Before the Hotel Peter & Paul opened late last year, the buildings it now occupies had been vacant for years: a Catholic school shuttered in 1993, and a beautiful mid-19th century church that fell out of use in 2001.
The property, which also includes a former convent and rectory, has been revived by the buzzy ASH NYC design and development firm, with local partner Nathalie Jordi, into a 71-room hotel aiming to mix vintage aesthetics with modern perks.
Set in a residential section of a city that can be surly about yet another offering to the tourists, its most impressive design achievement may be how well it blends in.
The red brick structures have been elegantly restored, with no added flash and minimal signage; on a street level, nothing announces “hotel”. That goes a long way.
That these lovely buildings were vacant may suggest that the surrounding Faubourg Marigny neighbourhood is somehow neglected, but it’s thriving.
The hotel is two blocks from Frenchmen Street, where a vibrant collection of live-music venues and restaurants (The Maison, Snug Harbor, Three Muses, and more) has evolved into a sort of Bourbon Street alternative for people with a modicum of taste.
The Marigny is between the French Quarter and its attractions (Café du Monde, Preservation Hall, etc) and the Bywater, which to the surprise of long-time residents has developed a reputation as the Brooklyn of New Orleans, with hip restaurants and bars (Bywater American Bistro, The Joint).
The local Blue Bikes bike-sharing system is a useful way to explore - just factor in the raggedy condition of many New Orleans streets.
Most rooms are in the former school building, but I opted to spend a little extra for one in The Convent ($229 - R3180 - for a “classic” room, compared to $149 for a Schoolhouse classic), a smaller building at the edge of the property.
The room was spacious and nicely furnished; I liked the bed’s fancy wrought-iron canopy frame. But it felt a little isolated compared to the school and its warmer vibe.
Worse: the wi-fi didn’t work.
Surprisingly large, tile-floored and tidy, with bath products “made exclusively for Hotel Peter & Paul”.
When we checked in, we were given the option of a room with a claw-foot tub or a balcony, and chose the latter. We got a huge shower.
The developers clearly mean for the Elysian Bar, in the old rectory space, to be a destination of its own, and have partnered with Bywater neighbourhood wine shop, restaurant and music venue Bacchanal.
The food is inventive and solid: smoked gulf fish with pickled mustard seeds and avocado on toast ($11); chorizo with kale and mixed grains topped with a fried egg ($15); and confit chicken leg over excellent braised white beans ($15).
The bar is toward the back of the rectory building, with several warm and inviting spaces to drink or nosh, and the Thursday night crowd was lively.
It felt like a discovery.
You’re on your own for breakfast, however. The “café” that opens at 7am offered little more than some puny muffins.