New Orleans' First New-Build Hotel

Since Tuesday, February 20, is Mardi Gras, it's apropos that here we discuss a New Orleans property—not just any hotel, but the first newly built post-Katrina hotel. Yet another sign of a reburgeoning tourism industry, the hotel is already considering expanding and is developing a kid-friendly version of

Bourbon Street
; and down the street, a Trump condo-hotel-retail project is scheduled to break ground this quarter.

Harrah's New Orleans Hotel opened on September 21, 2006, a little more than a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated this great American city. Construction began on the property before the hurricane struck and resumed shortly thereafter.

In the Central Business District, one block past the divider of the French Quarter, Canal Street, the hotel is across the street from Harrah's Casino and a couple of blocks from the New Orleans Convention Center. Many Mardi Gras parades end at the convention center, so this is an ideal spot to watch the action. Also, its location near the Mississippi River is convenient for viewing fireworks on July 4 and New Year's Eve.

As you pull up under the port-cochère, glass doors open to reveal shiny marble floors and a long line of staff ready to assist at the check-in desk. Some check-in stations are reserved for guests who have reached certain gaming levels with Harrah's casinos, but non-gamblers are also well looked after.

The hotel's top floor has two suites with baby grand pianos

The hotel has 450 rooms on 26 floors—the top floor is the place to be: It's an all-suite floor that comes with butler service daily 6 a.m. to midnight. Two suites have pianos and two have balconies; four "super suites" have fireplaces, and corner suites have the most expansive views.

Clients who'd like a chandelier hanging over their Jacuzzi tub, six showerheads, a four-person bar and enough space to entertain 25 people will be thrilled with these suites. My favorite was Jasmine (all suites are named after flowers),

suite 2610
. Kicking back with a cold beverage while watching the sun set over the Mississippi River and the French Quarter, and listening to the calliope from the nearby riverboat from a 140-square-foot balcony would be a beautiful thing. Iris is the other suite with a balcony. Begonia, number 2604, is a spacious corner suite.

Super suites are 1,207 square feet and regular suites are 760 square feet. The average guest room is 450 square feet.

The 26th-floor suites are usually reserved for high rollers but it's worth a try to snag one for your most well-heeled clients (staff told Travel Agent that the suites go for $3,000 or $4,000 a night).

Nicole Pasquier handles VIPs: Contact her through the hotel's general phone number.

A standard guest room

Standard guest rooms have marble flooring in both the entryway and bathroom, wireless high-speed Internet access, robes, and twice-daily housekeeping service. Request a corner room with a river view. A check of rates mid-March showed a standard ("luxury") room priced at $749 a night.

Not that it's ever a possibility in this city, but guests at Harrah's won't go hungry. Celebrity chef Todd English opened his first restaurant in New Orleans here in the hotel. Called Riche, it's open daily for all three meals, serving at the lounge-like bar area up front; a dining room with marble-topped tables, high ceilings and stone floors; or, in good weather, outside on the pedestrian-only Fulton Street.

Fulton Street is on its way to becoming a family-friendly Bourbon Street

The Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant is across the brick patio on Fulton Street, which is lined with umbrellas, trees, gas lamps and uniform potted plants bursting with white flowers. Hotel staff told Travel Agent that the hotel has plans to make Fulton the G-rated version of

Bourbon Street
, with upscale restaurants and entertainment venues. They also revealed that the hotel owns the whole block and is considering building both an all-suite hotel with 100 suites and another 450-room tower, possibly with a pool (the hotel now has a fitness center but no pool).

But back to Riche. As if dishes like cochon de lait farci and redfish meunière with rock shrimp weren't enough to keep diners happy, the restaurant has some special touches with presentation. Napkins bear the fleur de lys (a symbol of the city) and bread comes in a white linen bag with Le Pain embroidered in gold. The vanilla soufflé, which your waiter deflates tableside, drenching it with a sauce and leaving an opening for the accompanying ice cream, is a must.

Behind Riche is 528 by Todd English, a cozy jazz club with brick walls and wood beams. It has a separate menu that's more Italian as opposed to Riche's more Provencal-with-New-Orleans-influence cuisine.

Harrah's Casino (foreground) is across the street from the hotel

And across the street at Harrah's Casino, which opened in October 1999 and re-opened after Katrina in February 2006, through the doors on Poydras Street is Besh Steakhouse for guests hankering for a New York strip topped with blue cheese butter accompanied by Turbo Dog (a local beer)-battered onion rings. Even if clients aren't eating here, if they're art fans, recommend they look in to admire the five giant paintings by local artist Rodrigue. Here, in one painting, his famous blue dogs are portrayed as Blues Brothers.

The casino—the only land-based casino in the area—has other restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. A stone's throw away is the dive sandwich shop Mother's and the elegant restaurant August as well as the hip W New Orleans and the Orient-Express English hunting-themed property the WindsorCourtHotel. That's the beauty of this city.

FastFacts

Harrah's New Orleans Hotel
228 Poydras Street 504-533-6000