A Luxury Getaway to the Big Easy
Photo courtesy of NOPSI
New Orleans’ NOPSI Hotel opened July 2017 to fanfare not only as a new luxury address for visitors but for its historic connection to the city. Named for New Orleans Public Service Inc., it’s the site of the city’s former utility company headquarters. Anyone walking the streets need only look down at a manhole cover to spot the NOPSI initials – what great, free advertising.
While our short New Orleans visit did not allow an overnight here, we did enjoy a tour, drinks and dinner. In other words, we want to return and take full advantage of the rooftop bar plus pool and more.
Our guide explained that the old NOPSI utility was a prime destination on weekends, when locals arrived dressed up to pay their electric bill and browse the sparkling lobby display of the newest appliances, like refrigerators, washers and stoves.
The transaction table still greets lobby visitors where compartments hold historic nods – like employee IDs and old bills – to those past days and ways. Today, taking in the original terrazzo floors and vaulted ceiling are reason enough to step inside, but once you meet the Queen of Gin — the nickname we gave the gregarious bartender in the lobby bar — you’ll find another fantastic excuse.
The dog-friendly NOPSI features 76 suites amidst its 217 rooms, from 350 to 800 square feet. Modern rooms with classic, clean lines and beige/cream tones are a contrast to a beautifully repurposed 1920s-era building.
Terrace Suites have a view of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a five-to-10-minute walk away. The action of the French Quarter is only a block and a-half up the street.
During our visit, the lobby featured a wonderful, temporary exhibit of old photos of Monte Carlo and the incomparable Princess Grace. Black-and-white photography of the likes of Steve McQueen in a race car and a young, lithe Audrey Hepburn added to the nostalgic aura that hearing about NOPSI’s history already had us reflecting upon.
The lobby gift shop features all local vendors, many representing popular stores on Magazine Street, known for shopping.
Nod to 1920s Prohibition
As to the “Gin Queen,” bar matron Lauren Tucker holds court over the underCURRENT lobby bar with a creative cocktail menu paying homage to 1920s prohibition-era libations. Each Tuesday, Gin University features three unique gins.
Steps away is an outdoor patio, and small plates are served at both, such as a Parisian chicken salad baguette, a taco trio and a charcuterie plate for sharing.
Among Tucker’s gin selections behind the bar when we visited were Hayman’s, Ransom, Sipsmith, Aviation, Prairie and St. George. The Closed Circuit cocktail is gin, green chartreuse and lemon.
With her expert guidance, we sampled a French 75 (named for the noted Arnaud’s bar of the same name) containing gin, lemon and sparkling wine. Research required a second round.
Like so many in this town, Tucker is closely tied to its history, culture and future. Her grandfather is a key leader in cemetery revitalization efforts under way.
Late-day light is reason enough to head to the rooftop bar, called Above the Grid, but then there are also the pool and loungers plus three private cabanas.
Dinner is just across the lobby at the restaurant appropriately named Public Service. We love the sense of whimsy in the names chosen for venues, drinks, entrees and more. Salt and pepper shakers are a light bulb and glass insulator (as on electric lines).
Public Service is reachable by street or lobby, and we immediately felt the sense of place stepping from the lobby through a wrought-iron double gate into a room of exposed brick walls and plank flooring. The open kitchen allowed us to peek at what is being prepared as we perused our menus. We took note of the oyster raw bar.
Public Service has a bourbon focus whereas the lobby bar is all about the gin and champagne cocktails.
We were delightfully waited on by an expert server who was working with a pair of stepbrothers in training who, once we delved into their story, told us how happy they were to be working in such a place and saving up for their own shared vehicle. One is a poet. Seemed appropriate; this is, after all, New Orleans, a literary haven and inspiration for the likes of Tennessee Williams and his “Streetcar Named Desire.”
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to weekend brunch. We opted for the whole roasted gulf fish and were wowed by the Instagram worthy presentation, its delicate flavor as marvelous as the sight of the whole, head-on fish. Other offerings are jumbo Louisiana shrimp, steak frites with a ribeye cap or broiled filet mignon of heritage beef tenderloin. The raw bar’s seafood tower serves two to four with daily fresh catch items. There’s also a bone-in, pork prime rib off the rotisserie menu.
