrus fruit. The menu changes regularly, but you can't go wrong with their pancakes of the day ($5) and a cup of smooth chicory coffee ($2).
Cake Cafe & Bakery
2440 Chartres Street
Nothing says New Orleans, city of excess, like a boozy cupcake. This cafe has multiple varieties - flavors include Champagne, mimosa and Sazerac - which can be ordered by the dozen ($25). Or drop in for a nonalcoholic version ($1.75), in flavors like wedding cake and red velvet.
The Lost Love Lounge
2529 Dauphine Street
For some relaxed night life, head to this dim and sprawling dive bar, which opened in March. Lost Love features $2 High Life specials and a small Vietnamese snack menu. Five dollars will buy a sizable shrimp spring roll.
The Bargain Center
3200 Dauphine Street
Down the street, a hodge-podge of antique furniture, paperbacks, and vintage costumes sprawls on the sidewalk like a life-size Joseph Cornell diorama. Welcome to the Bargain Center, a cavernous thrift shop that sells everything from Jadeite teacups ($10) to a handmade "Cajun camp style" dollhouse ($200).
3811 Chartres Street
In May, David Dartnell opened this 3,000-square-foot boutique and studio, which houses his new clothing line of the same name. Designed for "women of the South," the fashions feature loose, lightweight fabrics and bright colors. Most items range around the $200 mark.