Whatever happened to The Enraged Chicken? For that matter, what was The Enraged Chicken?
This might sound like the entree to a bad joke, but it isn’t. In the era when bands bore colorful names such as Strawberry Alarm Clock, there was a fabled cooking school and restaurant, at 1115 St. Mary St., called The Enraged Chicken. Although the enterprise lasted only four years, from 1976 to 1980, it may have been many New Orleanians' first introduction to the Lower Garden District.
On Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., fans will have the opportunity to return to the Chicken, which today has been stylishly renovated into shops on the ground level and the residence above of Ramiro Diaz, a Waggonner and Ball designer, and Andra Aitken, an architect and Wild Lotus yoga instructor.
The building and its rain garden will join about a half-dozen houses on the New Orleans Architecture Foundation’s inaugural Contemporary Home Tour, centered in the Irish Channel and Lower Garden District neighborhoods. Stop by tour headquarters (Modern Market, 1200 Annunciation St.) the day of the tour to pick up or buy a ticket ($15 to $30).
Diaz and Aitken met at what Diaz called his “Thanksgiving orphans’ dinner” a few years ago.
“Every year, I give a dinner for folks on Thanksgiving who don’t have any other place to go,” said Diaz. “I fry a turkey and last year about 40 people came. On this particular Thanksgiving, Andra showed up and that was the beginning of our story together.”
When Diaz and his San Francisco-based architect parents bought the building at 1113 St. Mary St. before Hurricane Katrina, the intent was to make the residential part on the second floor into Diaz’s “bachelor pad” with no doors and few walls. But after he and Aitken got together and begin collecting foster dogs — now totaling three — it was clear the couple needed more room than the 650 square feet available to them. When they learned the one-time home of The Enraged Chicken, next door at 1115 St. Mary St., was available, they did not hesitate.
At the ground level, the two townhouses are separated by a narrow alley, but they're joined on the second floor.
It took some ingenuity to open up the brick wall between the two sides because it was load-bearing, but it worked out, Diaz said.
That was not the only structural challenge Diaz and the design team faced en route to making the upstairs the stylish living that space tour-goers will encounter Sunday.
“This place was a mess when we got it. I’ve been told 1115 was a flop house. We found lots of small rooms with numbers on the doors, so we joke maybe it was a bordello,” Diaz said.
“The 1113 side had been gutted, so that there were no longer any rooms. Someone had cut a hole in the floor to get furniture up and down, and at the same time, they cut out sections of the floor joists that connected to the exterior wall, meaning the floor was ‘floating’ unsupported.”
Today, the upstairs roost is filled with light from tall slip-head windows and clever linear skylights — barely visible — that subtly distribute diffused light throughout. On the 1113 side, the kitchen, dining and living rooms share an enormous space at the top of the stairs (accessed from the garden at the rear of the building). There’s also a bath and flex room. The space is furnished with a stunning Heywood Wakefield wishbone dining table, a sofa and chairs, and a couple of low console cabinets, all in the mid-century style. A dramatic painting slides back and forth on a rail on one wall to conceal the television.
The opposite wall bears a mantel and the wall itself has colorful paint remnants of the buildings past lives (Diaz calls the paint color “bordello red”).
The kitchen is designed for cooking and entertaining. A 36-inch-wide steel counter in the island is home to the range, so that Diaz can cook and face the room. In a departure from the popular “waterfall” treatment where the countertop “falls” to the floor, this one climbs a bounding wall.
The master bedroom, (on the 1115 side, occupies the front room and benefits from light brought in by the tall windows. There’s also a loft room atop a cube-shaped structure that Diaz inserted into the volume. The insertion holds a second bath and storage. Both sides benefit from having a gallery outside where the residents and their guests can enjoy breezes off the river in the evening.
Thanks to the use of horizontal strips of maple as an accent on both sides of the building, the mood of the place remains light. Heart pine floors contrast subtly with the white, painted walls and the baths are handsomely tiled.
“We don’t know everything about the history of the building, although we believe it was built between 1847 and 1856,” said Diaz. “And yes, old menus from The Enraged Chicken did indeed come up in our research.”
Contemporary Home Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday (May 19)
WHERE: Headquarters at Modern Market, 1200 Annunciation St.