Write on: Readers’ choice

I remember the first time someone told me about Mid City. It was late 2014, and I had just moved to Baton Rouge. I was eager to learn all about my new city’s neighborhoods.

I heard about the distant plans to make Government Street more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. The hope was that it would attract more restaurants and shops to an area already known for its hip bars and art events. It will be like Baton Rouge’s Magazine Street, I was told.

I recently thought back to this conversation as I was driving down Government Street one night. As my car weaved around orange construction cones and hobbled over uneven pavement, I watched the scenery blur: lot after lot under construction, plus so many new restaurants I can barely keep up with them now. And was that another new mural?

225 editor Jennifer Tormo. Photo by Collin Richie.

Everything I was originally told about Mid City has slowly come to fruition. Well, almost everything. As I surveyed Government Street that night, I felt a realization more strongly than ever: It didn’t turn out like Magazine Street at all.

Sure, both have bustling dining scenes, with trendy food halls and restaurants serving some of each respective city’s best food.

Both attract an artistic crowd, but Magazine Street is home to more polished galleries and antique shops while Government Street brims with street art and eclectic vintage stores.

And while Magazine Street is longer and more densely populated, I can’t imagine its Champagne Stroll or similar events reaching the can’t-miss status that White Light Night has grown to. Or its pop-up art events serving as community gatherings on the same level as the Mid City Makers Market. Government Street was creating neighborhood connectivity well before the road diet construction.

Both streets are great in their own way, but there’s really no reason to compare them anymore.

Government Street has developed its own identity—it’s a place you could only find in Baton Rouge, not any of the other metropolitan cities we’re sometimes guilty of comparing it to.

And while Mid City represents only one pocket of Baton Rouge, its trajectory speaks volumes to our city’s overall progression.

I’m sure I’m feeling especially reflective of Baton Rouge’s growth because I’ve spent the last several weeks examining the 2019 Best of 225 Awards results. To me, the results are always telling of where we are and where we’re headed.

There were a few  trends we noticed this year. First, on the topic of Mid City—it really has proven itself as a dining destination. Both the Best Overall Restaurant and Best New Restaurant categories were awarded to  Government Street eateries. In fact, nearly 10 Food & Drink titles went to Mid City spots.

But maybe even more interesting: We had around 10 first-time winners this year, many of them newer businesses that have quickly grown in popularity. Residents are gradually shifting away from chains and gravitating more toward locally owned businesses. We’re increasingly seeking fresh experiences.

But as our food and retail scene’s growth booms—225 Dine covered nearly 40 restaurant and bar openings in 2018 alone—it probably won’t come without some tough goodbyes.

Read the Best of 225 results very closely, and you’ll notice some fine print: Four of this year’s runners up closed after voting ended. Yes, flourishing restaurant scenes are always a bit of a revolving door of openings and closings. But we’ve never seen it reflected on this scale in Best of 225 before, with beloved spots like Magpie Cafe’s downtown location and Tiger Deaux-nuts shuttering within weeks of each other.

Either way, the Best of 225 Awards are becoming less predictable. But I think that’s a good thing. It couldn’t be a more exciting or interesting time to live here.

Maybe we can finally stop comparing ourselves to New Orleans or aspiring to be the next Memphis or Austin. I’m pretty proud of the way readers voted in this year’s awards. But more than that, I’m proud of all the great choices local business owners gave them.

This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.