Whenever visiting New Orleans, our first order of business is to head to the corner of Rues St. Louis & Chartres in the French Quarter, and step inside the delightful, over two hundred year old Napoleon House.
One of our most beloved bars, Napoleon’s is the most magical place in the ever enchanting Vieux Carré. A dark, wood panelled bar leads into a lush, secluded courtyard of fountains, palm trees, and wooden staircases to the rooms above. What you won’t find are flat screen TVs or any other trappings of the modern bar. Instead you’ll hear solely opera and classical music, and find walls covered with portraits and likenesses of the Petit Caporal who lends his name to the place.
But the name ‘Napoleon’s’ is not just in honour of the former Emperor of France, but has a far more spectacular history behind it. For this charming, crumbling building in the French Quarter was once destined to be the actual home of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Built in 1797 as home for the then mayor of New Orleans, Nicholas Giroud, a daring plot was formed in the opulent rooms above Chartres Street, to sail to St. Helena where Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned in exile, rescue him, and deliver him to New Orleans. Local legend has it that the rescue mission, captained by pirate Jean Lafitte, was a just few days sail out of New Orleans when word was hurriedly sent to them that Napoleon had died.
Napoleon Bonaparte may never have had the opportunity to visit New Orleans and walk its beguiling cobbled streets, still today lit by gas lamps, but his Old World presence looms large in the bar named after him.
“I remember the first time I ever went there, enjoying a passing thunder storm over a bottle of wine and a fruit-and-cheese board” recalls Philip Greene, writer, historian and descendant of A. Peychaud, the pharmacist who’s aromatic bitters would become the cornerstone of another French Quarter institution, the Sazerac cocktail. “I fell for the quality of light, the mood and decor that somehow reminded you of both Europe and the Tropics at the same time.”
Step out of the bright Louisiana sunshine and let your eyes adjust to the dark wood confines of the bar, to a place suspended in time for over two centuries, where you can still hear Beethoven’s Eroica, which he composed for Napoleon, and unwind amidst the elegant decadence of the most magical city in America.
What You’re Having:
The house speciality is the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, an English summer tradition, but perfectly in tune with the Old European charm of the place. The mufaletta sandwich has no par, and speaks to the Italian heritage of the Impastato family who owned Napoleon’s for over a hundred years.
500, Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. https://www.napoleonhouse.com/