At Washington and Coliseum Streets, smack dab in the middle of the Garden District, lives a New Orleans legend: the regal Commander’s Palace restaurant. Just walking into the grand lobby feels like walking into an elegant reverent shrine. Unique Nola Tours wants you to discover one of the great world restaurants.
Originally, the building was a saloon started by a man named Emile Commander. He was the son of an Italian immigrant from Ustica, who changed the family name so they could sound more American. He gave it the royal sounding name Commander’s Palace. He offered light meals, including ‘Bayou Cooked Oysters’ for ten cents a dozen. Soon the wealthy neighborhood residents started coming in.
During Prohibition, Commander’s was raided. One story says it was raided after it was discovered they were hiding their booze across the street in Lafayette Cemetery Number One. During this time, almost every major restaurant in town got raided, once. Most likely they set it up like that to advertise the fact they were still serving.
Through the early 1900s the restaurant changed hands two different times, but the most significant one was the third time. Members of the First Family of restaurants here, the Brennans – Ella, Dick, John and Dottie – purchased it in 1969. Windows replaced walls, the courtyard was expanded, and most notably they painted the exterior the now-iconic shade known as ‘Commander’s Blue.’
They classify their menu as ‘Haute Creole.’ Creole cooking is a melange of French, African, Island and Native American ingredients and techniques. Another way to describe their menu is ‘life changing.’ They often have live jazz music and a remarkably well-trained staff. Oh and did we mention their lunchtime 25 cent martinis?
Commander’s is the launching pad for several superstar chefs – Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, Frank Brigtsen and Anne Kearney among them. Throughout the years, Commander’s chefs have earned seven James Beard Awards. In addition, Zagat has chosen it as “Most Popular Restaurant in New Orleans” for 18 years running. And in 2008 Commander’s Palace was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame.