A growing niche in the New Orleans dining scene splits the difference between restaurant and lounge, and they'll be in demand this season for the holiday after-party circuit.
On a recent Friday night at the new Uptown nightspot Ivy, the wait staff seemed to be in perpetual motion, whisking around tightly-spaced tables with plates of crab claws, sliced Italian meats curled on wooden platters and amber-hued Old Fashioned cocktails in rocks glasses the size of goblets.
It resembled many another busy dinner scene, except this one was unfolding after 10 p.m. and no one in the packed dining room was having dinner — not exactly.
Ivy was opened last month by the same people behind Gautreau’s, that elegant Uptown restaurant. Ivy, however, is cut from a different cloth. In fact, it’s the latest example of a growing local dining niche that splits the difference between high-end restaurant and upscale lounge.
From the types of dishes served to the layout of the room, these places curate a loose, after-hours scene, and as holiday events fill the calendar they are in their prime season. When the office party is winding down, you’re dressed up, maybe still hungry and certainly not ready to call it a night, they offer a more food-focused alternative to smoky bars and typical tavern fare.
They serve small plates and snacks rather than conventional dinner courses. They keep late hours, typically until midnight or later. And they dispense with many of the expected trappings of fine-dining, like reservations. That didn’t discourage a party of 10 who recently swept into Ivy in black tie and furs or, on another occasion, a banquette full of young women who happened to have their own sketch artist in tow.
In a way, they function like hotel lounges, without the hotel. Another way to think of them is as in-between spots. If it’s your first stop of the night, it probably won’t be your last. And if it is your last stop, it probably wasn’t your first.
These cycles play out nightly just down Magazine Street at Bouligny Tavern, which chef John Harris opened in 2011 next to his bistro Lilette. It’s inside a shotgun house lavishly remodeled in a mid-century modern style. You can easily imagine a Mad Men episode filmed here. As the evening gets rolling it can feel like a chef-catered cocktail party is in progress, as vintage vinyl spins on a turntable behind the bar and well-dressed customers pick over deviled eggs, oysters and gouda beignets.
The Delachaise fulfills a similar role nearby, as do spots like SoBou in the French Quarter and the new Fountain Lounge in the CBD's Roosevelt Hotel. Drinks are usually central to the appeal of places in this niche, but not always. After all, the Mid-City gelato parlor Angelo Brocato’s has fulfilled a lower octane version of the after-dinner spot for generations, and people still line up late here for cones, coffee or plates of Sicilian pastries, while the dessert destination Sucré provides a more modern example, staying open well past the dinner hour.
As dining habits change, and as dining out grows more common, it appears our dining destinations are changing too. So now, for people whose idea of a big night out isn't dinner and a movie, but dinner and then drinks, dessert or a cheese plate at another restaurant, these after-hours spots are adding new chapters to the evening.
3641 Magazine St., (504) 891-1810; www.boulignytavern.com
3442 St. Charles Ave., (504) 895-0858; www.thedelachaise.com
123 Baronne St., (504) 648-1200; www.therooseveltneworleans.com
5015 Magazine St., (504) 899-1330
310 Chartres St., (504) 552-4095; www.sobounola.com
Angelo Brocato’s Ice Cream & Italian Desserts
214 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 486-1465; www.angelobrocatoicecream.com
3025 Magazine St., (504) 520-8311; 3301 Veterans Blvd., Metairie, (504) 834-2277; www.shopsucre.com