Concierge Confidential: New Orleans
The Old No. 77 Hotel and Chandlery’s John Price talks NOLA history, beignets and vampires
This is Concierge Confidential, a series in which we learn about a city’s best-kept secrets from people who specialize in exactly that: long-serving concierges from the swankiest hotels in town.
You may have heard that it’s about to get a lot harder to book an Airbnb in New Orleans, but you probably haven’t heard why that’s actually a great thing. Airbnbs have their time and place, and, in some cases, can even provide a more immersive experience than a stay at a more traditional lodging. A trip to New Orleans, however, is not one of those cases.
In a city with as much character and history as NOLA, the best hotels have a way of capturing that energy and identity in an intimate, immersive lodging experience that makes your hotel more than just a place to sleep and shower between adventures. In New Orleans, your hotel becomes a lens through which to experience the city’s rich offerings.
That’s true of The Old No. 77 Hotel and Chandlery, anyway. Located in the city’s revamped Warehouse Arts District just four blocks from the French Quarter, the hotel pays homage to its origins as a 19th-century warehouse and chandlery while maintaining a close relationship with the city’s modern-day art and music scene. Home to one of the city’s best restaurants headed by James Beard Award-winning Chef Nina Compton as well as the Spirited Awards’ Best Hotel Bar of 2019, you could spend your entire trip never setting foot outside Old 77 and still get a good taste of New Orleans. That doesn’t mean you should, though.
In order to get you out of the hotel, we talked to one of its fiercest promoters, John Price, Director of Operations at Old 77. While Price is more than willing to give you a free pass to indulge in the city’s more touristy aspects — surprise, in New Orleans locals actually like those spots — he also knows the best places to hit off the beaten Bourbon Street. Price squeezed us in on his way to the first pre-season Saints game of the year and gave us the rundown on everything from when you should actually hit Café Du Monde to where to find (or avoid) vampires.
If you only have one night in the city, where should you go?
Frenchman Street. The music is amazing, the food options are also pretty choice. It’s fun, it’s active. I love Three Muses for food, drinks and music. That’s a great combo.
What’s one touristy thing you should actually do in New Orleans?
A walking tour of the French Quarter with our friends at Lucky Bean. You can learn more history, architecture and stories about New Orleans’ characters walking those blocks than you can ever imagine. I am always blown away by the depth of history in that fabled grid of streets. A hell of a lot has gone on there in the last three hundred years. Like the Baroness de Pontalba, she has to be one of my favorite characters — a woman well ahead of her time.
There are vampire bars, and you’ll know when you find one. Keep your phones in your pockets, the buzzing annoys them.
What’s an overrated tourist destination you can skip?
I am totally, 100% biased — however, our “touristy” things are pretty cool. So, here’s the deal with Café Du Monde. Go, but go at 3 a.m. after crawling the Quarter — a proper café au lait and a double order of beignets will get you right after a night of bar hopping.
What’s an under-visited neighborhood in the city?
Tremé for sure. People know it because of the television series, but I’m not sure many people think of it as a place to visit. Culturally, it is one of the most important neighborhoods in the city. Congo Square in Armstrong Park is beautiful and meaningful, as is St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. Tremé Coffeehouse is a favorite of mine. I love the Backstreet Cultural Museum, and Willie Mae’s for lunch. The vibe is cool, colorful and you leave with a sense of New Orleans that a lot of people don’t take away.
Describe a perfect day in the Arts Warehouse District
Coffee. Everything begins with Coffee. At Tout La, here in the hotel, we have a great house blend done for us by our friends at French Truck. Or Revelator down the street pulls a very top notch espresso. A pastry, and I want something savory, so probably something from Nina’s Kitchen. If I’m pulling it together after a long night, I would trudge over to Willa Jean for cornbread, pimento cheese and more coffee. Now I’m moving, now I’m alive, so I’m going take a stroll up Julia Street and window shop the amazing galleries, which, if I play my cards right, will lead me to Auction House and a Bloody Mary. Auction House is beautiful and worth checking out — even if you opt for another coffee. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is next on my list: the standing collection and rotating exhibits are truly some of the best in the Southern United States. It’s New Orleans and lunch plans are usually made at breakfast, which I’ve done, so I’m heading to either Pêche or Meril’s — or hell, maybe both. We take meals very seriously in New Orleans, so a bite of something here and a nibble of something there is a beautiful way to capture all the flavors that make up the dining scene.
While at lunch, remember to make plans for dinner — it’s just what we do.
