Ever-changing best describes the hospitality scene in New Orleans. As time and hurricanes alter the landscape, the hotel industry bends with the winds, springing back in response to the unquenched thirst of tourism. With Carnival beginning its slow crescendo, the city’s hosts rush to prepare their venues for the celebration.
Just as dressmakers and artisans scurry about their last-minute touches, New Orleans hotels are doing the same. As old establishments fade toward netherworld, the smell of fresh paint pervades the air and lightens the spirit. Just as at a masque ball, the wonder of what face hides behind the mask titillates the festive senses. Is it a new face, or one quite familiar?
Central Business/Warehouse District
Shedding its multi-colored nighttime facade in favor of an orange monotone, the former Hotel Le Cirque is now the Hotel Modern. (Who names these places?) New York hotelier Klaus Ortlieb has applied his practiced hands to the property to produce an invigorated boutique featuring Tamarind, a new Dominique Macquet eatery. The vivid colors are now contained within. If you want to see them, get a room. Hotel Modern, 135 rooms, 936 St. Charles on the river side of Lee Circle.
A new face emerges on Canal Street in the old Audubon Building adjacent to the Ritz Carlton. The Saint (who names these places?), a modern-themed boutique, spruces up the dingy corner at Burgundy while maintaining the historical appearance of the landmark. With bars top and bottom, the hotel also adds a restaurant, Sweet Olive. The Saint Hotel, 166 rooms, 931 Canal at Burgundy.
Windsor Court adds a bit of rouge — $22 million bucks worth, to maintain its position atop the leader board of fine New Orleans Hotels. The return of ownership to local hands is heralded by this update. Having earned the highest ratings before the remodel, one must marvel at the prospect of greater opulence. Windsor Court Hotel, 322 rooms, 300 Gravier Street.
The Hotel New Orleans Convention Center (who names these places?), is being re-branded to Hyatt Place. No surprises here for the boutique, just a makeover due to complete in March 2012. Hyatt Place New Orleans Convention Center, 170 rooms, 881 Convention Center Blvd.
Not at all a demotion, the changing rank from Saint to Cardinal, the transition of the St. Louis Hotel to Hotel Mazarin denotes a welcome update for the property. Home to the Louis XVI Restaurant, the freshened face also houses Patrick’s Bar Vin, new home of the loquacious sommelier, Patrick Van Hoorebeek. Hotel Mazarin, 102 rooms, 730 Rue Bienville.
Hotel Le Marais actually opened just in time for Mardi Gras last year. However, since the paint was barely dry, we give mention to the remake of the St. Anne/Marie Antoinette. The inviting bright blue canopy hints of the modern and colorful interior from the frumpy looking old front. Hotel Le Marais, 66 rooms,717 Conti Street.
The jury is still out on the Hotel Maison De Ville. First scheduled to re-open in October, 2011, the property remains in the construction phase with a revised completion date sometime in February. Perhaps the spirit of Mardi Gras will bring the old girl to life. Hotel Maison De Ville, 14 rooms, 727 Toulouse Street.
The folks who brought foo-foo spray to the French Quarter, the Sidney Torres family is now in control of the former Melrose Group properties which include the Hotel St. Helene, Hotel Royal, and Melrose Mansion.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the St. Helene has not operated as a public hotel, but new signs of life are now flickering in her gas lights. Construction work is under way to restore the vanished beauty of the old building, a fitting neighbor to the fabled Napoleon House. Hotel St. Helene, 16 rooms, 508 Rue Chartres.
Hotel Royal is up and running with a newly renovated interior. Renovations began in September, 2011 and appear to be substantially complete. Hotel Royal, 42 rooms, 1006 Rue Royal.
Situated on picturesque Esplanade Avenue, the Melrose Mansion has long afforded visitors a true taste of old New Orleans. Having a B&B feel, the hotel offers full service, making it a crossover with the best of both worlds. Renovations were completed in September. The Melrose Mansion, 14 rooms, 937 Esplanade Avenue.
Thus, strains of Iko Iko begin to waft on the air as the first parade of new and impetuous faces form its queue. Behind the glittery masks, the faces old and new are sure to turn bright those places once fallen dim.
Ned Cheever lives in Texas, but his heart belongs to New Orleans. The frequent visitor writes essays for NolaVie. Read his blog at nedcheever.com.