New Orleans Boutique Hotel

Soniat House
1133 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
504-522-0570
1-800-544-8808
History:  Indigenous groups called the Mississippians, Choctaws and Natchez occupied this land five to ten thousand years before Europeans, who entered the scene in 1682, when the French explorer, La Salle established a colony called La Louisiane- named after the Sun King- Louis the XIV.  A French naval officer, Jean Batiste Bienville, founded New Orleans in 1718.  By 1762, the Spanish took over and here follows four decades of Spanish influence on the area. - walled courtyards, separate kitchens and servants’ quarters, iron balconies and olive oil cooking. The French got the area back in around 1802, but Napoleon, desperate for money to pay for war, sold it to Thomas Jefferson in 1803 in a shrewd business deal known as the Louisiana Purchase. The US wanted it because the Mississippi River was an important transportation thoroughfare and major port.   In 1815, Andrew Jackson fought and won the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, hence the large statue in Jackson Square to commemorate this historic event.
 
Joseph Soniat du Fossat built the Soniat House, originally part of a French Ursaline Convent, which was sold to him at auction in 1825. The family kept it until 1865, when Soniat’s widow sold it.  With many families owning it through the years, it became dilapidated and by 1945 was in a state of disrepair. Bought by the Felton family, it was slowly restored to its former grandeur.  Rodney and Frances Smith, the present owners, bought it in 1982, and set about the modernization and restoration of the property that visitors enjoy today.
 
Accommodations:  Featured in the book, "1000 Places to See Before You Die," Soniat House is a quintessential slice of Europe that transports the visitor to a more gentile time and place.  It is tucked away in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans, steps away from everything yet far away from everything at the same time. Even though the French Quarter is bustling around you, your bedroom is quiet and peaceful.   It is a private enclave with lush courtyards where guests can linger over a glass of wine or a casual meal.  White-jacketed attendants who are accommodating and cordial serve in the rooms or in the courtyards meals and refreshments. It is refinement personified.
 
Each of the 31 rooms in the French/Spanish style townhouse hotel is unique in character and decorated with tasteful furniture and treatments. Some are like little apartments, while others are cozy rooms.   The beautiful art on the walls is on loan from the Louisiana Art Museum.  Staying here is like being a guest in the home of a count or viscount.   It is pure magic.  
 
If the walls could talk, they would tell about all the famous personalities who have entered and stayed here in the past; Hollywood A-listers love this place for its location to all things New Orleans as well as the privacy it affords, which is why I am not allowed to mention the names of the movie and entertainment personalities who have bunked here.  Soniat House prides itself on protecting all who dwell here.  Suffice it to say that it remains a favorite recommendation by the CAA-Creative Actors Agency, a top talent agency for major movie stars.  It is also around the corner from the former apartment of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  Enough said.
 
Soniat House has been written about in Architectural Digest, Travel and Leisure, Southern Living, Vogue, Conde Nast Traveler and even some European publications. In other words, toute le monde knows about this boutique hotel. In addition, it is on the 2016 Conde Nast Gold List of the Best Hotels in the World.
 
What to do in NOLA:
 
There is an endless list of activities and attractions in New Orleans and because you are staying at the Soniat House, almost everything you would want to do is merely steps away.  New Orleans is a great walking city and I suggest walking it to see it, so you can enjoy the bombardment of sights, sounds and smells it has.  And, you can probably get to your destination faster with your own two feet than you can in taxi due to traffic snarls and a lot of one way streets.
 
Jackson Square:  This is the heartbeat of the French Quarter replete with musicians performing at all hours, artists and merchants selling their wares all around the square and even palm readers predicting your future. It is located in front of the Saint Louis Cathedral, named after a famous King of France.  Tours of the Roman Catholic Church are popular and often crowded.  Jackson Square is also famous for the myriad of festivals that occur all year round.
 
