The 15 Hippest Places to Live

The coolest neighborhoods in America and Canada

| November-December 1997

By its very nature, hip is something ephemeral and ultimately indefinable. Yet you know it when you see it—by the way a place looks and feels. What follows is our list of the 15 hippest neighborhoods in the U.S. and Canada, chosen on the basis of conversations with well-positioned alternative press editors, gallery owners, community organizers, coffee shop clerks, music promoters, art critics, gay activists, club goers, urban planners, cyber-journalists, and advertising honchos, as well as assorted idlers and lingerers. We've also included places that are emerging as hip neighborhoods in each of the 15 cities, because hip is a restless, competitive force that never stays put for long. If a certain corner of the city was the hip place to be five or 10 years ago, you can almost bet that it's not so any longer.

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This is, in part, a matter of economics. Artists generally lead the charge, always on the search for space that can be rented cheap. But they want atmosphere too—old buildings, places to walk, maybe a waterfront, and it can't be too far from downtown. Then come the coffee shops, which draw writers and musicians, and the galleries. Gays come next, then young lefties, attracted to the creative energy but also seeking a connection to the folks who've lived there all along: African Americans, Latinos, hoboes, Eastern Europeans. An old tavern in the area begins booking alternative rock bands and offering microbrews on tap. Restaurants pop up, first exotic ethnic eateries taking over abandoned storefronts and then the swanker ones that spend more on interior design than food. At this point, many of the old-time residents are gone due to rising rents. Graphic design firms and architects set up shop, and word goes out that the area's not so hip anymore. But more people keep coming. Starbucks opens. Ten-dollar cigars are on sale at the corner grocery. It's very crowded on Friday and Saturday nights. Lawyers and investment bankers buy condos. The Gap opens. Restaurants offer valet parking. The city council talks about building a sports stadium nearby. Planet Hollywood opens. By now all of the artists have relocated to a nearby industrial zone or working-class neighborhood, where a new gallery/coffee shop/performance space just opened up in an old gas station. And the game starts all over again. . . .

1. Lower Garden District 
(New Orleans)

The reason New Orleans is home to some of the hippest neighborhoods in America is that it’s the least American city in the United States. It's Latin not Anglo-Saxon, sensuous instead of puritanical, with a culture shaped as much by Africa and the Caribbean as by Europe. New Orleans has always been a lodestone for restless folks who have trouble fitting into the Middle American dreamscape. The Lower Garden District, a racially mixed stretch of 19th century streets, is now blossoming with galleries, experimental theatres, and music joints where New Orleans' piquant homegrown aesthetic mingles with cutting-edge influences from around the world.

Soon-to-be-hot: The Faubourg Marigny and Bywater districts, next-door to the French Quarter on the east, attract the city's younger hipsters, lured by the classic "shotgun" cottages and cheaper rents. Parts of the area are still pretty rough, but music is everywhere, spilling onto the sidewalks from clubs like Cafe Brasil and Vaughn's.

2. Inner Mission
(San Francisco)

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