If Walls Could Talk
One of the most historic, colorful and story-filled sites in New Orleans can be found inside a hotel. Standing in the heart of the French Quarter, for nearly two centuries, is the iconic Orleans Ballroom, which is part of the legendary Bourbon Orleans Hotel.
If the walls and grand promenade balcony of the Bourbon Orleans’ lavish ballroom could talk, one would hear some of the most intriguing stories that ever emerged from this culturally diverse city. It is here the aristocratic elite took part in the most decadent galas offered anywhere; balls and celebrations that were said to be the envy of Europe.
The Bourbon Orleans’ ballroom was the site of the grandiose and controversial quadroon balls, during which married European noblemen and Creole aristocrats were paired with a mistress, a young creole with fair skin (usually no more than one-fourth African). This practice, called placage, was legal and commonplace for a man of wealth who could afford a legal wife and his mistress (plus her children). (Tip: Be sure to take a look at the fascinating artifacts from the quadroon balls and more inside the display case in the hotel lobby.)
The Marquis de Lafayette was entertained and honored at a huge gala attended by hundreds of New Orleans ladies in this very ballroom, and it’s here Andrew Jackson is said to have announced his run for the U.S. presidency. Adding to the mystique: the Bourbon Orleans is known as one of the most haunted hotels in New Orleans.
In an extreme paradox to its controversial history, the ballroom later became part of the historic Sisters of the Holy Family nunnery and was used as the chapel for America's first Creole and African-American order.
Today, guests can walk into the exquisite ballroom and onto its balcony and retrace the steps of 18th and 19th-century aristocrats. Elaborate, fun dining events are held periodically inside the historic Orleans Ballroom and are open to the public. (Tip: Be sure to check the Bourbon Orleans website or the New Orleans Hotel Collection website for upcoming events.)
You can tempt your taste buds all year long at the hotel’s signature Creole restaurant, Roux on Orleans; that’s where Bourbon Orleans’ Chef Stanley Broussard puts his heart and soul into every dish he creates. (Tip: The hotel holds an annual Thanksgiving buffet feast with two dozen delicious items including roasted turkey, gulf fish almandine, roasted Cornish hen and cornbread and oyster dressings.)
There is no hotel in the French Quarter with a more distinctive and picturesque location. Stand on the Bourbon Orleans’ promenade balcony and turn to your left? You get a dramatic back view of the St. Louis Cathedral and the breath-taking basilica garden. Turn to your right? There’s iconic, historic and exciting Bourbon Street. Hotel officials like to joke saying it’s between heaven and hell. (Tip: Reserve a Loft Suite with a balcony facing Orleans Street that has a stunning Cathedral view or – for a more energetic atmosphere – reserve a suite on the Bourbon Street side of the hotel. There are also suites facing St. Ann Street.)
The hotel itself drips in French provincial décor and overlooks Orleans Avenue, the heart of the French Quarter. While there, dip in the inviting blue green pool in the lush courtyard before experiencing the savory Creole creations at Roux on Orleans. The hotel staff is authentically friendly, eager to please, and makes you feel right at home.
Do not leave without experiencing the Bourbon Orleans’ Bourbon O Bar, which has one of the classiest, yet most comfortable, live jazz and blues entertainment venues on Bourbon Street. The club, which prohibits smoking, is also home of the six-minute Ramos’ Gin Fizz, a New Orleans classic invented in 1888. Mixologists will wet your whistle with craft cocktails concocted with house-made mixers and freshly-squeezed juices.
As mentioned earlier, this hotel is said to be one of the most haunted in the French Quarter, so why not visit or tour the neighboring St. Louis Cathedral, which is also said to be haunted. According to legend, the ghost of Fr. Antonio de Sedella, commonly known as Père Antoine, can be seen in the cathedral alley in the wee hours of the morning. There are also reports of his apparition being seen during Christmas Midnight Mass, where he has reportedly held a candle next to the altar. (Fact: Fr. Antonio de Sedella is buried inside the cathedral.) There are also claims the St. Louis Cathedral is haunted by Père Dagobert, a monk who lived in the church.
The Cathedral – also known as the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France – is the oldest cathedral in what would eventually become the United States. There was a church on the site in the early 1700s, but the Cathedral was built in 1789 and rebuilt after a fire in 1850. It is one of the few cathedrals in America that fronts a major public square – Jackson Square.
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