If this is the year you were thinking of spending Mardi Gras in New Orleans, New Orleans hotels are ready for the influx as more and more are reopening, rehabbing, or starting out entirely new.
The stock of French Quarter hotels now includes the fully renovated Hotel Mazarin (formerly the Saint Louis), a popular venue for courtyard weddings. Hotel Monteleone has opened its expanded lounge in the Carousel Bar with a new set of windows onto the best part of Carnival season - people watching. The newly reopened Hyatt Regency overlooks the Mercedes Benz Superdome, host site of Super Bowl 2013. And The Saint, a brand new boutique hotel, is located on the all-important Mardi Gras parade route, as is Hotel Modern, formerly Le Cirque Hotel.
Hotel Modern, newly opened on Lee Circle, is front and central to Carnival with parade viewing stands located in front of the hotel directly on St. Charles Avenue. Stand pricing ranges from $30 to $100, and the hotel offers waiter service and Mardi Gras menus in the stands with snack selections from chef Dominique Macquet's new French-Vietnamese restaurant Tamarind and drinks from the new cocktail lounge Bellocq. The hotel's restaurant and lounge will also offer street stands for passers-by and parade viewers. Stands will offer mobile versions of the lounge and restaurant's standouts including to-go Sazeracs and banh mi sandwiches (a.k.a Vietnamese po-boys). Stand access can be purchased through the hotel. Visitors may remember the Hotel Modern under its previous ownership as Le Cirque Hotel. Owner Klaus Ortlieb, the hotelier behind The Gotham Hotel and Cooper Square Hotel in New York City, has upgraded all of the rooms and amenities at the 135-room hotel, but kept its funky style including the light show on its façade facing Lee Circle. With the adjacent Circle Bar newly reopened, the circle is now primed to host an influx of connoisseurs of New Orleans nightlife for Mardi Gras 2012.
Hotel Mazarin is an elegant new incarnation of the St. Louis Hotel. Owner Joseph A. Jaeger, Jr. has upgraded the hotel's most popular feature, an expansive courtyard with copper fountain and lush greenery. The hotel, a popular site for weddings, is newly named for Cardinal Jules Mazarin, a 17th Century French-Italian diplomat who owned one of the world's largest diamond collections, including the Mirror of Portugal. He bequeathed the Mazarin diamonds to Louis XIV. To live up to its namesake, the hotel's 102 sizable rooms sparkle with chandeliers, marble and plantation shutters giving it an Old World feel with modern appointments such as soundproofed windows and a business center. The Hotel Mazarin's new bar, Patrick's Bar Vin, has the cozy feel of an upscale Irish pub, albeit one with a stunning wine list. Proprietor and Krewe of Cork king Patrick van Hoorebeek knows his grapes, and offers a selection of wines and luxe private lockers with reserves for the most demanding vinophile.
The Hotel Monteleone Carousel Bar has opened its expanded seating area with windows facing onto Royal Street, a long-time wish of the hoteliers according to Charles Ferrier, the Monteleone's in-house historian. Ferrier's reminiscences include Dr. John and the late Etta James gracing the hotel while touring, as well as the many authors who made the hotel a literary landmark. Expect an expanded Carousel Bar full of authors between seminars as the annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival officially moves to the Monteleone in March.
The New Orleans Hyatt Regency reopened in the fall after six years, taking the time to fully rehab the building post-Katrina with a $275 million renovation. Opening directly onto Champion Square and the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the Hyatt has already become a powerhouse location for sporting events and conventions. Its 1,193 all-new guest rooms include four presidential suites and five residential-style meeting planner suites. In the deco-styled Vitascope Hall, a virtual jukebox allows patrons to program music, lighting and video from a user's smart phone app. (A limit to how many times the unofficial Saints anthem "Stand Up and Get Crunk" can be played in an hour is wisely instituted during the playoff season.) A nod to New Orleans' musical history is found in the Hyatt's Celestin Ballroom, named for Papa Celestin whose great-grandchildren carry on his jazz tradition today with the Original Tuxedo Brass Band. The Hyatt's 8 Block Restaurant and Bar is named for the storied eight blocks of upper Bourbon Street. New Orleans superstar chefs John Besh and former Galatoire's chef Brian Landry have opened the seafood-centric restaurant Borgne inside the Hyatt. Culinary inspirations are drawn from Canary Island immigrants who populated coastal Louisiana near Lake Borgne.
Opened in December 2011, The Saint is poised to take advantage of its Mardi Gras proximity on Canal Street with 166 rooms in its eight stories. The hotel was designed for the historic Audubon Building on Canal Street with a $45 million renovation. As organic as the hotel already feels, this is the building's first incarnation as a hotel. Owners D. Mark and Jana Wyant have achieved their concept of a nightclub that happens to be a 166-room boutique hotel with blue lights illuminating the hotel's hallways. Downstairs, patrons can play a round of pool on the blue billiard table adjacent to the Burgundy Bar as a wall-sized Louis Armstrong photo beams down onto patrons in the bar's bordello chic setting. Appropriate, given its proximity to early Storyville, New Orleans' notorious red light district from 1895 to 1917. Oversized black and white photographic murals of early 20th Century New Orleans extend into the lobby, which was designed with no square walls, only curved surfaces and surprises around every corner. The Wyants describe how they passed by the building on a stroll and were struck by its historic significance and ideal location for an artistic addition to New Orleans' hotel landscape. Guest rooms feature exposed brick and bright blue and white deco style décor, with flourishes throughout such as a black light shining up from the vanity. The Wyants also lured local chef Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette into expanding into Sweet Olive, a restaurant set to showcase Stoltzfus' new twist on Southern cuisine. Folk art by William Hemmerling adorns the walls of the funky window-front bistro with dining selections including rabbit jambalaya and wild boar rillette.