Belle Epoque Absinthe Lounge (240 Bourbon St.) opens Oct. 17 behind the Old Absinthe House bar, in the space that housed Tony Moran’s Restaurant until 2016.
The building on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets has been a home to nightlife spots since the mid-nineteenth century, changing hands multiple times through Prohibition.
Rue Bourbon Hospitality, led by Jober’t Salem and General Manager Mourad Habli, owns and operates the Old Absinthe House as well as adjacent event spaces and nearby daiquiri shops. Belle Epoque is their latest venture and will offer a more refined atmosphere than many of its Bourbon Street neighbors.
To create the cocktail lounge, Salem tapped Laura Bellucci to serve as bar director. She honed her skills leading the bar program at SoBou and also worked at Apolline and Booty’s Street Food. Chef Hayley Vanvleet, the opening chef of Curio, will run the kitchen.
The bar occupies part of a building that reportedly dates to 1806. During extensive renovations, the crew found treasures like a guest ledger filled with signatures dating to the late 1800s.
Designer Sylvia Thompson-Dias, who specializes in historic buildings and preservation, created Belle Époque’s muted, elegant aesthetic. Touches include a staircase painted to evoke wormwood, a key ingredient of absinthe.
Belle Epoque has an antique bar and absinthe fountains – all original to the Old Absinthe House site, though they changed locations and owners more than once. A bill of sale dates the fountains to at least 1863.
“The fountains were cobwebbed, calcified and filled with spray foam,” Bellucci says. “People had tried to restore them, but they hadn’t brought in historical preservationists.” The team reached out to the Monumental Task Committee of New Orleans and Oak and Laurel Preservation to restore the fountains.
In traditional Parisian absinthe service, water was dripped from the fountain over a sugar cube into the absinthe, creating a cloudy effect known as “louche.”
Absinthe, nicknamed the “green fairy,” is a potent liquor with hints of anise and fennel that was banned in the U.S. in 1912 following its ban in many European countries. The spirit was legalized in 2007, and it and became popular with cocktail enthusiasts.
Bartender Cayetano Ferrer created the absinthe frappe cocktail at the Old Absinthe House.
Belle Époque has a full bar and the beverage menu is built around absinthe, with various brands and a cocktail menu.
“We are making a synthesis of the archaic and mysterious drink, bringing back that appreciation but also bringing in modern and whimsical stuff,” Bellucci says.
Vanvleet has crafted a menu of creative French-inspired dishes such as foie gras-stuffed chicken lollipops with truffle aioli; Mississippi Gulf Coast oysters with absinthe mignonette and choupique caviar; Parisian gnocchi with crab, sweet potato, chilis, mead and herbs’ and grilled lamb loin chops with creamy jalapeno grits, shaved raw vegetable salad and lemon-caper sauce. Dishes range from $12 to $20, with a late-night happy hour geared toward service industry workers featuring plates from $6 to $8.
Belle Époque will be open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, with dinner service until midnight and late-night happy hour until 2 a.m. It will be open 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday. — REBECCA FRIEDMAN