Life in post-Katrina New Orleans is still far from normal, but instead of re-creating an old reality, the dynamic city is looking to the future with intoxicating hope. There's no better time than now to celebrate this spirit and support the rebuilding efforts -- and not just for Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. Historic architecture, Creole eateries, storied drinking establishments and colorful casts of street performers combine to make one of the country's most festive honeymoon backdrops. Here's how to embrace an intimate Crescent City experience with true Cajun flair.
Lilette Located in Uptown New Orleans, this bustling French bistro occupies an 1800s corner pharmacy and attracts well-heeled hipsters and couples cozied up on sexy leather banquettes. Chef and owner John Harris' white-truffle parmesan on toast with mushrooms, marrow and veal glacé and to-die-for duck confit will have you mouthing, "Je t'adore."
Cochon For a slice of pork paradise with a down-home vibe, head to this rustic-chic restaurant in the Warehouse District. Southwestern Louisiana native Donald Link marries minimalist environs with feel-good regional staples including fried boudin with pickled peppers, crawfish pie and roast suckling pig. Half of the menu is seafood, fished locally.
Bayona This romantic 130-seat eatery isn't on most tourists' to-do lists, but in-the-know gastronomes flock here. Housed in a historic French Quarter cottage replete with seductive courtyard gardens, chef and owner Susan Spicer's decadent cuisine draws influences from around the globe; cream of garlic soup and veal sweetbreads in a sherry-mustard butter are among her signature dishes.
Hotel Monteleone A strong sense of history radiates throughout this literary landmark in the Quarter. From the moment Earl valets your car to when Ms. Kathy serves you breakfast the following morning in Le Café, you'll be spoiled with heartfelt hospitality. The Eudora Welty suite is a honeymooner's favorite.
W French Quarter Hotel Newlyweds with taste get VIP treatment from the good-looking staff at this stylish Starwood property. With fewer than 100 rooms, the vibe is sleek but never snobbish. Stay up late on nearby Bourbon Street, then sun your hangover away at the hotel's intimate pool and cabanas. Splurge for one of four on-property carriage houses.
Bourbon Orleans Today spanning three buildings, this historic spot first opened in 1817 as the fashionable Orleans Ballroom. The hotel's prime location, less than two blocks from Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral, makes it the perfect jumping-off point to explore the French Quarter. Tuck into some jambalaya at Napoleon House (built in 1797), stroll along the riverfront and peruse the antique shops on Royal Street. Or you may just want to stay in. Book an in-room treatment by Le Jardin Spa, sip a signature Voodoo Mojo cocktail at the hotel bar, or just take in the view from your two-story Balcony Suite, the most romantic digs.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Locals cite this watering hole as the oldest in the country. Named for the legendary pirate, Jean Lafitte, the candlelit bar serves up a convivial atmosphere, surprisingly strong cocktails and a charmingly off-key piano-bar singer. Get woozy on the Voodoo Daiquiri, a powerful purple slushy concoction, and then smooch by the sculpture of Adam and Eve in the courtyard.
New Orleans' Original Cocktail Tour For a spirited perspective of the city, Gray Line Tours takes you on a two-and-a-half-hour educational (and inebriating) cocktail-chronology tour of the French Quarter. Walks start at 4 p.m. daily -- just in time to kick off happy hour(s). Note: A worthwhile but more sobering trip is the Hurricane Katrina "America's Greatest Catastrophe" tour.
Rock 'n' Bowl at Mid City Lanes For a relatively tourist-free night on the town, hit up this zany club-meets-bowling-alley. Arrive early to bowl at one of the 18 highly coveted circa-1940s lanes. Then, boogie to the live local music that graces the nearby stage -- zydeco night is especially popular. A cheap cover and ice-cold beer, coupled with people-watching every bit as entertaining as that on Bourbon Street, make for a seriously silly date night. (Note: Cab fare from the Quarter shouldn't run more than $15-$20, with tip.)
Magazine Street Six miles of power-shoppers' bliss run from Canal Street to Audubon Park. Pick up an all-day bus pass for $5, and you can stop along the route as often as you'd like. Peruse the ethnic-inspired jewelry at Sabai and the vintage NOLA postcards and fleur-de-lis sun catchers at Plum. End your day relaxing on the sprawling green lawns of Audubon Park.
House of Lounge Nothing puts an extra kick of sass into your honeymoon like some sexy lingerie. Pick up your last-minute pretties at this risqué boutique, which carries everything from demure Madame V bustiers and marabou fans to custom corsets and lacy, barely-there La Perla panties. Meow.
Aidan Gill for Men The well-groomed guy in your life deserves a stop at this throwback barbershop. Treat your honey to a hot-towel shave in an old-time barber chair, or spoil him with some fine English shaving essentials. After all, what guy can't benefit from a little pampering now and again.