April brings the annual French Quarter Festival to what is perhaps New Orleans’ most beloved neighborhood, giving us yet another celebratory reminder of what a gift we have in the 78 square blocks it comprises. As throngs of people wander the streets, stopping at the variety of stages along the way, they often duck into shops, restaurants and hotels that maintain the French Quarter’s character and charm, whether through antiques and art or Creole cuisine, or Sazeracs and stories of the city’s many generations of residents and travelers. This month, we’re highlighting a number of French Quarter merchants – from fashion-forward clothing boutiques to grand dame restaurants – that add to the neighborhood’s old charm and modern appeal.
For stories of the city’s past, you could easily park yourself at a barstool of any French Quarter watering hole, but you might find the information a little more reliable from local experts at The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC). A museum, research center and publisher working to preserve the history and culture New Orleans, the state and the surrounding Gulf South since 1966, THNOC houses two campuses in the French Quarter, with a third exhibition center to open soon at 520 Royal St.
On April 5, THNOC’s William Research Center at 420 Chartres St. will welcome the unveiling of “Storyville: Madams & Music,” an exhibition examining the sights and sounds of Storyville, the notorious and legal red-light district that operated just outside of the French Quarter from 1897 to 1917. According to Executive Director Priscilla Lawrence, much of the city’s present identity dates back to the Storyville era, when New Orleans was marketed as a winter playground.
THNOC’s founders, General and Mrs. L. Kemper Williams, were committed to the preservation of New Orleans, and were among the first to revitalize their area of the French Quarter in the mid-20th century.
“Preservation remains a critical component of our mission, and we’re delighted to be a place of learning and discovery in this iconic community,” says Lawrence. “And, as for our founders’ residence, it’s preserved as a house museum, where visitors can see what daily life was like in the Vieux Carré in the mid-20th century.”
Another preserved and iconic French Quarter locale is Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, which was established just over 100 years ago in 1916. Located at 616 St. Peter St., the theater’s mission today is to provide high quality theatrical experiences that entertain and educate the diverse populations of Greater New Orleans. They offer a range of classic and contemporary dramas and comedies as well as musical productions.
“As the city’s longest continually operating theater, being in the heart of the city is so much a part of our cultural identity,” says General Manager Ashley Robison. “Throughout our history, so many local entertainers have performed or gotten their start on our stages. It creates such a memorable experience to be able to perform in the French Quarter, just steps from Jackson Square.”
Right, A. Renée Boutique
April and May will be busy months at Le Petit. In April, the theater’s Main Stage Production will be Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate, which opened during The Tennessee Williams Festival. During French Quarter Festival, Le Petit will host the festival’s film series, and during the New Orleans Heritage & Jazz Festival, it will offer a selection of concerts from local favorites like Cowboy Mouth and Broadway performers like Morgan James.
Adjacent to Le Petit is Dickie Brennan & Co.’s Jackson Square restaurant, Tableau. Tableau and Le Petit share a courtyard and lobby on performance nights, and pre-theater menus are available to complete an evening of entertainment.
Tableau’s menu pays homage to the classic style of New Orleans cooking, with chef John Martin adding his special touch to the updated signature dishes. Highlights of the menu include chicken Tableau, a herb roasted chicken breast and crispy boneless thigh with potatoes Tableau, béarnaise and chicken demi-glace; the pan-roasted redfish Bienville with frisee-fingerling potato salad and blue crab butter sauce; as well as the barbecue shrimp and grits spiked with local beer.
“This building provided us with a chance to create what we believe to be a beautiful tribute to French Quarter architecture, including the main staircase, which is a replica of the one located in the Pontalba buildings,” says Managing Partner of Dickie Brennan & Co. Steve Pettus. The restaurant also features a wrap-around balcony with views of Jackson Square, an intimate courtyard with historic fountain and the main dining room with an open kitchen.
Also known for its atmosphere – one that has withstood the test of time – is Arnaud’s, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Featuring classic Creole cuisine, Arnaud’s embodies the New Orleans tradition. The restaurant boasts the James Beard Award-recognized French 75 Bar, a Sunday Jazz Brunch featuring Dixieland jazz and a carefully curated Mardi Gras Museum showcasing the intricate gowns worn by the founder’s daughter, Germaine Wells.
Arnaud’s will celebrate Easter this month with a four-course Easter Menu for $55 per person (exclusive of tax and gratuity). For a dose of live jazz, stop in nightly to the Jazz Bistro and on Sundays for the Jazz Brunch, which runs 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Arnaud’s signature items include soufflé potatoes, shrimp Arnaud and oysters Arnaud.
“It’s also strawberry season, so ending any meal with our signature strawberries Arnaud is a must,” says Co-Owner Archie Casbarian. “We offer a variety of fish dishes, perfect for those observing the Lenten Season. Some of my personal favorites are the potato encrusted Gulf fish and pompano Duarte topped with Gulf shrimp, both of which celebrate the fresh, local seafood we’re so lucky to have at our fingertips.”
