Considering that THE HOBBIT is the prequel to Tolkien's many-paged masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, it's odd that this book makes a little more sense when read after LOTR. I liked Bilbo better this time through--because I knew what came of him later, it was fun to watch his transformation from a silly, proper little hobbit to a brave, wise, elderly one over the course of the series, and this was an improvement, because I didn't care for Bilbo much at all when I first read THE HOBBIT (I know, I know! Don't shun me, please!).
But the most interesting thing to me is the difference in tone between THE HOBBIT and The Lord of the Rings. LOTR is long-winded and elegant, reading like a passage out of some ancient text ("And so it was that he, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, first beheld Éowyn, daughter of Rohan, in full daylight and as he looked, he thought her cold" and so on), while THE HOBBIT is playful, reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia or of George MacDonald*, and I love that--Gandalf is not a stern forteller of doom in THE HOBBIT, but a mischievious wizard who eats the most, drinks the most and laughs the loudest out of all twelve dwarves (and a hobbit). This is an aspect of Gandalf that is hinted at in LOTR, and in a few wonderful scenes, realized, but mostly the tension and drama of the story require Gandalf to be close and focused, with little time for laughter and mischief.
Ultimately, I appreciated THE HOBBIT much more the second time through, with all the lovely tales of The Lord of the Rings as a backdrop, and it impressed me as one piece of Tolkien's incredible work--a merrier adventure, though still dangerous and tense, full of drama and intrigue and fascinating characters.
*Which brings me to an interesting point. If you love C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, I advise you--strongly, and urgently--to go out right now and borrow, purchase or steal a copy of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. MacDonald influenced Lewis to the point of being granted an appearance in The Great Divorce, as the ghost who comes to fetch the unnamed narrator at the gates of heaven, and his wonderful storytelling voice is present in both Lewis and Tolkien's writing--mostly in The Chronicles of Narnia and THE HOBBIT, but also in Tolkien's Roverandom. Ready set go!
(This is also interesting.)