Saturday, December 6, 2008

Missing in New Orleans

Another shock and another loss came later in the week. My friend Mary Erpenbach sent me an email to let me know the Maison de Ville and Audubon Cottages—a boutique hotel in New Orleans—had closed on Monday. This was the perfect place to stay in the French Quarter, an historic hostelry where fittingly Tennessee Williams once lived. It’s where he completed A Streetcar Named Desire. Dick Cavett interviewed him for his TV show in its dreamy courtyard complete with gurgling fountain, lush foliage and lazy banana trees. Originally the place was built as a residence in the late 18th Century. It was the home of Amedée Peychaud, the pharmacist who concocted the bitters named after him, an essential ingredient in the Sazerac cocktail.

The hotel also nurtured a wonderful little restaurant called the Bistro at the Maison de Ville. The ambiance of this cozy room was as much Left Bank Paris as French Quarter New Orleans. The late John Neal and Susan Spicer, both acclaimed chefs , got their start in the kitchen here. Its amiable maitre d’ Patrick Van Hoornebeek made all his guests feel welcome and is a local legend. On a good night, the food here was second to none and that’s saying a lot in this town with so many great restaurants.

Most of all I loved the Audubon Cottages located a couple of blocks away from the main hotel. Seven sequestered cottages, each with its own private courtyard, encircle a central patio and swimming pool. Every time I came here I always anticipated opening the gate … walking down the long passage with its canopy of jacaranda trees … entering this hidden bijou of a place. It never lost its magic.

Most of all I loved the Audubon Cottages because they were the venue for my 50th birthday party, a grand celebration with more than 50 of my friends the weekend before Mardi Gras. I stayed in Cottage Number 1 that year with my friend Mike Verveer. It was where John James Audubon had lived in 1821 and 1822 while he worked on his Birds of America series. The cottages and courtyards were the epicenter of that weekend culminating in a jazz funeral parade from there to breakfast at Brennans.

I returned year after year—usually for Mardi Gras—so many times that it felt like coming home. It was an oasis from the frenzy of Carnival that is enticing but sometime overwhelming. I liked it because very little ever changed, least of all the kind people who worked there. In the aftermath of Katrina I was gladdened to learn all the employees had weathered the storm and happier still when the hotel finally reopened. Yet, It now appears Katrina has claimed yet another victim.

Whenever I think of “The City That Care Forgot” I cannot forget the Maison de Ville.
“In New Orleans I have noticed that people are happiest when they are going to funerals, making money, taking care of the dead, or putting on masks at Mardi Gras so nobody knows who they are.” –Walker Percy, Lancelot

1 comment: said...

It's sad to see yet another tradition lost to a bad economy. I'm so glad that I was lucky enough to enjoy many trips to the cottages. Thank You ! Dan for taking me to the Bistro and the MDV.
The Sailor