A highlight was seeing an unusual large room for meetings, special events and receptions as the architect did a beautiful job blending a cool-vibe space while retaining the industrial room's 24-foot-high crane and tracks, which once transported transformers to storage vaults for repair.
The 4,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom features huge arched windows and a 30-foot ceiling. PS Reserve is a private, 1,200-square-foot private dining room above Public Service restaurant. As with the entire renovation, these meeting spaces have melded prior function with current design.
If You’re Going: NOPSI, a Salamander Hotel, is located at the corner of Baronne and Union streets in New Orleans’ central business district. Find out more at nopsihotel.com. To plan a Big Easy getaway or the perfect Mardi Gras super trip, go to neworleans.com. The city celebrates its tricentennial in 2018.
Additional New Orleans Dining
NOPSI’s convenient location means it is easily accessible to many other dining options including popular ones in the French Quarter. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed:
-- “Dinner at Antoine’s” is the 1948 book by Frances Parkinson Keyes that features Antoine’s restaurant, which has operated continuously since 1840 making it the country’s oldest that’s family run. It can be traced to founder Antoine Alciator and one block from the current location, where he and his wife moved the operation in 1868.
In addition to the drawings and autographed images of a who’s who of politicians, performers and artists, Antoine’s, with its black-jacketed waiters in historic surroundings, is where Oysters Rockefeller was invented and French Creole is done right.
Our waiter was kind enough to give us a personal tour to better understand just how historic this place is. There’s an original Edison light bulb, an original copy of Keyes’ book plus loads of historic paintings and a long tunnel housing the extensive wine cellar. It’s so long that a window offering a peek is on Royal Street while the restaurant entrance is on St. Louis Street.
We dined in the Large Annex, just one of a multitude of dining rooms, sampling those Oysters Rockefeller plus fried soft-shell crab and grilled gulf fish topped with lump crabmeat. The food was good, but the setting fantastic.
Three private rooms are named for Mardi Gras krewes Rex, Proteus and 12th Night Revelers. These are must-sees, like the green-walled Rex room with gold accents. Here, we studied the photos and elaborate gowns, crowns and scepters of Carnival royalty on display. Antoine’s bar is named for the Krewe of Hermes. There’s also a secret door used during Prohibition.
-- For upscale dining, check out one of the most popular special-occasion spots in the city, the Restaurant R’evolution at Royal Sonesta Hotel employing such classic New Orleans ingredients as gulf shrimp and oysters, andouille sausage, catfish, alligator, frog, crawfish, kumquats, sassafras and persimmons. We toured the dining rooms – each with different, décor reminiscent of beautiful local homes, then sampled the most succulent, large, fresh gulf oysters next door at Desire. Its name created in round white lights beckons from Bourbon Street day and night. Sit at the bar and watch the shuckers. They go through thousands of oysters each week, and the shells are reclaimed for development of new oyster beds. The charbroiled oysters were delightful, or go for the raw.
-- Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters is always a fun time – we’ve done it twice. The daily jazz brunch is an institution where a live jazz trio performs in a romantic courtyard with fountain, the two sisters statue and overhead wisteria, which is a waterfall of lavender blossoms if you time your spring trip just right as we did. The buffet is a smorgasbord with eggs and omelets made to order, plus a roast-beef carving station, and hot entrees of shrimp in spicy etouffee, duck à l' orange, crawfish Louise, creole jambalaya, Southern BBQ pork ribs, and veal grillades and gravy. Among a wide variety of desserts is Mardi Gras King Cake (tradition is the person who gets the baby inside has good luck and should host the next party).
-- We’ve previously sampled Commander’s Palace, of Chef Paul Prudhomme and later Emeril Lagasse fame, dating to 1893; JoAnn Clevenger’s delightful Upperline Restaurant with must-try fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade; Arnaud’s, and Red Fish Grill, part of the Brennan Restaurant Group of the famed Breakast at Brennan’s. All are worth a visit, but in this ultimate foodie town, there are always new head-turners, so do your research before you go.