Deliciously Fashionable_lowres

Owner Popi Nicopoulos brings her fashion-forward, young-minded apparel and accessories concepts Uptown at the new Frock Candy on Magazine Street.

Two and a half years ago, friends Popi Nicopoulos and Renee Robbins pooled their collective eight years of retail experience and joined forces to open Frock Candy, a French Quarter boutique catering to girls and women with a penchant for style, a love of fun, and an appreciation for affordable prices. Today, their retail philosophy has been so successful that there is a total of five Frock Candy stores -- three in New Orleans (520 St. Philip Street, 566-1133, 830 Royal Street, 566-9222, and 3336 Magazine St., 891-9230), one in Mandeville (1281 N. Causeway, 985 727-9779) and another in Baton Rouge.

"Our customer is young, urban, very conscientious about the way she looks, and doesn't take clothes too seriously," says Nicopoulos. "It's all about someone who's driven by fashion and by what's fun and hip at the moment."

Nicopoulos and Robbins stocked the St. Philip street store, the first of the five locations, with "up-to-the-minute" clothing, shoes and accessories designed to appeal to a variety of ages -- from teens to forty-somethings. The inventory, which included jeans, T-shirts, rhinestone jewelry and vintage-inspired handbags, did so well that a satellite accessories store on nearby Royal Street soon followed, maximizing the business's exposure among tourists and out-of-town shoppers. Since then, the business has grown at a rate of more than a store a year.

In recent months, a Northshore store and another in Baton Rouge have opened. In each, hot pink walls, pink leopard-print shopping bags and funky furnishings underscore the Frock Candy belief that shopping should be fun.

"When you come in the store, it reminds you of candy, except it's for your closet," says Nicopoulos. "Like our clothes, we don't take our decorating too seriously."

One thing Frock Candy's owners do take seriously is their emphasis on providing cutting edge specialty designs and customer service without high-end price tags. Shoes start at just $24 and the average price of a top is $30 to $40. "There's a shift toward more boutique shopping," says Nicopoulos. "People are tired of the big chain, mall stores where you find a hundred pieces of the same thing. They want to distinguish themselves when they're dressing. We know a lot of our customers on a first-name basis. When we open a box and see something we know they'd like, we call them. They trust our judgement."

In addition to carrying names like Buffalo jeans, Parasuco jeans, and Dollhouse, Nicopoulos and Robbins go to market in New York, Los Vegas and Los Angeles six to eight times a year in search of new, up-and-coming, reasonably-priced vendors like Guido and Mary, a denim line now available in the stores. They also carry locally made goods like handbags made with funky, vintage-inspired fabrics and trims, and T-shirts featuring cartoonish characters and playful phrases. Finding the unusual is important to Frock Candy customers. But so is the adventure. "Fifty percent of shopping is the atmosphere," says Nicopoulos "It's the whole process; it's not just what you end up with in your bag when you get home."

Diamond-studded Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans (921 Canal St., 524-1331) and its restaurant Victor's are the only establishments in Louisiana to earn the Five-Diamond Award of excellence this year from AAA, which ranks establishments according to their facilities, services and amenities.

AAA bestowed the coveted award last week at that group's annual ceremony in San Francisco. Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, which opened Oct. 6, 2000, pulled down the award for the second year in a row, but it was the first Five-Diamond Award for Victors, the Ritz Carlton's fine dining venue. Victor's has enjoyed accolades since it opened two years ago, earning gracious mentions in national publications such as Gourmet, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, Wine Spectator, Conde Nast Traveler and others.

For hotels, the Five-Diamond rating is one of the most sought-after symbols of excellence and is presented to only about one-half of 1 percent of the 36,000 lodgings and restaurants considered for the honor. -- Kandace Power Graves

Unleashing the Hurricane

The outcome at the Alamo might have been a little different, or at least a lot easier to swallow, had Pat O'Brien's been nearby with its famous hurricane libation. Well, it can't change history, but the traditional New Orleans bar will make some of its own when it opens its fifth location across from the historic Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

The Texas bar will be the fourth Pat O'Brien's to open outside New Orleans. The bar and restaurant expanded to Cancun, Mexico in 1991, Orlando, Fla., in 1999 and Memphis, Tenn., in September.

The Texas bar, scheduled to open in March 2003, will feature a piano lounge with Pat O's signature copper-top pianos and sing-along venue, a patio bar with a flaming fountain and a main bar that will mix old photos and decorating ambiences from New Orleans and San Antonio. The restaurant will spotlight New Orleans-style cuisine, such as jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, shrimp Creole and remoulade as well as local Texas and Mexican cuisine. -- Graves