On New Orleans’s oak-shaded St. Charles Avenue, streetcars still clamber and clank up to the front door of the historic Pontchartrain Hotel—just as they have since the Garden District landmark opened in 1927. In its heyday, the storied property welcomed marquee names the likes of Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, Truman Capote, and a handful of U.S. presidents. Tennessee Williams wrote a good portion of A Streetcar Named Desire while living at the Pontch. Local elites gossiped at coveted seats at the Silver Whistle Café’s ten-top breakfast counter and dined on Crabmeat Remick in the famed Caribbean Room.
“I remember having to put on my little blue blazer and a tie to go to the Caribbean Room for Christmas Eve dinner,” recalls New Orleans native Cooper Manning, “and having breakfast at the hotel with my mom. It was a real scene.” By the 1990s, though, the once-glittering grand dame was a flickering shadow of her former self. But if you hop the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line today, you’ll find the old girl looking better than ever thanks to the massive renovation undertaken by AJ Capital Partners and other investors, including Manning. The hotel officially reopened last Friday.
First order of business was reviving those much-loved dining and drinking establishments. In order to honor tradition while looking to the future, AJ Capital enlisted the help of Crescent City culinary star John Besh. The chef and his team will oversee the hotel’s classic restaurants as well as Hot Tin, the new rooftop bar with unobstructed views of downtown New Orleans and the Mississippi River.
In the Caribbean Room, new rattan furniture and verdant greenery play off of restored Charles Reinike murals. Old favorites like Mile High Pie (vanilla, chocolate, and peppermint ice creams topped with meringue and chocolate sauce) and Shrimp Saki (Louisiana shrimp, herb butter, and fresh noodles) remain on the menu, but Besh and company have added contemporary dishes, such as Pepper Roast Rack of Lamb with fava beans and curry carrots. The baby grand piano returns to the clubby Bayou Bar with its expansive whiskey and beer lists. At the Silver Whistle, you can now pick up everything from coffee to breakfast po’boys to the hotel’s classic blueberry muffins. And because this is New Orleans, the lobby, called the Living Room, doubles a pre-dinner cocktail lounge.
The project is a hotel, though, so the 106 guestrooms got plenty of love, too. A mix of European and Caribbean furniture with touches of mint, peony, and dark ivy green give the large spaces—no cramped historic-sized rooms, here—a feeling of relaxed luxury. “You wouldn’t build a hotel with bones like this anymore,” Manning says. “When you wake up here you know you’re in New Orleans.”