Tours: There are so many tours you can take in and around New Orleans you will never be bored. I would suggest going to the web site www.neworleanscvb.com for a complete list of tours, activities and sites that may be of interest to you.  Then you can plan your day.  I took walking tours since that is the best way to see the city.  I accessed a site called, www.freetoursbyfoot.com/new-orleans-tours/, which gives you a myriad of choices of tours by foot and several times to take them.  I took three tours by foot on my first day there, and they gave me a broad brushstroke of the sites and sounds of the city.  
 
We (my husband and I)  took the Garden District Tour first, which is a tour of some beautiful and opulent antebellum mansions situated on or near St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street.  This was the only tour that required the use of public transportation (we took an open trolley-fun and only a dollar) to get there because it wasn't near our French Quarter residence, but it was well worth it. Our well-informed guide walked us through magnificent neighborhoods where lavish houses sat on perfect lawns surrounded by sumptuous bushes and trees. Each house had a veranda where one could just imagine the family sitting and enjoying a mint julep on a hot summer night.  We passed houses owned by Sandra Bullock, Anne Rice (she has several) Nicolas Cage and Archie Manning to name a few. Tours also visit cemeteries and go over burying practices common in the area.  It is a history/architectural/ tour that should not be missed.
 
Our next walking tour was of the French Quarter and covered a lot of the area, but if I did it again, I would do the self-guided walking tour with a map provided by www.neworleanscvb/tours.  You can do it at your own pace and stop where you want.  It is pretty comprehensive and provides a lot of history of the buildings and sites you are passing.
 
Our last tour of the day was a scandalous cocktail tour; a tour if you are going to drink some of the libations offered, is best done on foot for sure.   In each place we stopped, we sampled, if we chose, the specialty drink of each establishment and there were some pretty interesting cocktails (Creole Bloody Mary, Hurricane (“pour me something tall and strong-make it a hurricane before I go insane”- Jimmy Buffett) and Absinthe Frappe were memorable. I would highly recommend this tour. The to-go cups allow you to take your unfinished drink into the streets to sip at your leisure.
 
Also offered are the following: culinary tours, cemetery tours, voodoo tours, history tours, plantation tours, Katrina devastation tours, ghost tours, gumbo tours, music tours...the list goes on.  It is an entertaining and educational way to see the city.  There are also bus tours, trolley tours and river excursions to be had in the Crescent City as well.
 
Culinary School: Another attraction not to be missed is learning to cook in one of several culinary schools. One can either actively participate in the cooking process (pricey) or reserve a space to watch a master chef cook some classic New Orleans dishes.  Great activity!!
 
Ride a Paddleboat:  Yes, you can become Huckleberry Finn for a few hours by taking a ride on a riverboat on the Mississippi.  Kids especially like this one.
 
Art Galleries:  If you like art, there are many art galleries lining the streets, especially in the French Quarter featuring original artwork by talented artists.
My favorite artist was Peter O’Neill Gallery on Royal Street. His paintings are awesome. 
 
Museums:  The Louisiana Museum of Art is one not to miss.  Another favorite of visitors is the World War II Museum. People who have visited sing its praises for the full story of World War II from beginning to end.  There are lots of interesting videos and artifacts.
 
Eating Out:
 
Foods of New Orleans: (In alphabetical order)
 
Ø Beignets: a scrumptious pastry topped with powdered sugar.
Ø Catfish: A fresh water fish best served with Cajun seasoning. Mmmm
Ø Crawfish Etouffee: A savory Cajun main dish served over rice.
Ø Gumbo: a delicious soup like stew that can contain all or some of the following: seafood, chicken, sausage or okra.
Ø Jambalaya: Mixture of many things with rice as main ingredient.  Tasty.
Ø Muffulettas:  a classic New Orleans sandwich.
Ø Poboys:  a submarine sandwich traditional to Louisiana- usually has roast beef or fried seafood and served on a baguette.
Ø Red Beans and Rice: - just what it says- red beans and rice served in a savory sauce.
 
