If Napoleon Bonaparte had lived a little longer, he might have moved to New Orleans and opened a bar.
In fact, this historic 1794 building that now bears his name was remodeled in 1821 to be Napoleon’s U.S. refuge. The scheme, concocted by the building’s owner and mayor (1812-1815) of New Orleans, Nicholas Girod, was to spring the deposed French emperor from his exile on the remote island of St. Helena and bring him to live out his life in grand style in the Big Easy. However, Napoleon died before the farfetched escape could be carried out. If he had lived, would he have opened a bar here? Who knows? After all, he was in need of a steady income once his emperor gig was up.
In any case, this fine old townhouse in the French Quarter eventually became a grocery store catering to the immigrant Italian population in the early 1900s and then indeed evolved into a bar/restaurant in 1914 and named in Napoleon’s honor.
Today, the first floor of the establishment exudes the real atmosphere of a dank, 19th-century French country tavern. With its stained stucco walls cluttered with faded old pictures and the heavy, dark oak furniture, you might expect Jean Valjean to burst through the door at any minute. But rest easy. Relax in this cool, dark retreat and order a Sazerac – the classic local cocktail – made with real Absinthe Superieur, a Bourbon Milk Punch or a Margarita in Exile (flavored with Manderine Napoleon). Pair any of those with Red Beans and Rice, Grilled Alligator Sausage or the house special Muffuletta pastrami, cheese and olive sandwich, a tribute to the bar’s Italian grocery days.
Oddly, the current signature cocktail here is the Pimm’s Cup, the same mild refresher served at Wimbledon. This version is made with Pimm’s No. 1, lemonade, a generous splash of 7-Up soda and a cucumber spear. Owner Jim Pastato started mixing them in the 1930s as a lighter alternative cocktail for tourists.
Upstairs rooms have been lovingly restored to classic French provincial style and are rented out for private parties.
500 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA 70130