Jun 4, 2015

A commoner drinks at Napoleon House, New Orleans

If I had to name one place on my regular rotation of French Quarter hangouts I wished I frequented more often, it would have to be the Napoleon House.  After all, Napoleon House has everything you look for in a classic New Orleans drinking and/or dining experience.  It just happens to be on a quieter section (at least to me) of Chartres Street slightly shielded from tourists who aren’t as “in the know” as they should be.

Fortunately, I remembered to introduce The April to the Napoleon House on our most recent visit to the Big Easy.  As it turns out, it was one of her favorite stops of the entire trip.  

Doesn't she look happy?

The first clue as to why The April loved this place so much, and one reason why the Napoleon House captures the essence of New Orleans so well (as its website rightfully proclaims) lies with the drink she’s enjoying in the above picture.  It’s a Pimm’s Cup, and it’s Napoleon House’s signature drink. 

In a city where there are many bars famous for a particular cocktail, Napoleon House has perfected the Pimm’s Cup.  They didn’t invent it (the drink itself can be traced back to 1840s England), but for some reason they do it better than any other one I’ve tried.  And like many of those other signature drinks in New Orleans, you can get one elsewhere, but after you taste this one, you’ll probably disappointed with the rest. 

Plus, what other drink do you know calls for a cucumber garnish?  You simply have to try a Pimm’s Cup, and you have to do it here. 

Another reason you’ll want to have at least one Pimm’s Cup here is to appreciate the history of the Napoleon House.  The place is aptly named because this is where Napoleon Bonaparte probably would have lived if he had chosen exile in America.  Yes, the building is that old.  And the interior doesn’t appear to have changed much over the past 200 years, except for the numerous portraits, photos and framed newspaper clippings that recount the stories of the Napoleon House that continue to be written.  For instance, if you’ve seen the movie “JFK” you may recall a scene where Kevin Costner drank here.     

You can also probably tell from the above photo that as many people come to Napoleon House to eat as they do to drink.  The menu offers your standard New Orleans fare along with several Italian-inspired specialties.  But many reportedly eat at the Napoleon House for their variation of the classic muffuletta.  They served their version heated, and if the reviews are any indication, it gives Central Grocery a run for the title of best in town.    

Picture postcard al fresco dining at Napoleon House
Napoleon House also has a nice courtyard for outdoor dining, if you prefer (and honestly, why wouldn’t you choose this option if available?).  I stumbled through here searching for bathroom facilities and instantly put dining here on my next New Orleans “to do” list. 

Lenny helped make our visit to Napoleon House memorable and very enjoyable.  
Of course, the best people to discuss the history of the Napoleon House with, or what’s best on the dinner menu, or good cocktails to try besides a Pimm’s Cup, or anything else for that matter, are the bartenders.   A knowledgeable and personable bartender is a prerequisite for any great bar, and on this day we were fortunate to be served by Lenny. 

When Lenny talked about Napoleon House, he clearly spoke with pride about the place he’s worked at since the day Hurricane Betsy struck New Orleans in 1965.  That’s a full career, and that’s a testament to the loyalty I sensed from Lenny and many other long-time employees for the Impastato family who owned the Napoleon House for a century before it was recently sold to Ralph Brennan to become a part of his restaurant legacy.     

Fortunately, it appears early on at least that the Brennans are going to adopt the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t’ fix it” regarding Napoleon House’s operations moving forward.  I hope that remains the case for Lenny, the other employees there and everyone who frequents Napoleon House for a true New Orleans drinking and dining experience.  I can’t wait to go back.

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