Restaurants: There are so many excellent restaurants in the Big Easy, it would be hard to name them all, but here are my favorites:
 
Café Du Monde: for beignets and chicory coffee- you can’t eat just one.
 
Mothers:  for the best crawfish etouffee I ever tasted.
 
K Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen- small raucous restaurant with good food.
 
Café Amelie- best catfish I ever tasted- lovely courtyard for al fresco dining.
 
Café Degas: great atmosphere, good food
 
New Orleans School of Cooking- Cook and eat your own Louisiana special dish.
 
Commander’s Palace:  famous upscale restaurant in Garden district. Famous chef graduates are Paul Prudhomme and Emeril LaGasse. 
 
Entertainment: 
If you visit New Orleans and you don’t go out at night to hear the music, you are missing the essence of what this town is all about.  Of course, you can hear music all day long on just about every street corner, but to me, there is nothing like going to a club, sitting up close to the musicians and listening to live performances.
 
Frenchman Street:  You can easily walk the few blocks to this musical paradise from the Soniat Hotel. There is always a band or two on the corner playing to a massive and appreciative crowd.  Live music can be heard oozing out of club after club on this street.  Just go in, order a drink and listen to the music.  You will have a great time and hear some great sounds. 
 
Other gathering places for music are, The Spotted Cat, One-Eyed Jack’s, Carrollton Station, Maple Leaf Bar and House of Blues.
 
Another nostalgic favorite for the past 55 years is the Preservation Hall band performances.  There are three shows nightly and special performances on certain times of the year. Musicians who play here are usually old timers who want to “preserve the music of New Orleans” This venue is quintessential New Orleans.  This is a place that shouldn’t be missed if you visit the Big Easy.
 
Pat Obrien’s Bar:  We were introduced to this bar when we took our scandalous Cocktail tour earlier in the day, so we went back for the entertainment.  We ordered a Hurricane - the specialty drink of the house, and squeezed into the vast darkness of a packed house to hear the music.  Pat O’Brien’s has two massive baby grand pianos situated back to back with a mirror on the wall so you can see the piano keys.  On the night we were there, two women were at the pianos.  They would receive suggestions from audience on what to play, locate the music on their computers, and then sing the requested song.  IT WAS FABULOUS!!  Don’t miss this place.  You will love it.
 
Shopping:  New Orleans has every conceivable type of shop you can imagine.  It has all your basic chain stores everywhere, so if that is your pleasure, you will be sure to find it.  There are also great stores on Magazine Street in the garden district that are more boutique and unique. There is no shortage of shopping opportunities in this town, for sure.  For a unique experience, I suggest heading over to the open-air flea market called the French Market, located on the Mississippi River behind Jackson Square. It is reminiscent of the outdoor European markets and has everything- local produce, specialty art, handmade crafts, retail shopping and delicious food.  It is humming with activity and should definitely be on your list of things to do in New Orleans.
 
When to Go:  Of course, some people feel the best time to go is during Mardi Gras when the city is crowded and electric and if this is on your bucket list, you must go then.  There are others who go during the many music and/or art festivals given in the city, and that too is a good time to go.  I went in early May when spring had burst onto every growing thing in sight and when the weather was temperate- not too hot and not too cold- (Goldilocks would like it) this was perfect to take in all the sights and sounds of NOLA.  Personally, anytime you go to this vibrant destination is the right time to go.
 
Getting There:  Fly into the Louis Armstrong International airport and then take a taxi to the Soniat Hotel.  It takes about 25 minutes from the airport.
 
What I Think:  New Orleans is like being in Europe but better because the visitor gets the feel of Europe in the architecture, culture, food, and art and in addition, you get the music. The music is the real crown jewel of this town in my opinion, because the music is a combination of all the different cultures that have passed through here at one time or another and listening to it everywhere you wander is transformative.  Staying at the Soniat House in the French Quarter gives you an elegant, one-of-a-kind central location in the heartbeat of New Orleans- a vantage point that is both exciting and calming at the same time. If you want the best of everything NOLA has to offer, Soniat House is the perfect choice.