A Genteel Escape in the Debaucherous City of New Orleans
All photos courtesy of Soniat House
Fathom assistant editor Berit Baugher spends a weekend at the city's historic Soniat House in New Orleans. And falls for its Southern charm. A Love Letter.
NEW ORLEANS – Different cities call for different hotel types. A weekend in Paris should be spent somewhere grand and over the top; a few days in New York should start and end at a cool boutique hotel. New Orleans calls for sleeping quarters with history, charm, and a wildly ornamental wrought iron balcony. For all the crass displays of debauchery on Bourbon Street, there’s an equal amount of elegance in this genteel Southern city.
Arriving at Soniat House is magical. Within seconds of pulling up on a humid, rainy Sunday, the giant front doors swing open revealing a leafy courtyard and an older gentleman in a white jacket and black bow tie. He ushers us through the entrance, down a stone carriageway, and into a small front office where we acquire a set of tarnished brass keys and an umbrella.
Our superior queen room is little and plain compared to what I saw online, but it didn’t take away from the experience. It’s the atmosphere and the well-appointed common spaces that make Soniat House truly special, and while some parts of the hotel are a little dated (like bathroom fixtures circa 1980), you won't find a more beautiful example of Creole-style architecture.
Soniat House is made up of three townhouses built by French sugar plantation owner Joseph Soniat Duffossat in the 19th century. His family used the French Quarter residence for entertaining — there's always been a strong history of partying in New Orleans. Many historical details have been preserved with great care, like the wrought-iron balconies, gilded mirrors, and old-fashioned locks on the heavy front doors.
The hotel sits on a quiet street in the lower French Quarter, flanked by an Old Ursuline Convent and Beauregard Keyes House and Garden, both now museums. Not knowing the city, I was worried when booking that we might be too far from the action, but the French Quarter is small and one of Soniat House’s best assets is its location. Restaurants like Sylvain and Felix’s are less than a ten-minute walk, and Café du Monde — a tourist trap that I fully plan on revisiting — is a mere six minutes on foot. The jazz clubs of Frenchman Street are a few blocks east, putting us in the center of several of the city’s best restaurants and late-night music venues.
It’s hard to pick just one aspect of the hotel that I like most, so I’ll pick two: breakfast and nightly drinks. Breakfast is simple but worth the wait, especially on the cold and rainy days we endure while on vacation. Piping hot and baked to order, plates of buttermilk biscuits are brought to our room on a polished silver tray, along with homemade strawberry preserves, chicory coffee, and fresh-pressed orange juice. We begin our evenings at a small table in the incredibly lush courtyard with a self-mixed cocktail from the honor bar (you can also request a bottle of wine from their cellar). Once the cocktails hit, we make our way beyond the heavy front doors.
One last thing worth mentioning: The hotel's water pressure is impressive. Maybe even strong enough to wash away the late-night antics of a night out in New Orleans.
HAVE A LOOK AROUND
Soniat House Slideshow
Video tour with proprietor Rodney Smith
1133 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA
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