New Orleans is a unique city, having been settled by the French in 1718 by Administrator Jean-Baptiste le Moyne de Bienville (try saying that three times fast). It was then turned over to Spain in 1762, and then turned back over to the French in 1801.
The influences of the Spanish, French, Caribbean, West African, and other cultures give the city an aura all its own. When you look around the French Quarter, you see Baroque facades with wrought iron lattice terraces, and a sense of elegance, mystery, and romance around each street corner.
At the start, the city was called La Nouvelle-Orleans, and–not too shockingly–the first hotel founded in 1799 was called Hotel d'Orleans.
Although it was a humble establishment, it began a trend of illustrious hotels that would spring up over the decades, with stars like Robert Mitchum and literary giants like Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote enjoying the luster and culture of these temporary abodes.
If you find yourself wanting to kick back for a week or weekend in the Big Easy, here are some of the most elegant and historic spots for your respite.
The Sazerac Bar was a favorite spot for Huey P. Long
Etta James performed at the Hotel Monteleone
Jean Lafitte Guesthouse is tied to a pirate legend
The Roosevelt Hotel owns the rights to the Ramos Gin Fizz
#1 The Roosevelt Hotel
The Roosevelt Hotel is built atop what used to be a performing arts center that burned down in 1892. The owner of the theater, Louis Grunewald, built a hotel in its stead, and in 1893, the first incarnation of the Roosevelt, then called the Grunewald Hotel, opened to the public.
On New Year's Eve of 1907, the expanded 400-room hotel opened to the public with a German flag hanging proudly. From this time forward, it was a popular drinking spot with the inclusion of a new nightclub called the Cave.
Prohibition soon put a damper on the imbibing, unfortunately. But in 1922, it was clear that Grunewald still had some of the hard stuff on the premises. Agents raided rooms 1263 and 1265 to find barrels of beer and bottles of Scotch and Sazerac.
In 1923, the hotel changed ownership, got bigger and more vamped up, and opened as the Roosevelt Hotel in honor of Theodore Roosevelt.
Ten years later, the hotel accepted its first shipment of legal whiskey and started serving up the New Orleans original Sazerac, as well as another popular New Orleans original–the Ramos Gin Fizz.
The drink's inventor, Henry Ramos, sold the rights of the drink to the Roosevelt after he left the bartending business, and it's been their baby ever since.
It was so popular, the infamous governor of Louisiana, Huey P. Long brought his favorite Roosevelt bartender to New York with him to show New Yorkers how to make a proper Ramos Gin Fizz–whilst attacking President Roosevelt's New Deal.
Maybe the drinks softened the blow at least.
The Sazerac Bar dates back to 1949 and still nests in the hotel to this day. The Ramos Gin Fizz and, of course, the Sazerac cocktail, appear on the menu. But they have a wealth of new recipes, as their expert bartenders continue to mix original elixirs.
The Southern Gentleman is one of their newest original cocktails, which was invented exclusively for the hotel by star bartender Julie Reiner.
So if you find yourself wanting an experience that's suffused with New Orleans history and offers modern features like a spa and rooftop pool, the Roosevelt Hotel will sate your desire for luxury and historic charm.
#2 Hotel Monteleone
Designated a literary landmark, the Hotel Monteleone is the embodiment of the laissez-faire New Orleans culture. With fine Creole food along with exceptional cocktails served at a revolving bar–The Carousel Bar and Lounge–this is a must-stop for any traveler.
Antonio Monteleone opened the hotel for business in 1886, during the city's Sicilian migration. Before opening the hotel, he was a humble cobbler who ran a shop on Royal Street.
But he saw an opportunity to move up when the Commercial Hotel on the 200 block of Royal went up for sale.
It wasn't long before the Beaux-Arts hotel reigned with palatial glory in the city. By 1913, Frank Monteleone took over after his father's death and ushered in a new era of sophistication and entertainment.
By 1949, Monteleone's Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge had installed a revolving, 25 seat bar. The famous spectacle spins at a constant rate of one revolution per fifteen minutes–so don't worry about spilling your drink.
The novelty of the area attracted performers like Robert Mitchum, Etta James, and the Sicilian Jazz legend, Louis Prima.
The romantic hotel also attracted a lot of literary swag, with Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner being among its patrons. Tennessee Williams was inspired to include the hotel in his play, The Rose Tattoo.
Truman Capote loved the place enough that he claimed to fellow imbibers at the bar that it was his birthplace. The In Cold Blood writer loved a good tall tale - and a Screwdriver or two!
As a nod to the city's literary giants, you can stay in one of the rooms named after famous authors, and you can toast them with a Vieux Carre–The Carousel Bar's original cocktail.