Along with Arnaud’s, Broussard’s is a French Quarter Grand Dame, one of the stalwart restaurants of the French Quarter that has entertained guests for generations. Now part of the Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts group, Broussard’s was originally opened in 1920 by Paris-trained Joseph Broussard and his wife Rosalie Borrello. The restaurant was famous for its fusion of classic French cooking with local Creole cuisine.
Left, The Historic New Orleans Collection. Right, Queork
Today, Executive Chef Neal Swidler oversees the menu, which features elevated takes on classic dishes. Highlights include the duck à l’orange: pan-seared duck breast with manchego duck confit crêpes and spiced orange sauce, as well as the broiled black drum Rosalie with a rosemary and mustard crust, haricot verts and a ginger apple glaze.
“We are fortunate to be an integral part of French Quarter history and proud to be a participant in the evolution of this institution,” says Director of Marketing for Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts Jeff Zaffron. “Broussard’s is one of the four existing Grand Dame restaurants dedicated to preserving the culture of Old World New Orleans, but also stands out for elevating the fine dining experience through unparalleled service and exquisite cuisine.”
A bit younger than Broussard’s but also notable to New Orleans and French Quarter history is Brennan’s, located at 417 Royal St. Opened in 1946, Brennan’s recently underwent a major renovation aimed at restoring its Old World charm and elegance.
Brennan’s offers a celebratory and unique take on Happy Hour, known as Bubbles at Brennan’s, which is offered Mondays through Thursdays, 2-7 p.m. in the Courtyard and Roost Bar, as well as on Fridays 9 a.m.-7 p.m. With deep discounts to bottles of Champagne from top vintners and sparkling wine houses, patrons can enjoy a special-occasion bottle of delicious bubbly at an everyday price. This month, Brennan’s is extending their happy hour through French Quarter Festival weekend 2 -7 p.m. on April 8 and 9.
“The proclaimed ‘Champagne House of the South’ offers a revolving selection of five deeply discounted bottles of Champagnes as well as seven sparkling cocktails from the bar for $7,” says Executive Account Director Meaghan Regan. Bottles currently include Montmartre Sparkling Rosé and the Henriot “Souverain” Brut among others.
Aside from the wealth of food options for which the French Quarter is known, the neighborhood is also a major shopping destination. Boutiques featuring fashion and accessories dot the streets, and while you’ll see tourists zigzagging in and out, exploring their door-to-door options, you’ll also see local regulars on a mission, perhaps heading to their favorite destinations for a particular item or accessory.
In 2015, A. Renée Boutique was opened by April Renée, a passionate owner whose mission was to create a store for women who love fashion and want to create a style uniquely theirs.
“Fashion is for us; we can hide behind it or stand out in it,” says Renée, who calls the boutique a “store for women who dress to kill.” In a neighborhood so fixated on the past, Renée aims to make a more cutting-edge fashion statement. This spring and summer the boutique is highlighting the bohemian look with all new designers.
“We are also collaborating with an Italian designer in L.A. with 20 years experience in designing for celebrities. Couture separates and dresses will be designed exclusively for A. Renée Boutique,” she says. From Rogiani couture separates to the New Bronte bohemian line, the boutique is evolving into a unique store for sassy French Quarter shoppers with a focus on quality fabrics, bright colors and designs, and “smart, sexy, funky and elegant” styles,” she says.
Just down the street is Queork, a store with its own unique approach to merchandise. Queork began in a small French Quarter storefront in 2012 before expanding and moving across the street in ’13. The successful concept has even further expanded, this time into Uptown, with a second location on Magazine Street. Queork features products made with cork fabric that’s elegant and leather-like while offering the benefits of being water-, scratch- and stain-resistant, as well as environmentally sustainable. Queork’s product line includes fashionable handbags, wallets, belts, bowties, boots, jewelry, aprons, hats and more.
“We are starting to roll out all new jewelry this spring,” says Co-Owner Amanda Dailey. “We are having a lot of fun mixing up our jewelry line to show that cork can be used in statement pieces, as well as something dainty for everyday wear. We are bringing out all new colors as well as new styles, bangles, fringe and even cork beads.”
Dailey and her team love that their French Quarter store is uniquely positioned to share with global visitors the benefits of cork, which comes from the cork oak tree mainly grown in the Mediterranean. The bark is repeatedly harvested, which lengthens the life of the tree while producing a sustainable and beautiful product.
Obviously, these are just a few of the many notable merchants who make the French Quarter the colorful, diverse destination that it is. One could go on for days talking about other great shops, bars and eateries. From the craft beer selection at Rampart Street’s newer Black Penny to the cozy, Italian meals at casual Mona Lisa or chic Italian Barrel, to the mesmerizing walls of galleries like the prestigious Martin Lawrence or dynamic Graphite Galleries, the opportunities for fun, food, education and entertainment are – quite literally – around every turn.
A. Renée Boutique
824 Chartres St.
813 Bienville St.
417 Royal St.
819 Conti St.
The Historic New Orleans Collection
533 Royal St.
410 Chartres St.
Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré
616 St. Peter St.
838 Chartres St.
616 St. Peter St.