Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Orleans Groggery

In the early twentieth century, bankers and businessmen working in New Orleans' Central Business District shared a dining and drinking establishment, the Old 27, located on the first floor at 215 Carondelet Street (building with circular signage in photo above). The Sportsmen's Conservation Club gathered there for its annual banquet in 1912 and the next year the Jones Island Pleasure Club did the same. The latter showed motion pictures of Jones Island (Manchac) and Professor Peter Schaff's orchestra performed "while an army of waiters attended to their wants."(1)

Named for its pre-1895 street number, the Old 27 was a well-known groggery that had changed hands a number of times by 1913, when it was run by Frenchman Francois Sartre (1856-1921). Born in Bordeaux, Sartre moved to Louisiana around 1886, first working as a chef for the Godchaux in Reserve, Louisiana before his reputation prompted the Aliciatore family to hire him in New Orleans. Once he had accumulated sufficient capital, he opened his first restaurant in Biloxi and later his second in the Old 27.

Prohibition doomed the 40-year-old watering hole. The Times-Picayune quoted Sartre:

'Prohibition! Quelle pensee, terrible! Avez un coeur! When you take wine from a Frenchman you might as well kill him. My friends, they say they shall go back to France if this country becomes dry. Me, I have already turned most of my place into a restaurant because I knew it was coming. It is hard. Why, I drink less than a half a gallon of water in a year; what shall I do when they take my wine? And what about my friends? They must suffer also. In France we put out absinthe and kept our wine when the war came on. In the United States they should put out whiskey and keep the wine and beer.'(2)

One year later, Sartre leased and renovated the former Ramos Gin Fizz Saloon at 712-714 Gravier Street and opened a new Francois. There, one could have the Daily Table D'Hote Dinner consisting of American turtle soup, filet of beef pique richelieu, and a lettuce and alligator pear salad for $1.25.(3)

(1)"Jones' Islanders." The Times-Picayune (16 February 1913): p. 15. In 1902, architect William Fitzner maintained offices upstairs.

(2)"Publicans Hit by 'Bone Dry' Edict Still Optimistic."  The Times-Picayune (19 January 1919): p. 27.

(3)"Francois Restaurant." The Times-Picayune (17 October 1920): p. 7.

Image above: "Cotton Exchange /Sun. July 27-1913." Miscellaneous Photographs Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

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