French Quarter's Westin Hotel completes $30 million makeover

Observatory Eleven at sunset. Courtesy of The Westin New Orleans.

A French Quarter upscale hotel wants you to know that it has a new look.

On Thursday, The Westin New Orleans announced that it completed an expansive, and expensive, revitalization effort that spanned the entire hotel.

The $30 million dollar redesign added a total of 30,000 square feet across 18 rooms on the property.

Hotel developers worked with Canadian firm Moncur Design Associates, which incorporated some of the local aesthetic to include the city’s history, culture, architecture and natural elements like southern oaks with hanging moss.

Three new additions include a new bar restaurant and ballroom.

All three — Observatory Eleven, Bistro at the Bend and Riverbend Ballroom — are all located on the 11th floor of the hotel and overlook the Mississippi River.

Observatory Eleven is a circular bar and includes approximately 2,3000 square feet of space. Dan Levy runs the drinks program at the bar.

Chef Daniel Mills, formerly of The Roosevelt New Orleans hotel, runs Bistro at the Bend. Some of his signature dishes include blue crab beignets, Gulf Coast au gratin, blackened scallops and pimento cheese arancini. The restaurant seats 104 people.

The ballroom is 4,200 square feet and holds 280 people.

The hotel, which rises to 19 floors and includes 462 rooms, is located at 100 Iberville Street near Canal Place.

The Westin is a hotel chain owned by Marriott International, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.

New Orleans jury quash felony marijuana charge against Antoine’s server

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A New Orleans potential jury of men and women weren’t convinced that Antoine’s server Jabar Kensey should face a felony marijuana charge in Criminal District Court on October 8, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate reported.

Kensey was arrested on Bourbon Street last January and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute after he was allegedly found with weed contained 17 individual baggies and $100 in cash, according to the newspaper.

Judge Waldron halted the jury selection process after 20 out of 25 potential jurors were dropped, with the judge emphasizing jurors who voiced their opinions on “whether or not (marijuana) should be the subject of criminal laws outlawing it,” the newspaper reported.

Under a plea agreement, prosecutors instead agreed to amend Kensey’s felony charge to a misdemeanor.

Kensey also agreed to spend 12 weekend days in jail and forfeit the $100 in cash he had with him on Bourbon Street last January.

Citing Stavros Panagoulopoulos, Kensey’s attorney, the newspaper reported that Kensey could have faced between 15 to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Kensey already has a conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and one for simple burglary, both felonies.

The Old Coffee Pot returns as Cafe Beignet in the French Quarter

Cafe Beignet at the Old Coffee Pot. Picture by Marvin Smith.

The Old Coffee Pot restaurant that abruptly closed in February has reopened, but this time under a slightly different name.

The restaurant, now renamed Cafe Beignet at the Old Coffee Pot, reopened at 714 St. Peter St. It was the location the previous restaurant before it was acquired and renamed.

According to nola.com, the new restaurant is now a part of the same company that has three other locations nearby.

The Old Coffee Pot was open for more than a century before it closed. The restaurant was a popular breakfast spot for bartenders, barbacks, and other service industry workers coming off the third shift—or for those who finished the second shift and stumbled into the place after several hours of drinking at Johnny White’s Bar across the street, or elsewhere.

Before it closed, the restaurant appeared on an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s reality TV show, “24 Hours to Hell and Back,” in which he scolded the staff for finding a dead mouse in a toaster.

The new restaurant’s menu includes crawfish omelettes, beignets, gumbo and calas.

Calas are a fritter similar to a beignet but made with rice. They’re sometimes described as a dumpling, a rice pastry, or cake. They’re believed to have their origins from the rice-growing regions of Western Africa and were brought to Louisiana by slaves.

Recipes vary, but typically calas are made by mixing rice with sugar, some flour and eggs, deep-frying them, and topping them with confectioners sugar. They were a specialty at the Old Coffee Pot for decades, but have been a part of New Orleans for centuries.

According to Poppy Tooker on NPR, calas vendors were a common sight on the streets of New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter. African-American slaves who sold calas used the money to buy their freedom.

Calas vendors weren’t restricted to only slaves, though. Selling them were part of the income for many families.

In her 1995 article published in Louisiana History journal titled “Lost Boundaries”: Racial Passing and Poverty in Segregated New Orleans,” author Arthé Anthony wrote:

“Lottery sellers, praline and calas vendors, seamstresses, pieceworkers, and laundresses who worked at home are examples of teh various forms of work that were available to poor colored women who were married.”

Other menu items include pecan waffles, Cajun hashbrowns, and sandwiches such as muffalettas and roast beef po-boys.

Cafe Beignet at the Old Coffee Pot, located at 714 St. Peter St. is open daily from 8 a.m to 10 p.m.