I am having such a great time in New Orleans at our Generation Blue annual conference. The other night there was a fabulous Previews cocktail party with the top agents from around the world — it was wonderful. Later in the evening, I dined at Antoine’s Restaurant with a few of my friends including Dan Barnett, the head of Marketing for Coldwell Banker Previews International. Below is the fascinating history of Antoine’s — the chandeliers were actually still gas lit from when they originally opened in 1840. It has been owned by the same family for over 150 years. Everyone has eaten there from John F. Kennedy to the Pope!
After dinner, we headed to Frenchman Street where more locals go than tourists. We went to a fabulous jazz club called Snug Harbor where we listened to Jazz Sax band KHARI LEE & the Creative Collective. After the concert we made our way to Faso to watch ZENA MOSES & RUE FIYA perform and I danced the night away with Randy Solokian and Jade Mills. What a great great time – see my picture of Zena I took personally! New Orleans is proving to be quite the amazing town that everyone says it is.
It was spring in 1840, when New Orleans was queen city of the Mississippi River, when cotton was king and French gentlemen settled their differences under the oaks with pistols for two and coffee for one. “Dixie” had not yet been written, destined to become the marching anthem for Confederate forces in the War Between the States.
This was the city young Antoine Alciatore adopted, after two frustrating years in New York, to establish a restaurant that would endure under his family’s direction for more than 150 years and set the standard that has made New Orleans one of the great dining centers of the world.
It was on St. Louis Street, just one block from the spot the famed restaurant occupies today, that the 27-year old Alciatore started what was to become simply “Antoine’s” as a synonym for fine food. He felt at home in the French-speaking city of lordly aristocrats and their extravagances, an ideal audience for his culinary artistry.
The main dining room at Antoine’s as it appeared in 1951. Even at that late date the gas chandeliers provided the only heat for the room during the winter months! [Louisiana Photograph Collection, New Orleans Public Library]
After a brief period in the kitchen of the grand St. Charles Hotel, Antoine opened a pension, a boarding house and a restaurant. It wasn’t long before the aromatic odors wafting from his kitchen brought New Orleans to his door and, in five years, the Pension Alciatore was firmly established.
It was then that he made arrangements for his finacee’ to join him from New York. She came to New Orleans with her sister and she and Antoine were married. Together they worked to build up their pension with culinary emphasis.
New Orleans’ gentility was so taken with the restaurant that it soon outgrew its small quarters and Antoine’s moved down the block and eventually, in 1868, to the spot on St. Louis Street where the restaurant stands today.
In 1874, Antoine being in ill-heath, took leave of his family, with the management of the restaurant in his wife’s hands. He felt he had not much longer to live and wished to die and be buried in his birthplace in France. He told his wife he did not want her to watch him deteriorate and said as he left; “As I take boat for Marseilles, we will not meet again on earth.” He died within the year.
Jules served as apprentice under his mother’s tutelage for six years before she sent him to France where he served in the great kitchens of Paris, Strassburg and Marseilles. He returned to New Orleans and became chef of the famous Pickwick Club in 1887 before his mother summoned him to head the house of Antoine.
His genius was in the kitchen where he invented Oysters Rockefeller, so named for the richness of the sauce. They remain one of the great culinary creations of all time and that recipe remains a closely-guarded Antoine’s secret … though it has been imitated countless times.
Jules married Althea Roy, daughter of a planter in Youngsville in southwest Louisiana, and Marie Louise, the grand dame of the family, was born. A son, Roy Louis, was born in 1902 and headed the restaurant for almost 40 years until his death in 1972.
Roy Alciatore managed the restaurant through some of the nation’s most difficult times, including the Prohibition era and World War II. His contributions still remain vibrant today. The 1840 Room, a replica of a fashionable private dining room, still contains the great silver duck press and is a museum of curios treasures including a cookbook published in Paris in 1659.
The kitchen at Antoine’s as it appeared in 1951. The restaurant’s chefs were still using ancient coalburing stoves to prepare meals for their many patrons. Note the oyster shells ready and waiting to be transformed into Oysters Rockefeller and the row of little baskets, soon to be filled with the delectable soufleed potatoes. Photograph by R. E. Covey. [Louisiana Photograph Collection, New Orleans Public Library]
Marie Louise married William Guste; and their sons, William Jr., former attorney general of Louisiana, and Roy Sr., became the fourth generation of the family to head the restaurant. In 1975, Roy’s son, Roy Jr., became proprietor and served until 1984. He was followed by William’s son, Bernard “Randy” Guste.
The long line of the Alciatore-Guste family members has guided Antoine’s to continued greatness, through the War Between the States, two World Wars, Prohibition and the Great Depression.
Countless celebrities have dined in Antoine’s dining rooms. Lining the walls are photographs of the rich and famous who have feasted amid the splendor … musicians, politicians, military personnel, sports figures, royalty … the list is endless. It includes Franklin Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover; Bob Hope, Rex Harrison, Al Jolson, Pope John Paul II, and Bing Crosby to name just a few.
What’s in store in the years ahead? Are there other family members, perhaps too small at the moment to wield a chef’s whisk, waiting to join that long and distinguished line?
We can only tell future patrons this, a personable young Bernard Guste said. “The greatest feast has yet to be served!” Indeed, in the spirit of Antoine, Jules and Roy Alciatore live on to greet the new generations, providing hospitality, fine food and magic in an ageless fashion.