STROLL THE WELL-SCRUBBED STREETS
The first thing you'll notice is that the French Quarter is squeaky clean. Thanks go to Sidney Torres IV, who went from hot hotelier (he owns Melrose Mansion, see below) to waste management CEO. Today, the signature bull logo of his company, SDT, can be spotted everywhere—on his gleaming black garbage trucks and even on the hip garb worn by his staff. “What he's doing is incredible,” says friend and rock 'n' roll legend Lenny Kravitz, who has a house in the neighborhood. “I was on tour and hadn't been back for a while, but when I returned, I was absolutely shocked to see how clean the French Quarter is. Torres is a visionary, a true hero.”
“We think of romance in America as a quickie,” says New Orleans restaurateur John Besh, runner-up in 2007's Next Iron Chef. And along those lines, he adds, “We want food in 30 minutes, but a truly romantic meal is something that takes all day to prepare.” It won't take all day to enjoy, but plan to spend a few hours lingering at Besh's flagship eatery, August, where you can dine on dishes such as handmade gnocchi with blue crab and summer truffle (restaurantaugust.com). For more casual but equally delicious fare, try his new German-style brasserie, Lüke, in the Central Business District (lukeneworleans.com).
SIP LIKE A LOCAL
The Delachaise, a St. Charles Avenue bar/lounge, mixes one of the city's best chefs (Chris DeBarr of Commander's Palace) with a stellar wine list and enough cheese to sate a Frenchman. The result is a sexy hangout with more locals than tourists (thedelachaise.com).
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Magazine Street is thriving. New to the six-mile stretch of designer boutiques: Hazelnut, an elegant home goods store run by actor Bryan Batt, of the series Mad Men (hazelnutneworleans.com); and Suzanne Perron, who, after years in Manhattan designing with Vera Wang and dressing the likes of Jennifer Lopez for her wedding to Marc Anthony, returned to her hometown to offer gorgeous couture creations at her shop (suzanneperron.com).
Book a stay in one of these three hotels: Melrose Mansion is the ultimate romantic inn on Esplanade at the edge of the Quarter (and walking distance to the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, with some of the city's best music clubs). The Donecio suite, with a private balcony and soaking tub, is truly dreamy (doubles from $225; melrosegroup.com/melrosemansion). Soniat House, one of the city's most charming historic hotels, is stuffed with antiques, and many of its rooms have balconies (doubles from $240; soniathouse.com). International House, the hip hotel owned by native son Sean Cummings, was recently given a makeover by L.M. Pagano, designer to Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage (doubles from $119; ihhotel.com).