by HILLARY GOLDEN
When chef Gerard Maras approached Ralph Brennan about opening a restaurant and working together again (they had been at Mr. B’s Bistro), they felt it was time to create a restaurant “for locals, by locals.”
However, one of the first orders of business was to find a location. Other Ralph Brennan restaurants are situated in historic French Quarter buildings such as D.H. Holmes (Red Fish Grill), Solari’s Market (Mr. B’s Bistro) and a former stable (Bacco). They found Tavern on the Park, located across from City Park at 900 City Park Ave. “Ralph liked the idea that the building wasn’t brand new. It had some patina and he worked really hard during renovations to preserve it,” says Charlee Williamson, executive vice president of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group.
“The building represents 145 years of history, and most of that history is food service related,” says Ralph Brennan. “The building was constructed in 1860 as a coffeehouse, and we believe it was the first concession stand for City Park.”
Two famous New Orleans restaurateurs—Fernand Alciatore of Antoine’s and Justin Tujague of Tujague’s—once owned the building. Alciatore, who bought it in 1893, turned the coffeehouse into one of New Orleans’ finest restaurants, A La Renaissance des Chenes Verts, a tribute to City Park’s famous dueling oaks. Tujague owned it from 1901 to 1912, and it became a favorite of Storyville denizens.
Brennan bought the building in 2003, and after a year-long, intense renovation—during which such things as vintage bottles were discovered and “we salvaged the brick walls, French doors that line the balcony and exterior ironwork from the balcony,” says Williamson—the restaurant was ready to open its doors.
This historic building now bustles with diners—local and from out of town—who come to marvel at chef Maras’ cuisine, the view of City Park and of the beautiful restoration. •