Were it not for a penchant for cards, the ponies and fine cuisine, the French Quarter would have fewer wraithlike residents with whom we may choose to commune during this “Season of the Witch.” But proclivities toward debauchery and decadence are in our DNA, passed down to us from our forefathers – some of who seem incapable of giving up the ghost.
Pity poor Monsieur Pierre Antoine Lapardi Jourdan. In 1814, he built a stately townhome on Jackson Square where he resided in opulence with his family. He was lord of his manor if not Fortuna: He lost his beloved home in a game of cards, compelling him to hang himself in the slave quarters, a space that now serves as the upstairs bar, known as the Séance Room, at Muriel’s restaurant.
Despite his earthy demise, M. Jourdan continues to linger about in the Séance Room in the form of a sparkly luminescence. Lending occasional camaraderie to Jourdan is an unidentified, mischievous spirit known to toss glassware about in the downstairs Courtyard Bar, once sending vessels flying from behind the bar to land 12 feet across the room to shatter into a brick wall. Paranormal investigators (aka ghostbusters) brought in to explore the disturbances inadvertently wound up recording audio of a woman’s voice when no female was present.
In an effort to placate this population of uninvited guests, each night Muriel’s reserves a special table set with bread and wine just for them.
Just a few blocks away, the future remains uncertain for two long-term ghosts in residence. Following a down-to-the-studs overhaul, it’s too soon into its reincarnation to know whether or not the newfangled Brennan’s remains a welcoming habitat for Monsieur P. Lefleur and chef Paul Blange, the ghosts of whom were said to have inhabited the restaurant in its previous incarnation.
It was from the chandelier in the former restaurant’s Red Room that M. Lefleur hung himself (along with death by duel, this was clearly the way to go back in the day) after murdering his wife and son following the loss – also like the ill-fated M. Jourdan – to gambling of the fortune that allowed them to occupy their fashionable address.
Also like M. Jourdan, M. Lefleur keeps time with an otherworldly buddy.
In life, chef Blange was unable to move on from the place where he earned culinary immortality with the creation of Bananas Foster. Upon retirement he continued to dress in his chef’s whites to visit with dining patrons at Brennan’s. When he died, he was buried in his chef’s uniform with fork and knife in hand crossed over a Brennan’s menu resting on his chest. Sightings of a chef with a European air and a propensity for banging about pots and pans after hours were attributed to him.
We await word of the return of Lefleur and Blange.
Meanwhile, a few blocks over on Conti Street, Germaine Wells, the only daughter of “Count” Arnaud Cazenave, the original proprietor of Arnaud’s Restaurant, seems to keep sentinel over the collection of gowns she wore when she reigned as queen over 22 different balls during her debut year.
The opulent, jewel-encrusted gowns, crowns and scepters are displayed in lighted glass, temperature-controlled cases in a small museum on the second floor of the restaurant. Visitors to the dark, quiet space frequently report: “feeling a presence” when alone in the rooms. One freaked-out patron reported to her waiter, “I had the weirdest experience with the mannequins. I clearly heard a woman’s voice say ‘Hello,’ but when I turned, no one was there.”
Take it outside, people! After a long summer spent huffing frigid Freon fumes and running about in tank tops, we can finally dress up a bit and enjoy dining al fresco once again. Personal favorites for outdoor dining include the treehouse-like setting at the oh-so-French Café Degas (sautéed ruby red trout with saffron pearl couscous and roasted red pepper coulis) overlooking verdant Alcee Fortier Park and Baie Rouge (hand cut fries with Brie fondue, and applewood bacon beignets with Steen’s dipping sauce) with outdoor seating on a lively block of Magazine Street. Both serve weekend brunch as well as lunch and dinner.
Arnaud’s: 813 Bienville Ave., 523-5433, ArnaudsRestaurant.com
Baie Rouge: 4128 Magazine St., 304-3667, BaieRougeNola.com
Brennan’s: 417 Royal St., 525-9711, BrennansNewOrleans.com
Cafe Degas: 3127 Esplanade Ave., 945-5635, CafeDegas.com
Muriel’s: 801 Chartres St., 568-188, Muriels.com