The French Quarter of New Orleans was the first big city area I’d “braved” in more than a year. When we arrived early evening on May 20, myriads were strolling Bienville and Conti, Bourbon and Royal, some masked and some not. Seeing so many so close to each other felt surreal. Our hotel required masks except in your room, and our dinner destination, Court of Two Sisters, required them until seated at your table.
The Royal Sonesta hotel graces the 300 block of Bourbon Street, which was first laid out in 1721 (300 years ago!) with elaborate private residences that included courtyards and carriage houses. During the 1800s, the street underwent the 19th century version of urban renewal when it became a bustling business district with everything from a Mardi Gras costume shop to a winery. In 1890, the American Brewing Company bought the winery and expanded the building to take up an entire city block. The Royal Sonesta opened its doors in 1969, repurposing the property once again.
When we checked in, a shirtless Jamaican drummer sat cross-legged on the sidewalk outside, skillfully plying his sticks on an empty, upside down white plastic container while his two young sons chased each other on the crowded sidewalk. A while later when we set out on foot for dinner, one of the young sons was offering up an even more spirited drum solo. The narrow streets were alive with rhythm, beats from a variety of bars spilling out around us.
I’d made dinner reservations outdoors under twinkling lights at Court of Two Sisters on Royal Street to celebrate my son’s birthday. Purple wisteria fronds were no longer in bloom in the branches overhead, and we were a few weeks early for Drag Bingo Night, which is scheduled for June 19, but we enjoyed a balmy evening breeze while we feasted on veal Oscar with a delicious pinot noir (me) and filet mignon with a Coors Light (him), then topped it off by splitting a decadent chocolate mousse.
The Court of Two Sisters location has also been occupied since the 1720s, when the area was known as Governor’s Row, but the restaurant building itself was built in 1832 as the home of Jean Baptiste Zenon Cavelier, president of the Bank of New Orleans. In 1886, two young sisters—members of an aristocratic Creole family, opened a notions shop there. Until the early 1900s, they dressed the city’s fashionable women in Mardi Gras costumes and Gay Nineties-style formal gowns. The building then passed through many owners before a local restauranteur restored its beauty and opened the popular dining destination in 1963.
While we waited for our check, I watched a young employee clearing the table next to us. After placing dishes and utensils on a cart, she removed a flickering candle in its glass and brass holder and set it on one of the chairs, then turned her attention to sliding a very large white cloth off the table. Fortunately, our check hadn’t come yet, so I was still watching when I realized she was about to droop the tablecloth over the top of the same chair.
“Wait, no!” I said out loud as I stood up. The young woman gasped as she grasped what she’d almost done, then thanked me over and over for alerting her and saving her job. Drag Bingo Night, the Daily Jazz brunch, Creole dinners, and other annual events would not have been the same if that beautiful wisteria canopy had gone up in flames.