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01/10/24: The Good Times Roll Again in New Orleans

A revived cultural landmark rises again, and the latest wellness escapes from incredible hotels.

January 10, 2024 By MAURA EGAN
The Dew Drop Inn. Photo: Courtesy Dew Drop Inn

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Developer Curtis Doucette. Photo: Rush Jagoe

The Good Times Roll Again in New Orleans
There have been a handful of stylish hotels that have opened in historical buildings in New Orleans over the last few years: The Chloe (in a 19th-century mansion); Peter and Paul (in a former Catholic church and rectory); and Saint Vincent’s (in a former orphanage). However, the newest addition, the 17-room Dew Drop Inn in the Central City neighborhood which opens its doors this month, is perhaps the most significant.

Founded in 1939 by Frank Painia, the Dew Drop Inn started as a barbershop and eventually evolved into a restaurant, nightclub, and hotel. The nightclub welcomed local and touring Black musicians playing elsewhere who came for late-night jam sessions. It was a popular spot on the Chitlin Circuit, the network of African American performance venues, and attracted big names like Ray Charles, James Brown, and Little Richard, who first came up with “Tutti Frutti” on the piano here. (Richard would immortalize the club in 1972 when he wrote the song “Dew Drop Inn.”)

The le bon temps roule ethos lured both Black and white residents (in a time when the city was very much segregated), as well as performers like Patsy Valdalia, a female impersonator and performer known as the “Toast of New Orleans,” who performed here for two decades. In 1972, the Dew Drop Inn closed down with the death of Painia and fell into disrepair. Recently Curtis Doucette, a local real estate developer who has refurbished a collection of old buildings in the city, has carefully restored the historic 1950s facade and midcentury modern design. We asked Doucette about his favorite spots in this beloved city. —Maura Egan

What is your favorite place to hear music? Is there a musician you love to see around town?
Some of my best experiences have been in someone’s living room or out front on someone’s porch, not necessarily a club or lounge. I love to see drummers play. I’m a big fan of Herlin Riley, and I’ve seen him play at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro. There are lots of good music venues in the city but some of the best moments are simply in a neighborhood, seemingly random moments on a porch or the back of a truck where musicians will spontaneously play.

What’s a great local place to eat?
I like Carmo. Most days I just have a simple plate of red beans and rice. There’s a Brazilian seafood stew that I really love but it’s only available as an occasional special. For some reason, the flavors in that dish remind me of my grandmother’s creole cooking.

Late-night bar?
I’m rarely out very late, but I do enjoy the atmosphere at The Elysian Bar. I’m a fan of the ambiance. The bar is a part of Hotel Peter and Paul, which is an adaptive reuse of a church, school, and convent. It’s beautifully restored. The bar has good drinks and a chill vibe.

A perfect day in NOLA?
On a perfect day, I’d start my morning with a bike ride down the Greenway to my gym, have breakfast at Lamara Coffee & Kitchen or I-tal Garden after a workout, and stop at the bayou on my ride home. I have a weakness for donuts, so I might stop at Buttermilk Drop if I’m feeling less disciplined, but I would need a nap after. I’d start the evening with dinner at a place like Addis NOLA and end the night with a show at Snug Harbor, or I’d just go to Bacchanal for dinner, a great bottle of wine, and a music show all in one.

A building you’d like to restore or wish you had restored?
The Eagle Saloon or Sara Mayo Hospital, where I was born.

The most underrated activity or place to visit in the city?
I think it’s hard to find an underrated place in New Orleans because we really appreciate our culture here. If it’s good, the secret won’t last long, but if I had to choose a spot, I’d say the New Orleans African American Museum in Tremé, which is the oldest African American neighborhood in the country. The museum is a hidden gem and they’ve been putting on some really interesting shows including a recent one on James Baldwin.

Best festival that’s not Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras?
Does St. Joseph’s Night count? It’s when Mardi Gras Indians come out at night rather than during the day on March 19th. That would be my pick!

Where do you go to escape nearby in Louisiana?
Usually, I get away outside of Louisiana altogether, but I’d like to experience Lafayette a little more. I think it’s the only city in the state that can rival New Orleans culturally.

Shou Sugi Ban House. Photo: Fredrika Stjarne

What’s Well and Good in 2024
While January typically means we should be fully rested from the holidays by now, we thought some of you might already be heading for the exits. If so, the following wellness escapes might be for you.

Auberge Resorts
Sanctum, the new cult fitness program from Europe, will make its American debut at several Auberge properties including the Mayflower Hotel in Connecticut (June 21–23) and Madeleine Telluride (Sept. 6–8). The program, which is made up of a mix of kundalini yoga, HIIT, hiking, ancient chanting, is all done while wearing headphones.

Shou Sugi Ban House
Noah Galloway, a Purple Heart–awarded, double-amputee veteran hosts “Living with No Excuses” seminar at this Japanese-inspired Zen retreat in the Hamptons. At this four-day workshop, guests will listen to Galloway speak of recovering from trauma as well as complete his circuit-style training workout.

Six Senses Ibiza
Anna Bjurstam, the Swedish wellness pioneer heads up this Spanish spa, and knows how to explain the science behind even the most woo-woo of workshops. In early April, the resort hosts “Brain Health With Dr. Hanna Poikonen,” helping to improve mental health through meditation and movement.

Four Seasons Maldives
AyurMa at Four Seasons recently launched a diagnostic blueprint for ageless well-being called PraMā, “correct knowledge.” Guests are given a comprehensive screening with biomarkers, pulse readings, gut metabolism, postural evaluations, joint mobility, sleep patterns, and iris diagnosis to evaluate their total health.

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