“WE’VE ONLY been open about 15 months, and we’ve won all sorts of accolades,” says Ms. E. (it’s the shortened version of a more complicated name, she says). The head of security, chief historian, and by the way, a former homicide detective, is giving us a tour of her workplace, Hotel Peter + Paul in New Orleans.
Most hotels don’t require a tour guide but Peter + Paul is not any hotel. Which is what piqued my interest when I was looking for a place to stay for a four-day getaway in the Big Easy.
Occupying a half city block among the bright pastel cottages in the residential Marigny neighborhood (between the French Quarter and the hip Bywater section), it’s a complex of four historic structures. The mid-nineteenth century Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic church and school, which ceased operating in the late 1990s, as well as a former convent and rectory, sat abandoned and deteriorating while developers debated what to do with the property. Until 2014. That’s when, Ms. E. informs us, local entrepreneur Natali Jordi bought the buildings for $2.5 million. With a further infusion of $25 million, she partnered with New Orleans architecture firm StudioWTA and NYC design company ASH to turn the property into a 71-room hotel. The idea was to preserve the existing layout as a reminder of the structure’s former use, leaving the cypress wood moldings, stained-glass windows, wainscoted corridors and marble fireplaces, while accommodating the needs of a modern hotel.
We stayed in the School House, the largest building, where 59 of the rooms (former classrooms, school cafeteria and theater) are located. Guest rooms are decorated in a specific color that repeats in gingham on the bed, curtains, upholstery and lamp shades. The shower tiles are in the same coordinating color. On our floor, the the rooms were in gold, the floor above us, green.
Each room is slightly different, but all the rooms are appointed with generously sized, hand-painted striped tile showers, antique furniture from Europe (Sweden, Italy and France) and Asia, along with pieces like the armoires/closets designed and constructed locally by regional craftspeople. Modern conveniences include complimentary wi-fi and crisp Bellino bed linens. Religious paintings and tapestries pepper the décor. I must say that the image of a saint about to have his head cut off made me avoid looking at it. The religious iconography extends to the wrought iron canopy framed bed with crosses on the corners and bottles of custom toiletries adorned with the hotel logo, which features a tiny cross. The theme continues on the door card that lets housekeeping know when to enter the room. On one side it read “Let Resting Guests Lie”; on the other, “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness.” Even the hotel website gets in on the act, saying that the buildings have “been carefully restored and repurposed for new congregants.”
Although our room was flooded with light on a sunny day, come nighttime, the lamps in the room did not provide enough to read by—and in one instance, to see. Our armoire was tucked into a unlit corner of the room. We had to request the hotel bring another lamp so we could change clothes in the evening. In a desperate attempt to read, we removed the lamp shades, which worked slightly better.
The other 12 rooms are in the convent and the rectory, where the Elysian restaurant, bar and small café are located. The day we arrived, we opted to have a drink in the cozy bar and eat dinner in the restaurant, where the food consists of small plates, mostly at $15 or less —with dishes like chicken leg confit and mussels escabeche. They also serve coffee in the morning, but for local color we headed to Who Dat Coffee for eggs and biscuits and the Orange Couch for strong coffee and scrumptious pastry. Had it been a tad warmer than 62 degrees or so, we would have sampled the handmade ice cream on offer in Sundae Best, an ice cream parlor in the former convent building, which housed the Marianite nuns who taught at the school.
The final stop on Ms. E.’s tour was the 9,450-square-foot decommissioned church with most of its original stained glass windows. It’s now used as a space to host events for locals and guests, such as weekly free yoga classes.
Thinking of heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras or a subtropical break from dreary winter weather? See the Hotel Peter + Paul website for nitty gritty details on room reservations and such.