Amid the rising tide of so many new projects in the CBD, the Catahoula Hotel is a small one that feels like it’s been here all along.
Built in a pair of 19th century townhouses trimmed with cast iron, a passing glimpse through the windows shows a living room-sized lobby, candle-lit tables, bartenders mixing drinks and, maybe, a hint of the courtyard in back.
But if the Catahoula Hotel can evoke old New Orleans, the flavors coming from the bar and the hotel’s tiny kitchen are much more modern. In particular, they’re inspired by Peru, an exemplar of global cuisine, with artful ceviche on the menu, pisco on the drink list and a contemporary feel across both.
The Catahoula is a 35-room boutique hotel from local developers Keely Williams and A.J. Brooks, and it’s been a work of restoration. The property had been crumbling, and indeed its entire block had been deserted for at least a decade before work started here in 2014. The long-abandoned NOPSI building stands across the street, and now that property too is being converted into a hotel.
As more redevelopment gets rolling around it, Williams and Brooks said they wanted their project to serve as a neighborhood amenity as well as lodgings. As such they designed the first floor to meld lobby with lounge and espresso bar with eatery. It’s all done at a small scale, with the bar taking up most of one room, tables arrayed in another and that courtyard flowing out to the converted carriageway that leads to guest rooms.
The Catahoula Hotel will also have an open-air tiki bar on its third floor roof, which should open later this spring and will be accessible to the public.
Tiki has been a calling card for the hotel’s food and beverage director, Nathan Dalton. He previously ran the bar at Felipe’s Taqueria, where he made tiki drinks and the Peruvian brandy pisco as much a bar staple as tequila.
Many of the specialty drinks at the Catahoula Hotel revolve around pisco too. There’s the classic pisco sour, of course, but also a singularly refreshing pisco and tonic with grapefruit ice cubes that progressively change the drink’s flavor as they melt.
That’s nothing, however, next a list of what Dalton calls “experience drinks,” or elaborate concoctions that are intended to be the center of attention while they last.
One example is mixed with “miracle fruit,” a berry with a temporary tongue-twisting effect that makes sour, acidic or bitter flavors taste sweet. Another, dubbed the “drunk tank” isn’t so much a beverage as a shared tasting platter of alcohol rendered in the form of slush, popsicles, gummy candy and cotton candy.
By comparison, the kitchen’s menu of Peruvian dishes plays it straight, but even traditional Peruvian cuisine can feel exotic, with a mix of Latin, Asian and native Andean influences.
The Catahoula Hotel keeps it casual (you order at the bar) and the menu is fairly short. It’s also distinctive, starting with quinoa salads, Peruvian-style ceviche and tiradito (a sort of crudo and dressed with special chile sauces), a few causas (or sculpted cylinders of whipped, golden potato with seafood or more vegetables) and sandwiches filled with chicharron or smoked pork sausages (or vegetarian alternatives).
Dana Honn, chef the nearby Carmo, is working as a consultant here with chef Billy Lacrosse, and from a galley kitchen the size of a walk-in closet they are producing some beautifully wrought, vividly flavorful plates.
These menus, those “experience drinks,” and the rooftop tiki bar to come make clear that the Catahoula Hotel is aiming for its own niche in downtown New Orleans. That it starts by bringing some historic buildings back to life and turning the lights on again on a long-neglected block makes it all the more welcome.
914 Union St., 504-603-2442; catahoulahotel.com
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (bar until midnight)
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.