A Tale of Five Hotels

Hotels have always been designed to appeal to visitors, but in this pandemic era New Orleans’ new kids on the block are thinking local.

Hotels Vincent

While New Orleans has its share of major chain hotel operations with cookie-cutter rooms and standard amenities, the city has always offered much more in the way of accommodations. Options have ranged from French Quarter treasures like the Monteleone and Royal Sonesta to little hotels and B&Bs tucked away in unlikely corners all over town.

A next generation of properties is taking this diversity to a new level — with the added twist that they are all eager to welcome locals as well as visitors through their doors, and to help visitors feel as much like locals as possible.

Part of this focus on locals is based on post-pandemic uncertainties. While pent-up demand has reinvigorated the travel industry, no one is sure when it will eventually level off. Many analysts anticipate that business travel in particular may not return to pre-COVID levels. However, these are not the only driving factors behind the new approaches to attracting customers.

“People are traveling differently,” said Robert LeBlanc, owner of The Chloe on St. Charles Avenue, which opened Oct. 28, 2020. “Many are looking for a unique local experience where they stay.”

With 14 guest rooms, The Chloe is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Four Seasons, which opened 341 rooms in stages in the former World Trade Center in July. Yet, according to Four Seasons New Orleans General Manager Mali Carow, this property is also aiming for “a very residential feel. Every month we want to be thinking of a new way to embrace the New Orleans culture, have fun with it and share it with our guests.”

The Frenchmen
Anticipated for fourth quarter 2021

This notion of becoming a part of the New Orleans scene, and appealing strongly to residents, is perhaps most on display at The Frenchmen, opening in fourth quarter 2021 just off Esplanade Avenue on Frenchmen Street.

As owner Robert Thompson noted, “Frenchmen is such a rollicking, iconic street. People understand this location and what it means. We want to offer a modestly elevated experience from what’s available on Frenchmen Street right now, to dial it up some without blowing the ceiling off it.”

To this end, The Frenchmen is focusing considerable effort on upgrading the two bars in the building along with the 27 guest rooms. The street-level bar will offer live music featuring local performers, while the mezzanine bar, which is open to the stars, will offer “innovative beverages and extremely warm and welcoming service,” in Thompson’s words.

Thompson’s long-term vision is to find similar properties in other New Orleans locations and employ a similar strategy of appealing to both visitors and locals, blending the city’s inherent history and charm with new technologies and sensibilities.

“When you come into our facility, we want you to feel like you are walking back in time and into the future,” he said.

A similar objective, albeit on a much larger scale, guided the renovation of the World Trade Center building. The landmark tower was built in 1968 for the 250th anniversary of New Orleans and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, yet it had deteriorated into a troubled property.

Four Seasons New Orleans
OPENED July 21, 2021

People in New Orleans are going to be delighted to see it brought back to life,” said Carow. “The building was built in the right way, its foundation, its structure and decorative moments. Now you will walk in and see the original green columns in the lobby and the other key elements that we preserved.”

To the original upscale décor, Four Seasons has added details such as a massive chandelier to highlight the lobby bar. The chandelier includes thousands of pieces of hand-blown glass, crafted by artists brought over from the Czech Republic to help install it.

The Four Seasons chain is at the luxury end of the hotel spectrum, and while Carow noted that each property is distinct, the New Orleans version will fit the overall template. The guest rooms will feature high-end furnishings, and many will include an expansive Mississippi River view. Guests can arrange for a private performance at Preservation Hall or a private streetcar ride featuring narration by a local historian.

The hotel’s restaurant partners will be Alon Shaya on the first floor and Donald Link on the fifth floor. Downstairs the experience will include a rose quartz bar and a classy, brassy feel. Upstairs, the restaurant will be next to the pool, with wide open river views.

Yet attracting a local clientele remains a priority.

“We have a global following of Four Seasons guests,” said Carow, who has been with the chain for 21 years and is working at her seventh hotel, “but our focus is on how do we entertain the New Orleans community. We want to be a part of celebrating the local community, through art, music, history and culture, and food and beverage.”

Indeed, the only disappointment longtime New Orleanians may experience is that the legendary “Top of the Mart” rotating bar will not be making a comeback, as the machinery did not survive. The space will, however, be accessible via a separate entrance as an observation deck and event space.

“We are really embracing New Orleans culture and people, their warmth and kindness and generosity,” Carow said. “There’s so much here for everyone to enjoy.”

St. Vincent Hotel
OPENED June 22, 2021

Skipping to a different part of town, and a different property size, the newly-opened St. Vincent Hotel offers 75 guest rooms on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. Located in an 1861 building that once housed the St. Vincent Infant Asylum, the exterior of the structure was left largely unchanged, while the interior went through a $22.5 million renovation.

The project is a joint venture between Austin-based hospitality veterans Larry McGuire, Tom Moorman and Liz Lambert, along with locals Zach Kupperman and Jayson Seidman. The group was clear from the beginning that they wanted a property outside the usual tourist or business traveler zones. The intention was to create something both new to the city and distinctly New Orleans, again to appeal to both tourists and locals.

“When you dig into New Orleans, you realize how much there is to draw from — Spanish, Italian, and French, to name a few cultural influences on design,” Lambert explained. “So, we began with classical Western European details and then put on a full overlay of Italian Modernism.

“We started with an orphanage that was built during the Civil War, that had remained fairly untouched structurally since it was built,” she continued. “We approached the building in the spirit of restoration, with the additional intent of layering a new story on top of the historic structure. We wanted to create something grand and a little ‘debaucherous’.”

