Pontchartrain Hotel’s Food & Drink
Opened: June 2016
Location: New Orleans
Owners: AJ Capital Partners
– Caribbean Room: $80
– Bayou Bar: $22
– Silver Whistle: $13
– Hot Tin: $30
Description: In a historic New Orleans hotel, a division of Besh Restaurant Group spruces up with the addition of four concepts.
Ask any restaurateur: The first year of any new restaurant is a herculean labor. But opening seven in less than a year? The word insane comes to mind.
Not so for the team at Our House Hospitality, a fledgling hospitality group specializing in hotel food and beverage programs. “We discovered that our limits are way further than we thought they were,” says Emery Whalen, CEO of Our House Hospitality, a division of Chef John Besh’s eponymous restaurant group. Last summer, she and her business partners, Chef Brian Landry and Octavio Mantilla, revitalized three historic restaurants and created a new rooftop bar at Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans. Just months later, the team opened three new properties at the luxury hotel Thompson located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee.
After Chicago-based AJ Capital purchased Pontchartrain Hotel for $19.8 million in 2014, it approached Besh Restaurant Group to develop a F&B beverage program that would match the caliber of the renovated property. (Earlier this year, Travel + Leisure named Pontchartrain Hotel one of the “Best New Hotels in the World.”)
Originally built in 1927, the Garden District hotel was once the toast of the town, but it fell into a state of neglect, Whalen says. Through the years, the building has evolved from an apartment hotel to a conventional hotel to an assisted living facility, and back to a hotel.
“It felt like our duty. We consider ourselves stewards of the New Orleans cuisine and the culinary heritage of our city,” Whalen says. Like Besh Restaurant Group, Our House Hospitality is based in the Crescent City. “There is a huge hole in the market, and if you think about the lifestyle hotels—your Kimptons, your Aces, your Thompsons—they don’t want to be in the food and beverage business. They want to be in the rooms business.”
Our House Hospitality came into being because of an opportunity to focus solely on the dining elements, breathing life back into longtime favorites, the Caribbean Room and Bayou Bar. It also spruced up the Silver Whistle Café and turned the rooftop into a bar.
Arguably the crown jewel of Pontchartrain Hotel’s restaurant portfolio, the Caribbean Room has long played host to the most dapper diners—in true reverence to tradition, “jackets are required for gentlemen,” according to the restaurant’s website.
“We straddle that line of paying homage to the terrific past but also pushing forward,” Chef Landry says, adding that the team has brought back some of the classic dishes but in an updated way.
In years past, the Crabmeat Remick was folded into mayonnaise, baked in a ramekin, and topped with bacon crumbles. To create an upgraded, airier rendition, Landry makes an aioli, whips in egg whites, and uses a higher-quality bacon. Similarly, the Shrimp Saki eschews heavy frying for a light tempura batter, using shrimp fresh from the Gulf.
So far, guests have appreciated these updates, save for one.
“They could not handle the Mile High Pie being different,” Whalen says with a laugh. “Everybody has such strong connections to the ice cream desserts so we absolutely bowed to tradition and to the wishes of New Orleans.” The iconic dessert remains the same as it was decades before; the only difference now is that the ice cream is made in-house.
Pontchartrain Hotel’s Bayou Bar is also steeped in New Orleans history, claiming visits from such luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Truman Capote. The perfect complement to its fine-dining sister concept, Bayou Bar exudes a tavern-like atmosphere with dim lighting and no shortage of lacquered wood flourishes. It specializes in Cajun-style comfort food, and Chef Landry says the restaurant hangs its hat on the 1&1 Burger, made with bone marrow, bacon, and hickory sauce.
The burger is to Bayou Bar what the blueberry muffin is to Silver Whistle Café. But beyond its quintessential muffin, the café also serves up heartier items including a Breakfast Po Boy and Pontchartrain Benedict with Sriracha hollandaise. It’s also become a coffee pit stop for pedestrians, including locals.
As for building an entirely new concept, Our House Hospitality aimed high—literally to the very top. Throughout the hotel’s 90-year history, the rooftop penthouse has served as a private residence for some of NOLA’s wealthiest citizens. Now the space has transformed into a more egalitarian destination, welcoming guests and locals alike.
Part living room, part stylish speakeasy, and part creative hideaway, Hot Tin’s name and décor were inspired by Tennessee Williams, who lived in the hotel for a spell. Eleven stories high, the bar affords a 270-degree view reaching as far as Lake Pontchartrain to the French Quarter to the Mississippi River.
Hot Tin offers snacks, but the focus is squarely on the drinks. The most popular pick—and Instagram darling—is the Skyliner, a tickled pink concoction made with grapefruit, lime, Campari, habanero bitters, and honeysuckle vodka.
Whalen says Hot Tin draws young locals, guests in dinner jackets after a meal at the Caribbean Room, and tourists. “I’ve never seen a bar with such diversity across all spectrums, and I love it. Every bar aspires to be the kind of place that serves everyone,” she says.