A light lunch will get you in the right frame of mind for the National WWII Museum, which I personally think is simply one of the best experiences we have. It’s incredibly well done, for both the WWII history buff and the casual museum tripper. It’s an absolute must visit. Dinner: Compère Lapin, here at the hotel. It’s simply one of the best meals you will ever have. And then, when you think there is nothing more you could do in this little part of town, you slide out into the night and walk down Lafayette Street to the Cellar Door — one of the oldest houses in downtown New Orleans, it is truly like having a drink in someone’s living room. The house was built in 1830, so mind the ghosts.
Speaking of ghosts, any local legends to share?
New Orleans is full of legends, stories and imaginative interpretations. As for our hotel, our most pressing legend and story is that we have ghosts roaming the halls on occasion. I suppose that might be true — there have been some eerie encounters told by guests on their way out — but so far, I’d say our ghosts are a happy lot, and just like to turn lights off and on. The building itself has a great history: built in the mid-1850s and used as a warehouse for tobacco and coffee. It was then bought by E.J. Hart & Co. who used the property as warehousing for his mercantile and grocery business. E.J. is a colorful fellow and was very instrumental in making the New Orleans port a viable part of the US economy which it still is today.
What about vampires?
Vampire legends in New Orleans date back all the way to the French colony and have steadily produced a number of stories about individuals, and also “houses” which are similar to covens, and that still exist today and date back hundreds of years. There are vampire bars, and you’ll know when you find one. Keep your phones in your pockets, the buzzing annoys them.
What’s an underutilized feature of Old 77 that guests should take advantage of?
I don’t think anything is really underutilized, but I think our restaurant, Compère Lapin, is truly a gift. The food is inventive and inviting, the energy of the space is uplifting and I think the people, from the culinary folks to the floor service team, are truly some of the best in the business. The bar was recently voted the Best Hotel Bar in America in the Spirited Awards, hosted by the folks that put on Tales of the Cocktail. Another piece of the hotel that guests might overlook is the chandlery — our ‘store’ that sells everything from cool T-shirts to dog collars, all made by locals and sold as a sort of tribute to our building’s life as a storefront in the late 1800 and 1900s. We have some amazing pieces that really stand out. I love the glasswork by my buddy Ben and the candles by Jessica at Mad Darling. I love it because it connects so many wonderful people that represent New Orleans so beautifully with amazing talent.
What’s a lesser-known New Orleans food, and where’s the best place to get it?
New Orleans is specifically a creole city, as is the food that most people associate with the city, dishes like crawfish étouffée, creole gumbos, jambalaya. But the food of South Louisiana is incredibly diverse and complex. Incredibly rich dishes come to us via the Cajun culture of Acadia, and my favorite is boudin, which is a sausage stuffed with pork (or any kind of meat) and rice. Now, the best boudin is probably found at a gas station in Lafayette, Louisiana, where someone’s grand-père has been making it the way his grand-père did, and so on. In lieu of that, Cochon, right up the street from the hotel is amazing.
Best spot for a late-night bite?
I have two for you. If it’s Tuesday night, on Oak Street, outside of Maple Leaf, get the yaka mein from the lady selling it on the street, it will change your life. Second, an All That Jazz po’boy at Verti Marte. Just go in; there will be a line, but that’s how we make friends.
So if you want to make friends with the locals in line, what’s one thing you should ask them?
Where’d you go to school. It’s the quintessential conversation starter in New Orleans and it refers to high school, not college. In New Orleans, high schools have long, familiar lines, and understanding where someone went to high school can tell you so much about them. And not to worry if you don’t know the difference between Archbishop Rummel and De La Salle, they’ll let you know ALL about it.
Where’s the city’s best Sazerac?
There are so many beautiful versions, subtle little tweaks that tells you this is a drink that is truly experienced at the hand of the bartender. I like the one at Carousel Bar, in the Monteleone. It’s lovely.
Besides the Sazerac, what’s a drink people should try?
All of them. A “Purple” at Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop, a Grasshopper at Tujague’s, a Vieux Carre at French 75, a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Sazerac Bar, a PROPER Hurricane at Cane and Table, Brandy Milk Punch at Brennan’s, craft cocktails at one of my favorite bars, Cure, on Freret St.
What’s the best time of year to visit New Orleans?
Our festival season is amazing. Jazz Fest, the last weekend of April and first weekend of May, is outstanding. Usually wonderful, temperate weather. I also really like summer – it’s warm, for sure, but the crowds are chill, and living is easy.
What surprises tourists the most about the city?
The power and thunderous glory of an afternoon rain storm. They are usually brief but quick. Oh, and we do actually have drive-through daiquiri shops.
What’s one thing you can only do in New Orleans?
A drive-thru daiquiri!
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