New Orleans is a city steeped in history. From the town-like cemeteries to the ghost-haunted houses in the French Quarter, the city is rich with stories and its buildings are landmarks in the telling of them. It’s not uncommon for tour groups to move about NOLA with a guide leading the pack, pointing out what once was and how much has changed – sharing stories of people and places that are no longer standing.
For some, though, the past here isn’t completely dead. It’s actually what is bringing New Orleans back to life. “I think it gets to a point where you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” says Kyle Brechtel, owner of Copper Vine, a popular wine pub in the Central Business District of New Orleans.
“There are less and less of New Orleans’ really old properties available. That, coupled with the fact that now, more than ever, guests and consumers appreciate history and nostalgic elements, means brands that actually stand for something can save them.”
A handful of innovative business owners, hotel brands and restaurant groups feel the same way and they are doing the opposite of what most new businesses do. Instead of covering up history with slick new furnishings and bright lights, they’re embracing the past by making it part of their brand’s story.
“I believe one hundred percent that the storytelling makes for a better experience,” says Kyle. And that means not just hearing about the past but being able to see it, too.
When the Unbound Collection by Hyatt took over the historic building on Magazine Street just two blocks from the French Quarter and steps from the Arts District, they didn’t cover up the space’s rich history with the moody decor that makes most boutique hotels, well, boutique-y. Instead they paid homage to all of the businesses that once lived within the nine warehouses and made them part of the decor, and the guests’ experiences. “Our goal with The Eliza Jane was to embrace the history and location of these distinct buildings to create a special experience for our guests. The team worked hard to capture the classic culture of New Orleans and has no doubt succeeded,” said Jim Merkel, Rockbridge CEO. Pre-existing architectural structures—like brick arches—that were hidden by previous occupants were uncovered as a part of the hotel’s design and JRJR
Eager to hear who else is helping make New Orleans history new again? Read on.
Eliza Jane Hotel
The new Eliza Jane Hotel didn’t just house The Daily Picayune, whose editor the hotel is named after. It is comprised of seven warehouses that once were home to seven different businesses, including the Gulf Baking Soda company, Peters Cartridge shop, and Peychaud Bitters factory.
While creating the hotel, its designers were inspired by and saved elements from each of the seven buildings as a starting point for the decor.
The former bitters factory now acts as the restaurant, revealing itself through exposed brick behind the bar and with former advertisements on various floors throughout the hotel. The Daily Picayune is alive in the The Press Room – a lounge that nods to the hotel’s publishing history with antique typewriters, vintage books, printing press memorabilia and more. The hotel’s suites pay the same homage with names such as Editors and Publishers Suite, and framed artwork of historic city shots hanging on the walls.
Many of the rooms carry the signs of original buildings – exposed brick walls and ceiling beams – organically incorporated into the modern design of the rooms to create a quintessentially New Orleans setting which the design team calls “a sophisticated blend of old and new.”
Jewel of the South
Nick Detrich and Chris Hannah have had their hand in New Orleans hospitality for quite some time. Hannah ran the bar program at James Beard Award-winning Arnaud’s French 75 for over a decade and together they opened Manolito – after Detrich left the famed Cane & Table. They’ve come together again at Jewel of the South, a French Quarter restaurant that not only nods to the 19 century NOLA restaurant of the same name, but to its original owner and bartenderJoseph Santini, who created the Brandy Crusta cocktail – a mix of Cognac, lemon juice, Curaçao, and maraschino liqueur– there.
Jewel of the South is famous for being the first to serve gumbo and is said to have been the birthplace of the Brandy Crusta. Detrich and Hannah plan to make that Crusta a big part of their beverage program.
The new Jewel Of The South (located at 1026 St. Louis St.) is housed in a 2200 square-foot Creole cottage that dates back to 1830. The interior design is anchored by a bar, of course, also from the 19th century. The piece spent 100 years in a London bar before being placed in service in a venue in Washington for 50 years. In addition to the Crusta, the bar will serve other classic New Orleans cocktails, all made with flair, just like Santini did.
If you’ve ever wandered the streets of New Orleans, and actually looked down at them, you’ll probably recognize the letters NOPSI. NOPSI is the acronym of New Orleans’ former utility company and transit operator. So, it’s the perfect name for a hotel housed in the original headquarters of the New Orleans Public Services Inc building. The structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates back to 1927. The hotel honors history in thoughtful design that doesn’t compromise any of the original beams or structures of the building and offers several exhibits showcasing historic memorabilia.
They’ve got an appropriately named restaurant called “Public Service,” featuring a menu that honors the Gulf Coast’s hard-working fishermen and farmers. Their rooftop pool and lobby bar are in on the fun too: Above the Grid overlooks the city, and Under Current Bar & Patio features a creative cocktail menu that pays homage to 1920’s prohibition era libations with a focus on gin and champagne specialties.
The legacy of Maylie’s Restaurant lives on at the new Copper Vine. Originally constructed in 1876 as the Maylie’s residence and restaurant, the restaurant was owned by two French immigrants and originated as a bar refuge for the men who worked at the Poydras Street market. It grew to become a neighborhood institution and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now the two-and-one-half story Edwardian-style building at 1001 Poydras Street is a tribute to the past, with intentions towards the future.
A lush tropical courtyard – made possible when the city demolished a building in the 50s – gives rebirth to Maylie’s wisteria vines that grew wildly around the building. Once inside, the most noticeable nod to Maylie’s past that’s been given new life in Copper Vine is the original oak and marble bar inside – restored to its natural splendor and now housing 38 copper and tigerwood taps. Curated local art and historic photographs and postcards that tell Maylie’s story hang on the walls.
“There were so many great details in the space. We focused with our design team on saving as many of the historic elements as possible. We wanted to save the millwork, too,” says owner Kyle Brechtel. “You can’t really recreate something like Maylie’s so we are just trying to pay respect to certain aspects of the building and neighborhood. For me Copper Vine represents almost what the original Maylies was.”
The New Orleans food hall scene is hot thanks to Pythian Market. Vendors here include established brands like La Cocinita and Central City BBQ. The place offers it all from mac and cheese to poké to fried oysters and jerk chicken. But people don’t come here just to eat. The 11,000-square-foot market is located in what was once Pythian Temple, opened in 1908 by Smith Wendell (S.W.) Green, he most prominent African American businessman in New Orleans. He was born a slave and became a millionaire.
Director of Operations Faith Akgun says the new version of the building is determined to honor what Green did: “He built this pace as office space for black professionals and installed a jazz club on the 9th floor of the building. It’s one of the first places that Louis Armstrong performed as a kid. So it’s an incredible building.” During the Great Depression, the building was sold to the Higgins Industries corporation who built the “Higgin’s Boat” that stormed the beaches at Normandy. It was their office space for many years. And at a certain point it turned into lots of commercial offices, doctors’ offices, and then sat vacant before it was purchased in 2015.
Akgun explains, “we recreated the original designs that were part of the building. The ground level is the retail level, designed to invite people back into the building as a public space that we can all enjoy together.” Many of the residential units upstairs are permanent affordable housing units.
A lot of the design elements in the space, like the tables, bar and front of the stalls, are crafted from wood taken from the floor of the jazz club that was once on the 9th floor. “We also took a lot of the old elevator grates and rod iron gates and put those upstairs in our private events ballroom called Loraina- named in honor of SW’s wife who was a lot of the brains behind a lot of what he did. So this is our way to pay homage to her – this strong woman – and now we have a strong female presence in the building.”