As an occasional resident of Toulouse Street in the French Quarter, Tennessee Williams’ relationship to New Orleans is illustrated famously in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” He was a patron of the debauched saloons of Bourbon Street and frequently dined at the prestigious restaurant Galatoire’s. The historic Creole dining den began as a saloon itself, and its French founder moved the eatery to its current location in 1905. Because of Galatoire’s first-come, first-served policy, no level of fame or wealth prevented its patrons from waiting outside in the sweltering heat for a lunchtime table. In fact, an oft-repeated story details U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana receiving a telephone call from President Ronald Reagan on the Galatoire’s phone. After ending the call, the senator returned to his place in line.
Fridays, then and now, are the most popular days to lunch at Galatoire’s — it’s a place to socialize and to see and be seen. The Galatoire’s “experience” begins once patrons are seated as they take in the sights of the first-floor dining room, which is lined with mirrors and decked out in the same classic wallpaper and tiled floor that it was known for in the early 1900s. Here New Orleans keeps alive the tradition of the local legal profession to take half-days on Fridays (and this has expanded to include many other professions). So don’t be surprised to encounter lawyers sipping cocktails in the early afternoon when the rest of the country is still hard at work.
If you’re not in the mood to stand in line but wish to sample Galatoire’s decadent foie gras or indulge in classic turtle soup accented with sherry, the restaurant does accept reservations these days — but not for the first floor. In keeping with tradition, gentlemen are required to wear jackets in the dining room evenings and Sundays.
Williams was a patron of the debauched saloons of Bourbon Street
While New Orleans has experienced a renaissance of theatre and burlesque in recent years, its film industry has exploded. The influx of Hollywood stars has made privacy a necessity in the city’s constantly crowded world-class restaurants. Popular stars and their entourages find refuge in the cellars of bustling eateries. A good example is Brennan’s restaurant. Brennan’s was established in 1946 by Irish immigrant Owen Brennan on a dare from prominent French restaurateur and wine salesman, “Count” Arnaud Cazenave, a fellow New Orleans resident and immigrant. Brennan’s restaurant became known for its breakfast and desserts but more than held its own during dinnertime. The current iteration of the upscale restaurant is located in a pink building on Royal Street, built over 200 years ago by the great-grandfather of French artist Edgar Degas.
The perfect setting for adding to its rich history, the Wine Room at Brennan’s contains one table that can seat up to 16 members of your own posh posse. A stone floor surrounded by timber and brick walls reveal the Wine Room’s storied past as stables for a private residence. Today the city’s celebrities are ushered in secretly, but it was no secret when President Andrew Jackson used to visit the home. In the Wine Room guests can dine on the restaurant’s seasonal, classical Creole fare with international flare or ask for the chef-guided tasting menu. Whether your foodie friends are famous or not, they’ll love the drama of sharing Octopus a la Creole in the dim and intimate quarters, tucked off of Brennan’s courtyard. FYI: It’s no secret that Brennan’s nationally renowned bananas Foster dessert is often imitated but never duplicated.
Today the city’s celebrities are ushered in secretly
Imitation and duplication are often associated with music publisher P.P. Werlein who operated from a Canal Street building with a grand façade and brightly lighted sign beginning in the 1850s. Eventually his company sang its swan song when Confederate money went bunk. Today the building houses Palace Café. The famous façade now boasts a theatrical sign and a grand dining room inside, featuring a dramatic spiral staircase in the center. Diners can watch through the open kitchen’s windows as chefs prepare exquisite entrees like an updated version of the French classic cassoulet de gascon. The perfect marriage of drama and secrecy, the wine room at Palace Café is located on the third floor and seats 12 people. A night at this round table promises exposure to an award-winning wine list (and the option to take advantage of its proximity to the newly renovated Grand Theatres with its “pre-theatre menu” boasting three courses of decadence). This fine restaurant is making a legacy more worthy of its grand setting than its previous tenant!