New Orleans’ NOPSI Hotel opened July 2017 to fanfare not only as a new luxury address for visitors but for its historic connection to the city. Named for New Orleans Public Service Inc., it’s the site of the city’s former utility company headquarters. Anyone walking the streets need only look down at a manhole cover to spot the NOPSI initials – what great, free advertising.
While our short New Orleans visit did not allow an overnight here, we did enjoy a tour, drinks and dinner. In other words, we want to return and take full advantage of the rooftop bar plus pool and more.
Our guide explained that the old NOPSI utility was a prime destination on weekends, when locals arrived dressed up to pay their electric bill and browse the sparkling lobby display of the newest appliances, like refrigerators, washers and stoves.
The transaction table still greets lobby visitors where compartments hold historic nods – like employee IDs and old bills – to those past days and ways. Today, taking in the original terrazzo floors and vaulted ceiling are reason enough to step inside, but once you meet the Queen of Gin — the nickname we gave the gregarious bartender in the lobby bar — you’ll find another fantastic excuse.
The dog-friendly NOPSI features 76 suites amidst its 217 rooms, from 350 to 800 square feet. Modern rooms with classic, clean lines and beige/cream tones are a contrast to a beautifully repurposed 1920s-era building.
Terrace Suites have a view of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a five-to-10-minute walk away. The action of the French Quarter is only a block and a-half up the street.
During our visit, the lobby featured a wonderful, temporary exhibit of old photos of Monte Carlo and the incomparable Princess Grace. Black-and-white photography of the likes of Steve McQueen in a race car and a young, lithe Audrey Hepburn added to the nostalgic aura that hearing about NOPSI’s history already had us reflecting upon.
The lobby gift shop features all local vendors, many representing popular stores on Magazine Street, known for shopping.
Nod to 1920s Prohibition
As to the “Gin Queen,” bar matron Lauren Tucker holds court over the underCURRENT lobby bar with a creative cocktail menu paying homage to 1920s prohibition-era libations. Each Tuesday, Gin University features three unique gins.
Steps away is an outdoor patio, and small plates are served at both, such as a Parisian chicken salad baguette, a taco trio and a charcuterie plate for sharing.
Among Tucker’s gin selections behind the bar when we visited were Hayman’s, Ransom, Sipsmith, Aviation, Prairie and St. George. The Closed Circuit cocktail is gin, green chartreuse and lemon.
With her expert guidance, we sampled a French 75 (named for the noted Arnaud’s bar of the same name) containing gin, lemon and sparkling wine. Research required a second round.
Like so many in this town, Tucker is closely tied to its history, culture and future. Her grandfather is a key leader in cemetery revitalization efforts under way.
Late-day light is reason enough to head to the rooftop bar, called Above the Grid, but then there are also the pool and loungers plus three private cabanas.
Dinner is just across the lobby at the restaurant appropriately named Public Service. We love the sense of whimsy in the names chosen for venues, drinks, entrees and more. Salt and pepper shakers are a light bulb and glass insulator (as on electric lines).
Public Service is reachable by street or lobby, and we immediately felt the sense of place stepping from the lobby through a wrought-iron double gate into a room of exposed brick walls and plank flooring. The open kitchen allowed us to peek at what is being prepared as we perused our menus. We took note of the oyster raw bar.
Public Service has a bourbon focus whereas the lobby bar is all about the gin and champagne cocktails.
We were delightfully waited on by an expert server who was working with a pair of stepbrothers in training who, once we delved into their story, told us how happy they were to be working in such a place and saving up for their own shared vehicle. One is a poet. Seemed appropriate; this is, after all, New Orleans, a literary haven and inspiration for the likes of Tennessee Williams and his “Streetcar Named Desire.”
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to weekend brunch. We opted for the whole roasted gulf fish and were wowed by the Instagram worthy presentation, its delicate flavor as marvelous as the sight of the whole, head-on fish. Other offerings are jumbo Louisiana shrimp, steak frites with a ribeye cap or broiled filet mignon of heritage beef tenderloin. The raw bar’s seafood tower serves two to four with daily fresh catch items. There’s also a bone-in, pork prime rib off the rotisserie menu.
Special Events Space
A highlight was seeing an unusual large room for meetings, special events and receptions as the architect did a beautiful job blending a cool-vibe space while retaining the industrial room's 24-foot-high crane and tracks, which once transported transformers to storage vaults for repair.
The 4,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom features huge arched windows and a 30-foot ceiling. PS Reserve is a private, 1,200-square-foot private dining room above Public Service restaurant. As with the entire renovation, these meeting spaces have melded prior function with current design.
If You’re Going: NOPSI, a Salamander Hotel, is located at the corner of Baronne and Union streets in New Orleans’ central business district. Find out more at nopsihotel.com. To plan a Big Easy getaway or the perfect Mardi Gras super trip, go to neworleans.com. The city celebrates its tricentennial in 2018.
Additional New Orleans Dining
NOPSI’s convenient location means it is easily accessible to many other dining options including popular ones in the French Quarter. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed:
In addition to the drawings and autographed images of a who’s who of politicians, performers and artists, Antoine’s, with its black-jacketed waiters in historic surroundings, is where Oysters Rockefeller was invented and French Creole is done right.
Our waiter was kind enough to give us a personal tour to better understand just how historic this place is. There’s an original Edison light bulb, an original copy of Keyes’ book plus loads of historic paintings and a long tunnel housing the extensive wine cellar. It’s so long that a window offering a peek is on Royal Street while the restaurant entrance is on St. Louis Street.
We dined in the Large Annex, just one of a multitude of dining rooms, sampling those Oysters Rockefeller plus fried soft-shell crab and grilled gulf fish topped with lump crabmeat. The food was good, but the setting fantastic.
Three private rooms are named for Mardi Gras krewes Rex, Proteus and 12th Night Revelers. These are must-sees, like the green-walled Rex room with gold accents. Here, we studied the photos and elaborate gowns, crowns and scepters of Carnival royalty on display. Antoine’s bar is named for the Krewe of Hermes. There’s also a secret door used during Prohibition.
Kathy M. Newbern and husband J.S. Fletcher are award-winning freelance travel journalists based in Raleigh, NC, who have visited 76 countries, all seven continents and reported on 80 cruises. They often incorporate their travels into their other business, www.YourNovel.com, where they put you and your sweetie in your own personalized romance novel "wild" or "mild."
Photos courtesy of NOPSI Hotel, Paul Broussard, and Fletcher/Newbern