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Everyday Design: The Camellia Grill (Chartres Street)

I often walk home on Chartres depressed with the thought that no matter what I do I will never design something as beautiful, simple, and efficient as the Camellia Grill downtown. Part of the genius, very much so, is the fact that they changed so little in terms of the Uptown layout. Everything is right out there for everyone to see. No secrets. No wall between the music making and the dance.

But what did change are the height of the doors and the shape of the windows and the angle in which you enter. The old lines, as is often the case, are stunning when presented next to a clean, crisp, simple space. It is all very dramatic. Very “new” New Orleans in a way. And also very picturesque and romantic. Very “old” New Orleans in a way. Yes, the most romantic old new diner in the world is in the French Quarter. Where else would it be, really?

When I arrive, I feel as if I am late to a party. An innocuous sort of party like a severely dressed down rehearsal dinner, or a baby shower or somewhere where I should behave and people are afraid that they might one day or already be related to me. And by the time they figure out that they are likely not going to be related to me, that I am just a date, and it is unnecessary to be polite, it is too late and everybody is already fast friends. Part of this is attributed to the tourists. (Plenty of tourists given the location. Don’t hate.) The idea that tourists believe people are “supposed to be nice in the South” and under this assumption act accordingly while enjoying a group meal helps initiate conversation. Anyway, it is sort of like that, in an awesome way, and also sort of like a ride at a theme park that has to fill up before it can go. Like everyone else is waiting for me, and has this look in their eye that says something to the tune of, “Jump in. Join us. We are about to go down Splash Mountain.” And that is just it. That is just what makes the design of the Camellia Grill successful- the fact that we are all so excited about how soaked we’ll be after the last turn (ie cheeseburger, or in my case veggie omelette) that we forget what a fantastically well designed log flume carries us down the mountain.

But the next time you go to Camellia Grill take a moment. Act like you have never been there before. Don’t take any of it for granted. Watch the grill. Peek across the marble and beneath the bar. Notice where everything is tucked away, how easy it is to get to, how everything has a place and a purpose. Watch which way the waiters walk when they are passing one another. Listen to their call and answer with the cook. Marvel at all the little, tiny, minute details that after years and years of practice have been ingrained into the execution of the business. That is design. And that is as beautiful as the windows and the doors and the classic pink walls against the French Quarter green wainscoting.


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