Since 1840, Antoine’s Restaurant has been serving French-Creole cuisine in the French Quarter. Established by Antoine Alciatore, who at the time was barely 20 years old, the restaurant has remained in the family ever since, making it not only the oldest restaurant in New Orleans but also the oldest family-run restaurant in the United States.
During the evolution of its French-Creole menu (described as “haute creole” by the current owner), Antoine’s has become famous as the birthplace of some classic New Orleans dishes. Jules Alciatore, Antoine’s son, invented both Oysters Rockefeller and Pompano en Papillote (a filet of pompano fish baked in sealed parchment paper with a white sauce of wine, shrimp, and crabmeat), among other dishes.
Beyond the food, Antoine’s is also a living museum of sorts, a place that drips with history in each of its 15 dining rooms. Just beyond the original dining room is the Large Annex, the first room added to the restaurant (it was originally a stable block). The elegant space’s walls are photos and pictures of the numerous notable guests who have dined at Antoine’s, including George Patton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, and Bill Clinton.
The 1840 Room, meanwhile, is designed in the style of a wealthy 19th-century home, with walls covered with family portraits and memorabilia (it also contains an original Edison light bulb). The intimate Escargot Room is used by the Societe des Escargots, an exclusive gourmet club that meets at Antoine’s each month, while the small Tabasco Room is painted in the same fiery red as the famous Louisiana hot sauce.
Three other rooms—the Proteus Room, Rex Room, and 12th Night Revelers’ Room—are named in honor of historic New Orleans Mardi Gras krewes, and contain memorabilia from the history of the celebration. The bar at Antoine’s, Hermes Bar, is named after the Hermes krewe.
A highlight for history buffs is the Mystery Room. Back in Prohibition days, this room was used by guests who enjoyed a few clandestine drinks. Back then, patrons accessed the room through a door in the ladies’ restroom and received their alcohol in a coffee cup. If anyone asked what they were drinking, the standard answer was “It’s a mystery to me,” hence the name of the room.
Finally, there’s the “wine alley,” capable of holding 25,000 bottles. Due to the risk of flooding, wine cellars aren’t always a good option in New Orleans, so Antoine’s created its 165-feet-long, 7-feet-wide, climate-controlled wine alley (which, if you happen to be passing by, can be seen through a small window on Royal Street).
While Antoine’s escaped the flooding that devastated much of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it did suffer some wind damage. The wine alley’s climate-control system failed, and many of the wines—some costing $18,000 a bottle—were destroyed. Slowly but surely, however, Antoine’s has been restocking its wine collection, although some bottles were impossible to replace.