To achieve this, emphasis was placed on creating inviting public spaces to complement the guest rooms, including a swimming pool, outdoor verandas, an event center and several bars. Two full-service restaurants grace the property and are very much intended to entice a local clientele.

“Early on we knew we wanted to do a restaurant with coastal Italian food with a focus on Gulf seafood,” McGuire explained. “In the main dining room of San Lorenzo we put a layer of excitement on top of the classic architecture, with painted floors and murals, custom mohair couches and wild stone choices.”

The second restaurant, the Elizabeth Street Café, is a French-Vietnamese-style café and bakery where guests and neighbors alike can grab a morning coffee and pastry.

“My favorite hotels always seem to be properties that have been in a family for a long time and passed along to new generations, who in turn layer their own remodels and personal styles on top,” said McGuire. “Liz and I imagined that it was our turn, and we were going to go ’60s/’70s decadence over the beautiful base layer of New Orleans’ classic Garden District design.”

Kimpton Hotel Fontenot
OPENED May, 2021

A conversion of an entirely different nature is the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot, in the Central Business District at Poydras and Tchoupitoulas streets. A thorough reimagining of a former Staybridge Suites, the 202-room hotel’s name is inspired by Cajun music legend Canray Fontenot, and music is the underlying theme throughout the property, a move intended in part to draw that local crowd.

“This is a luxury boutique property, a place where locals can come for a little getaway and a comfortable place for visitors to really experience New Orleans,” said General Manager Jesseca Malecki. “It’s upscale, yet genuine and warm.”

Key amenities include complimentary bicycle use and in-room yoga mats. The hotel is also very pet-friendly, offering pet beds and treats for patrons’ furry friends.

The Kimpton had the misfortune of opening on March 13, 2020, and promptly closed one week later. The property reopened in May 2020.

Malecki described the hotel’s largest lounge, the Peacock Room, as “the jewel of the property. It’s a menagerie of prints and velvety couches, with specialty cocktails and great music.” Featuring favorite local performers, special programs such as “Flash Your Feathers Fridays” (where showing up in fancy headpieces earns you a free glass of champagne) and pop-ups with jewelry, cosmetics and crafts, Malecki estimated that crowds thus far have been 90% New Orleanians.

Perhaps the ultimate indicator of the Kimpton’s commitment to the city’s culture, however, is its partnership with the Roots of Music, a nonprofit that supports young, aspiring musicians. During its grand opening, the Kimpton made a donation for every reservation, and is hiring program alumni as performers.

Further expansion of the Kimpton will come on board next year, when renovation of a neighboring historic building will wrap up. This will add 33 guest rooms, meeting space, a full-service restaurant and a full-blown music club.

Virgin Hotels New Orleans
OPENing AUGUST 2021

Not every new hotel is a renovation. Virgin Hotels New Orleans, at Baronne and Lafayette streets in the CBD, is adding another modern structure to a location already teeming with restaurants, shops and residences.

“This is an up-and-coming area,” said General Manager Cody Betone, “which enables us to offer a real local experience. The Virgin Hotels trademark is offering great food, music, drink, art, and technology with a local flavor and local designers.”

Betone described the property as “a lifestyle hotel. It provokes discovery, the opportunity to experience new things. We want to be a bit disruptive, a little outside people’s comfort zones.”

Accomplishing this included partnering with the Contemporary Arts Center to bring art, music and other performances to the hotel. In turn, Betone anticipates this will draw locals to the hotel.

Another attraction is the rooftop area. It features a pool, air-conditioned lounge and some specialized programming. The primary restaurant, in partnership with chef Alex Harrell, further adds to the local flavor.

Betone was proud of the local connections running through the Virgin. Staff and vendors are virtually all drawn from the region, and Betone himself is a native. Overall, the hotel seeks to epitomize the newest of New Orleans.

The Chloe
OPENED Oct. 28, 2020

Returning to where this exploration began, The Chloe stands out as the smallest of the new hotels and the only one adapted from a private residence. The original single-family mansion, built in 1891, is surprisingly visible within its new incarnation. This is intentional, as owner LeBlanc noted.

“We opened to be a place oriented to New Orleans. I love Uptown, with its music clubs and restaurants. We want our guests to experience the neighborhood the way we do, to feel like it’s a very nice apartment in New Orleans, not a hotel.”

Yet The Chloe focuses much of its marketing on New Orleanians. “We want people to think of this as a neighborhood bar and restaurant,” he added.

The property does include some additions and upgrades from the original dwelling, such as the pool and pool bar. “We wanted to mix tradition with improvisation,” said LeBlanc. “Developing buildings like this is jazz through and through.”

A Common Goal

Listening to the stories behind, and visions for, these widely varying properties offers an interesting look at how clearly hoteliers in today’s New Orleans see a common path to success. In the words of Mark Romig, senior vice president for New Orleans & Company (the city’s tourism marketing entity), “These properties are the ‘front door’ to all the wondrous restaurants, activities, retail and special events that the visitor will experience. We are excited about the arrival of additional hotels to our community, as each will provide a unique and memorable stay for their guests.”

Even more exciting, each is equally focused on adding to the “New Orleans experience” for the people who call the city, and the region, home

 

Photos by: The Chloe, Paul Costello; Kimpton Hotel Fontenot, Cris Molina; Courtesy Virgin Hotels New Orleans