“Few places capture the essence of New Orleans like the Napoleon House: A 200-year-old landmark that's as casual and unique as its French Quarter surroundings. The building's first occupant, Nicholas Girod, was mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815. He offered his residence to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile. Napoleon never made it, but the name stuck, and since then, the Napoleon House has become one of the most famous bars in America, a haunt for artists and writers throughout most of the 20th century” (napoleonhouse.com).
A great story, isn’t it? But Frommers debunks the story: “Folklore has it that the name of this place derives from a bit of wishful thinking: Around the time of Napoleon's death, a plot was hatched here to snatch the Little Corporal from his island exile and bring him to live in New Orleans. The third floor was added expressly for the purpose of providing him with a home. Alas, it probably isn't true: The building dates from a couple of years after Napoleon's death. But let's not let the truth get in the way of a good story, or a good hangout, which this is at any time of day, but particularly late at night, when it's dark enough to hatch your own secret plans” (frommers.com).
Personally, I prefer the legend, and I plan to believe what I want to believe.
We (Chuck and I) were seated in the courtyard with its ceiling fans, scraggly plants, peeling paint, and loads of New Orleans atmosphere. I sat down, looked around, and proclaimed: “I really love this place.” Sure it is old and looks like it hasn’t been painted since it was built. But the gentile shabbiness of Napoleon House is a reflection of the city. If you don’t “get” the Napoleon House, you just don’t get New Orleans. As you look around, you are transported back to circa 1850, when the courtyard would be populated by river boat gamblers, cotton brokers, the successors of the legendary pirate Jean Lafitte, and the wealthy sons of plantation owners knocking back a Pimm’s cup—or two or three—before heading off for a night of gambling or consorting with the ladies of Storyville.*
Both Dick and I, capturing the spirit of New Orleans, ordered the house specialty drink—the Pimm’s Cup. “Pimm's was first produced in 1823 by James Pimm…Pimm offered the tonic (a gin-based drink containing quinine and a secret mixture of herbs) as an aid to digestion, serving it in a small tankard known as a "No. 1 Cup", hence its subsequent name” (wikipedia.com). The Napoleon House’s recipe calls for filling a tall 12-ounce glass with ice, adding 1-1/4 oz. Pimm's #1 and 3 ounces of lemonade, then topping off with 7-Up and garnishing with cucumber.
Karen, Chuck, and I shared the whole muffuletta. I think that the Napoleon House serves the best muffuletta in New Orleans. Ham, Genoa salami, pastrami, Swiss and provolone cheeses, and their house-made olive salad are stacked on a split round loaf and then the whole is heated until the meats are warmed and the cheeses begin to melt. While the substitution of pastrami for mortadella isn’t traditional, it makes for a great sandwich. And their olive salad is the best that I have eaten.
Dick ordered the red beans and rice plate which came with a small salad and a French roll. Chuck and Karen both ordered sides of the same dish. I didn’t think to sample Chuck’s serving so can only report that all three pronounced their servings to be delicious.
My side of choice was the spicy rice jambalaya with chicken and sausage. I ordered this during our visit last February, and it was as delicious as I remembered. The Napoleon House—like most New Orleans restaurants—serves Creole-style jambalaya, which is reddened with tomato. Cajun jambalaya tends to be brown and lacks tomato.
I really love this place. We visited Napoleon House on our first ever visit to New Orleans and have eaten there at least once on every subsequent trip. It will always retain its 5.0 Addie status.
But the day isn’t finished. Time for dessert and where better to go than to another celebrated New Orleans spot—Café du Monde, “best known for its café au lait and its French-style beignets. In the New Orleans’ style, the coffee is blended with chicory…It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, except for Christmas Day and days when ‘the occasional hurricane passes too close to New Orleans’ and is patronized by both locals and visitors. Due to Hurricane Katrina, the shop closed at midnight on August 27, 2005. Although it suffered only minor damage, it remained closed for nearly two months (wikipedia.com).
When the weather cooperates—which it didn’t on this day—the canvas sides are rolled up and the main room is open to the air. Often there is a street musician or two set up on Decatur Street, and you have the added extra of entertain-ment with your café au lait and beignets.
And it was café au lait and beignets for the four of us. “The beignet is, for all practical purposes, a doughnut. However, the beignet is usually not as dense as a doughnut. Both are fried and the beignet is sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar. Beignet means "bump" in French…” (wisegeek.com). I just call them puffy pillows of powdered perfection.
What a great day we had. We toured beautiful houses and ate at two of our favorite New Orleans haunts. A real 5.0 Addie day.
*”Storyville was established July 6, 1897, in an attempt by the New Orleans City Council to control rampant prostitution in the city by limiting it to a 38-block area on the edge of the French Quarter. Mansions, saloons and low-cost ‘cribs’ lined the streets of Storyville, which New Orleanians nicknamed after the alderman who introduced the measure, Sidney Story.
“Storyville, bounded by Customhouse (Iberville), North Basin (North Saratoga), St. Louis and North Robertson streets, operated until Nov. 12, 1917. U.S. military officials convinced the city that Storyville was a bad influence for WWI troops stationed near New Orleans” (nola.com › Times-Picayune in 175 years).