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Dining out in the open: Sidewalk seating, patios expand in step with changing downtown neighborhood

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Sidewalk seating, patios expand in step with the changing downtown neighborhood

ian mcnulty| [email protected]

April 22, 2015

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Spring is prime time for outdoor dining in New Orleans, when even those most in thrall to A/C will gravitate to the patio, courtyard and sidewalk table. These options have been proliferating all around town lately, but in one area in particular they’re contributing more than just picturesque perches for an al fresco meal.

In downtown New Orleans, the trend for more outdoor restaurant seating is tied to the changing profile of the area, a historic hub of offices and industry now becoming a more densely populated and active center of the city.

Consider Wood Pizza Bistro & Taphouse, a former icehouse in the middle of the Warehouse District, now built out with a wood-fired pizza oven along one wall, a bar lined with draft beer along another, just a handful of indoor tables but a large patio holding down two sides of its block.

“The whole reason for us choosing this place was the patio,” said Billy Wright, who opened the restaurant with his partners on Jan. 1. “We thought it would be an oasis in the middle of the Warehouse District.”

On a recent night, Wood looked like a mini festival grounds, with strings of lights swept up tent-like to a central pole and nearly every table outside filled with people, pizza and pints. Wright minces no words when explaining the appeal.

“It fulfills something primal. People want to get away from the clutter, get outside,” he said. “It’s something we’re hard-wired to do as human beings.”

It’s also in synch with broader development goals for downtown.

“Sidewalk cafes create that vibrancy and street life that people gravitate toward,” said Kurt Weigle, president and CEO of the Downtown Development District. “It’s very circular. The more of that we have, the more people see it and want to be part of it, and the more people there are who want to live downtown, the more restaurants and bars we’ll have to serve them and add to the street life. From a planning and development perspective, it’s a beautiful thing.”

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