Like in Paris or Las Vegas, it takes a lot for a fresh business in New Orleans to turn heads. The Big Easy has seen just about every kind of hotel, restaurant or boutique open its doors over the years, so just saying you’re new isn’t much news around here.
But when NOPSI Hotel, New Orleans began welcoming guests for the first time in July 2017, it captivated people. As the former headquarters of the city’s power and transportation company, New Orleans Public Service Inc., the building had history; it resonated with natives. And with hospitality mastermind Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Resorts at the helm, outsiders couldn’t help but take notice as well.
The old-school charm and new-age luxuriousness caught our eye, too, so we stopped by for a visit. These are the four things we can’t stop thinking about at NOPSI.
Erected in the 1920s, the nine-story building has character for days. Instead of glossing over this past, designers embraced as many nooks and crown-molded crannies as possible. The stone terrazzo floor you walk on in the lobby, for instance, is the original one from the early 20th century. Those chips in the floor were left like that on purpose.
Look up to the vaulted ceiling and you’ll spy decorative touches your great grandmother would have seen. Oh, and that counter you’re resting your arm on in the center of the lobby? Yes, it’s the exact same one that patrons once used for writing out their utility bill. Were it not for the child tapping away at the iPad on the couch, you’d swear it was 1928.
The Delorean ride only continues in the 293 rooms and suites. Fun light fixtures could have come from a Mad Men prop closet. The brown-and-navy color scheme feels vintage without being dated. In-room sitting areas have columns in the middle of them, not necessarily for an artistic statement but for sheer support of the old structure. Everything here either tells a story or appears that it should have something to say.
But be careful about drifting too far in the archives at NOPSI. The moment you start to feel nostalgic, you’ll spot a 50-inch flat-screen TV or peek at a glass-enclosed shower and immediately get pulled back into the present.
You’ll notice Undercurrent Bar & Patio early in your visit, seeing as how it sits just to the left of the understated check-in area. Bartenders decked out in dark vests and sleeve garters set a mood that’s only enhanced by the actual bar’s half-moon shape and illuminated shelves. Come after the Happiest Hour crowd (daily from 4 to 6 p.m.) has scattered, and it feels like a chill place Lead Belly would come to for a Sazerac after a set.
And then there’s Dryades Ballroom down the hall. One of the most distinct venues we’ve ever set foot in, the 4,000-square-foot space used to be a storage vault — and you could probably have guessed as much from looking at all of the bricks on the wall, the huge arched windows and the 24-foot-high crane still hanging in the sky. With the right lighting at dusk, wedding (or any kind of celebration, really) pictures in this industrial-chic space almost pop off the page.
But if it’s breathtaking scenery you’re longing to capture, you have to experience the rooftop Above the Grid bar. Providing stunning looks all around downtown NOLA, the terrace hot spot takes things even higher with a pool and a full-service bar.
Keeping with NOPSI’s theme of throwback thoughtfulness, Public Service, the hotel’s signature eatery, offers hardwood flooring, exposed brick walls, a brown-hued template and the general feel of a restaurant from an episode of Boardwalk Empire.
The open kitchen, which grabs the eye with hanging lights and stainless-steel details, isn’t stuck in an old frame of mind, though. The talented kitchen delivers a Gulf Coast-flavored menu (see: chef’s gumbo, blue crab dip, whole roasted gulf fish) that still casts a wide net for different palates. It won’t matter much if you’re from Slidell or Sicily, once you’ve tasted the crab gnocchi (paired with a gin- and chartreuse-splashed Green Envy cocktail), you’ll be in love.
If, for some reason, you’re still hungry, Public Service’s popular weekend brunch or the Undercurrent patio’s Friday crawfish boil are also worthy of a visit.
The Nearby Fun
As if you needed more excuses to imbibe, not a five-minute walk from NOPSI is New Orleans Drink Lab, where you’ll find the animated Daniel Victory teaching mixology classes that focus as much on Big Easy lore as the necessary ingredients in a Hurricane.
Just a few blocks in the other direction is the famed corner of Canal and Bourbon streets. As anyone remotely familiar with the city knows, that intersection is essentially the front door to the French Quarter.
But even when that bead-tossing scene grows tiresome, NOPSI is so centrally located to other attractions — the beloved National World War II Museum and can’t-miss Jonathan Ferrara Gallery are a breezy Uber ride from your room — that you’ll have plenty of other ways of putting together a trip for the history books.