#3 Le Pavillon Hotel
Located downtown on the Central Business District's Poydras Street, the 10-storey Le Pavillon Hotel stands with grandeur and a long history under its belt. It began with Edward Denechaud, a 19-year-old French immigrant.
He opened a small hotel in 1884 and aptly named it Hotel Denechaud. But it wouldn't last long as a gas explosion in 1901 would decimate the building.
In 1904, the land was sold to a fella named Émilien Perrin, a developer who was bold in his ventures–including personal ones. Perrin was married to two sisters and had nine kids between them.
It seems he was also good at erecting hotels, and Edward Denechaud supported this ambition by holding a share in the new business. They decided to call it
New Hotel Denechaud--probably after hours of workshopping.
The opulent hotel opened in 1907 and captivated people with its Modern and French Renaissance architecture, with the press describing its luxuriousness as akin to a
It went through a name change in 1913 when it got new ownership and became Hotel DeSoto. Around this time, through the '20s, New Orleans' first radio station, WDSU, operated from the penthouse of the DeSoto.
WDSU still operates today as a television station, but they have their own building now.
Its entertainment history extends to Louis Armstrong's family as well. Even though his music never graced the halls, his mother, Mary, worked there as a maid and his stepfather was a waiter.
But its vibrancy dulled over the years and it shut down in 1963. In 1971, The Hotel reopened as the new Le Pavillon Hotel, sporting the same loftiness and period beauty of the previous incarnations.
But even the new and improved hotel hasn't forgotten its history. It was designated a historic landmark and boasts antique furnishings like its 1920s bar from Chicago and a marble bathtub made from Carrara marble–which rumors say belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.
If you stay the night, you'll not only enjoy Victorian-style rooms, but also the treat of a free PB&apm;J and a glass of cold milk at 10 pm. If that's not worth a trip, what is?
The Le Pavillon is steeped in history and a stay there is a memorable experience. And, as the locals say, you may even hear a spectral call from the past somewhere around its majestic corners.
#4 Andrew Jackson Hotel
It only makes sense for New Orleans to have a hotel named after the general–and later President–who won the Battle of New Orleans against the British.
The Royal Street hotel is placed on a site that was once a boarding school in 1792 for boys who lost their parents to yellow fever. It burned down two years later when a great fire wreaked havoc on the city. Sadly, five kids lost their lives.
Shortly afterward, a courthouse was erected where Andrew Jackson was indicted for obstruction of justice and charged a $1000 fine for contempt of court–a little less noble than his victorious battle against the Brits.
That courthouse was torn down in 1888 and two years later, the building that would later become a hotel was erected in 1890.
It's uncertain exactly when the residence was converted into a hotel since there are no records of it. But it likely occurred in the 60s, when there was a trend of converting old French Quarter homes into hotels.
Today, the charm of the Andrew Jackson hotel is in its antiquated charm. You won't find the luxurious amenities of the Roosevelt, but you will get old-timey charm, with an interior that's changed little over the decades.
And the convenient location gives you access to the entire French Quarter. From neon-lit Bourbon Street to Jazz-effused Frenchmen Street–the culture of New Orleans is at your fingertips.
#5 Jean Lafitte Guesthouse
How can you beat a hotel stay right on Bourbon Street at a place that was founded on a pirate legend? Not to mention the fact that it's across from the oldest bar in New Orleans–Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar.
Jean Lafitte Guesthouse was originally the home of Paul Joseph Gleises in 1849. He had it built at an alarming price tag of $12,000 (Yep, that was actually a lot back then), and the three-story home stood gracefully on the corner of St. Philip and Bourbon.
When the Civil War began, the Gleises family skedaddled and landed in Philadelphia, and from then on, the house went through many owners.
In 1952, the house came under the management of hotel owners who were in business in states like Connecticut and New York under the title of Lafitte Guest House Inc. Like it was with the Andrew Jackson Hotel, Jean Lafitte was one of those houses that were converted to hotels.
But how did it get its name? Well, there's a legend that the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte used the building that later became Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar for smuggling negotiations. Whether Jean Lafitte gulped his pints there is debatable, but there's no doubt the building has seen a lot since its opening between 1722 and 1732.
The hotel drew its name from the bar, making the old bar a must-stop for any patrons of the boutique hotel.
But the Guesthouse itself has charming features, such as a quaint courtyard, a view of the French Quarter, and a beautiful art gallery in the lobby. And don't forget to ask the staff about the possible ghostly mysteries of room 21.
Sample New Orleans Culture
New Orleans has seen its fair share of strife over the centuries, and it has always sprung back even more glorious than before. The city's hotels reflect this history, with properties that have seen great fires and political turmoil.
But out of it all, they've expanded to great heights or been preserved for posterity, keeping the good old New Orleans vibes available for generations to come.