A decade after Katrina, Bourbon Street is rocking again

Fri Aug 21, 2015 2:10pm EDT
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By Letitia Stein and Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Eight days after Hurricane Katrina struck, food critic Tom Fitzmorris was asked how many of the 800 or so restaurants in storm-ravaged New Orleans were open. His answer was zero.

A decade later, he marvels at the city's culinary renaissance, a major draw for the 9.5 million tourists who visited last year. With more than 1,400 restaurants now open for business in the metropolitan area, it is easy to find the po'boy sandwiches, gumbo and other Creole dishes that have made the region famous.

The dining boom reflects a remarkable bounce-back for the travel industry, an economic pillar of the city that took the brunt of the costliest storm in U.S. history when Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2005.

"If the restaurants hadn't come back, the tourism might not have come back," said Fitzmorris, who has hosted a radio talk show about the city's cuisine for nearly three decades and writes a newsletter called the New Orleans Menu (nomenu.com).

The city's historic French Quarter, a world-renowned magnet for those looking for a good party, has become more enticing than ever after its first significant infrastructure upgrade in decades.

Bourbon Street, the French Quarter's most celebrated thoroughfare, is again filled with strolling tourists carrying brimming cups of the city's signature cocktail, a fruity concoction called the hurricane.

"The city hasn't changed," said Heim Aotra of Sarasota, Florida, who along with his wife had visited a year before Katrina. "You expect that you would see more devastation, but you don't."

To be sure, boarded-up houses and overgrown lots remain common sights in some of the poorest neighborhoods, a sign that the city's revitalization has bypassed many areas off the main tourist drags.   Continued...

Revelers kiss on Bourbon Street, located in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, in this July 11, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/Files