The revival of the once-acclaimed Caribbean Room is coming to an end, while the restaurant slated to replace it marks a new start for a pair of seasoned New Orleans culinary pros breaking out on their own.
The modern Caribbean Room opened in 2016 inside the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, bringing back a storied name from the city’s dining past. But it will close on March 15, a few months shy of its second year in business.
Developed by chef John Besh, this modern Caribbean Room was taken over late in 2017 by QED Hospitality, the company formed by two former top managers from the now-beleaguered celebrity chef’s company.
QED Hospitality will develop a new restaurant in the hotel called Jack Rose. This will be a more casual restaurant with a menu of contemporary Creole flavors.
Jack Rose is slated to open in April following a round of renovations.
Brian Landry, chef and co-owner of QED Hospitality, said the change comes down to a matter of matching the pulse of the other restaurants and bars his company runs inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. That includes the Bayou Bar, the Silver Whistle café and the rooftop bar Hot Tin, which will all continue with business as usual while the hotel’s marquee restaurant changes.
“These places have been embraced and are really flourishing, we love the energy we’ve captured here,” Landry said. “We want to extend that to the restaurant. We think this will connect that energy to the whole property.”
While the renewed Caribbean Room reached into the long history of the restaurant for inspiration, Jack Rose will take cues from what has more lately emerged across the Pontchartrain Hotel.
Since its debut in 2016, the lounge leading into the Caribbean Room, dubbed the Living Room, quickly developed into a focal point, with its vintage/modern style and a wall of paintings, centered around an Ashley Longshore portrait of rapper Lil Wayne. That room will remain the same, and when Jack Rose opens a similar design will extend from the lounge through the restaurant’s dining rooms.
The change marks the first major move from QED Hospitality, which was created by Landry and Emery Whalen, the company’s CEO and co-owner.
Landry and Whalen had led Besh’s hotel restaurant division, which developed the venues in the Pontchartrain Hotel and in the related Thompson Nashville hotel in Tennessee. They left Besh’s company late in 2017 to form QED Hospitality, which took over restaurant operations at these two hotels.
Selling off this hotel division was one of the biggest changes for the Besh group since allegations of sexual harassment against Besh and his company were raised in a newspaper investigation last fall. Besh himself quickly stepped down from direct management of his company.
Long memory, modern taste
The first Caribbean Room had closed in 1994, and its return in 2016 was part of the larger resurrection of the Pontchartrain Hotel by Chicago-based AJ Capital Partners. Cooper Manning, a member of New Orleans’ first family of football, is an executive with AJ Capital Partners and had a prominent role in the project.
The hotel was built in 1927 and eventually drew a well-heeled clientele that included visiting movie stars, famous writers and American presidents. New Orleans society figures used this stately high-rise on the edge of the Garden District as their retirement residence.
The Caribbean Room opened in the hotel in 1948 and eventually developed into a leading New Orleans restaurant. Writing in 1970, the restaurant critic Richard Collin called it “one of the distinguished restaurants of New Orleans,” with a menu that offered “some of the most imaginative versions of the rich Creole cuisine.”
While the return of the Caribbean Room was cheered in a city with a long memory for great restaurants, it also posed the question of just how a revered name would fare in the city’s fast-changing modern dining scene.
It had to toe a fine line, needing to satisfying those who came with memories of the old place while also meeting the expectations that modern diners and travelers brought to the table.
Much of its menu would be at home in contemporary restaurants. But the new Caribbean Room’s formal service, jackets-required dress code and carpeted, linen-and-silver furnishings call harked back to an earlier era.
Bubbles and Mile High Pie
Whalen said QED's goal is to infuse more “joie de vivre” into the restaurant, and tap into what had made the hotel’s other venues into hot spots.
The kitchen at Jack Rose will be led by David Whitmore, formerly chef de cuisine of Borgne restaurant where he worked directly with Landry for years. Chris Lusk, who was executive chef at the Caribbean Room from its launch, is not part of the new restaurant, Landry said. Other staff will remain in place for Jack Rose, including Erin Swanson, the executive sous chef of the Caribbean Room who oversees its dessert program.
While the Jack Rose menu is under development, Landry indicated at least one dish from the old Caribbean Room would stick around – the layered ice cream extravaganza known to generations in the city as Mile High Pie.
“We believe this new concept celebrating Creole cuisine through a modern, yet playful, lens will allow us to play the music a little louder and cook with a little more edge,” Landry said. “We are excited to breathe new life into this space, and create a fun atmosphere. No jackets required, but we will still have plenty of Mile High Pie to go around.”
The new restaurant’s cocktail program will be guided by the staff from the Hot Tin bar. Its wine list will specialize in sparkling wines.
The name Jack Rose comes with a few references. It harks back to the Jack Rose cocktail of 1920s vintage, a drink made with applejack. It also refers to a character in Tennessee Williams’ play “The Rose Tattoo.” Williams stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel in its original heyday, and his play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” of course inspired the name for the modern hotel’s rooftop bar.
The Caribbean Room (slated to close March 15, 2018)
Jack Rose (opening April 2018)
2031 St. Charles Ave., 504-323-1500
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