Initially, I didn’t really want to stay in a fancy hotel, especially one in the French Quarter. I wanted to find a bright teal shotgun in the Bywater, or a crumbling creole cottage to rent like the one we stayed in last time. This super cool Victorian guesthouse, belonging to local artist Miranda Lake, was already booked. But if the Soniat was good enough for Brad and Angelina to camp out in for months at a time with family in tow, I reasoned, it would probably suffice. Egregious underestimation.
Tucked away on a quiet stretch of Chartres, in the residential fringes of the old French Quarter, the Soniat House feels reminiscent of how the French Quarter might have felt before the invasion of the tacky souvenir shop. The magnificent architecture, lacy wrought-iron balconies, and the formal elegance of a refined New Orleans neighborhood in the 1830s, when craft and impression were paramount, and hidden courtyards flowered behind gated Creole-influenced city homes built for entertaining. Originally built by the Soniat family, who had 13 children, the two homes (plus another, owned by a family member) are big and stately and gorgeous. Every last corner is outfitted with beautiful, sometimes worn, always tasteful antiques spanning influences and periods. And the courtyards are exquisite, people. We ate breakfast out there every morning, despite the unseasonably chilly spring temps–a crazy-delicious spread of homemade biscuits, butter, preserves, chicory coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. It was my favorite part of the day. And if I can blather on for one more second about something as prosaic as service: the people who work here make the place. Bill at the front desk and Calvin (in the photo below, he’s been there more than 30 years) became our buddies, and I found myself wandering into the lobby several times a day to chat and hear stories about local history and lore. For instance, Mrs. Soniat was said to be so beautiful, she only ever went in the courtyard with a bonnet to protect her porcelain-like skin. And then there’s the legend of the angry ghost in the house around the corner and the murderous former owner who caused it. I’ll let you hear that one for yourself.