What was once a City Hall annex is now reborn as Maison de la Luz, a lofty, light-filled and luxurious hotel – and A-list addition to downtown New Orleans. On arrival, a Wes Anderson-ish check-in desk (complete with tasseled keys), two sweeping staircases and a loungeable living room with covetable furnishings and colour-pop details compete for attention; repair to a spacious, stylish bedroom and you'll be seduced by tactile touches, bespoke bath tubs and local-leaning artwork. And although the hotel's own Bar Marilou swings with the best of them, the overall feeling here is peaceful and palatial; a place of calm composure away from the city's jazz-fuelled fervour.
Double rooms from £186.60 ($229), including tax at 16.2 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of $1.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates do not include breakfast ($18 for a Continental-style buffet) but do include wine, cheese, and charcuterie each evening, access to the honour bar and free coffee. Plus, use of all the facilities at the Ace next door.
There are specially adapted wheelchair-accessible rooms in four of the six room categories.
At the hotel
At the hotel: private lounge, guests-only speakeasy, honour bar, free WiFI throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, desk, blackout blinds, Grown Alchemist bath products and minibar with spirits, beer, wine, soda and snacks. At the Ace hotel next door: rooftop pool and terrace bar, gym, two restaurants and intimate live music space.
Our favourite rooms
Each and every room is an essay in stately Southern charm – spacious, too – but the second-floor Grand Suite is particularly, well, grand. Regally high of ceiling and decorous of detail with a bespoke bath tub bathed in natural light at the foot of a window, you'll feel spoilt as soon as you set foot inside.
Walk a few feet across the street to the Ace, take the elevator to its top floor and you'll find a prime pool at your full disposal where guests can reserve the surrounding day-beds. Alto, the terrace bar, will keep you fed and watered between dips.
No spa on site but in-room pampering (manicures, pedicures, massages) can be arranged on request. If you're feeling energetic, you've got full use of the gym next door.
Fans are back in fashion, you know, and particularly suited to their surroundings here. Stuff a spare tote bag in your luggage, too, if you plan on raiding some record stores.
You'll notice a few of the city's most enduring motifs – alligators, serpents, magnolia trees, pelicans, the crescent moon – in little details throughout the hotel, not least in the allegorical artwork by NOLA native Rebecca Rebouché.
Children are welcome, and the hotel will happily provide travel cots (but not extra beds), high chairs, blackout blinds and other useful items, but this is definitely more of a grown-up's establishment.
Take breakfast on a corner table and watch the morning light bounce from the chandeliers.
Southern sophistication – seersucker suits, billowy blouses – with a tropical twist.
Here, they've taken the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day to heart. Hell, they've even named an entire room after it. And what a room: airy, expansive and artfully embellished, where bountiful Continental-style buffets are served daily on a marble plinth at the foot of a mirrored pillar. There are imaginative à la carte options, fresh pastries and all manner of cold-pressed juices, too. Alas, that's where the room's remit ends but, when you get hungry later, there is a private dining room in the hotel and part-of-the-family restaurant neighbours in Josephine Estelle (big, buzzy Southern-accented osteria) and Seaworthy (oysters, caviar and fresh sea-fetched fare) where guests get priority booking.
Bar Marilou is an intoxicating muddle of Caribbean cool, French elegance and Southern juke joint expertly mixed by Quixotic Projects – they of beloved Parisian bars Les Grands Verres, Candelaria, Glass, Le Mary Celeste and Hero. Rich and romantic in look – with plenty of playful nods to its library past – it's a place for louche lounging and spirited sipping, with a cocktail menu chock-full of inventive concoctions and updated classics. If you're after a more intimate setting – and keep this to yourself – there's one particular bookcase that gives way to a secret guests-only snug where drinks are served from behind a painting… Also, each evening, on-the-house aperitifs and snacks are served in the private living room where design-lovers will delight in the decadent detail.
Breakfast is served from 6.30am to 11am. Bar Marilou swings from 4pm to midnight, Sunday to Wednesday, and until 2am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Maison de la Luz looms large by Lafayette Square in the central Warehouse District, a few blocks from the famous French Quarter.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport serves US cities and international destinations in Canada, Mexico and South America, as well as direct flights to London. Taxis are plentiful on arrival; it's about 25 minutes to the hotel (usually a flat fare of $35).
New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal is two miles away on Loyola Avenue, where Amtrak routes depart to Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. A taxi to the station should cost around $25.
The hotel has a valet service if you are arriving by car, but the soul of NOLA is in its streets; you'll experience it best on foot. Pedestrians are well catered for – and there are plentiful Ubers, Lyfts and taxis for those longer journeys.
The St Charles at Lafayette stop on the St Charles Streetcar Line is just round the corner – it's easily navigable and the best way to hop between neighbourhoods.
Worth getting out of bed for
The New Orleans Museum of Art is home to more than 40,000 works and the bucolic Besthoff sculpture garden which, as locals put it, is good for walk’n, talk’n, and think’n… If you fancy messing about on the Mississippi, take a boat ride from Audubon Park (go up to the levees behind the zoo) and get dropped off in the French Quarter for beignets at the one and only Café du Monde (and if you can't face the queues, it has a merch-packed store across the street for souvenir purposes). Take a lovingly lo-fi look at New Orleans' parade and second-line culture at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Tremé – a shotgun house packed to the rafters with illuminating artefacts from Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals and more. For a musical fix with a difference, the immersive, artist-made musical 'houses' at the Music Box Village are home to an array of imaginative performances and one-off events (it's closed in July and August, mind).
In an old cottage – just far enough from the bustle of Bourbon Street – is Bayona, a well-loved locals' spot serving comforting Louisiana fare with a few far-flung flavours courtesy of chef-owner Susan Spicer. On a balmy night, take a table in the fairy light-strung courtyard – it's a real charmer. Seafood-lovers craving some sophistication after plenty of crawfish-on-newspaper lunches should try GW Fins where chef Tenney Flynn works wonders with prime Gulf-fished produce. For date-night dining, make a beeline for Irene's, an old-school romantic Italian, and start with the signature oysters – baked in their shells with pancetta, pimento and pecorino romano. Emeril's, a classic, has been serving contemporary Creole cuisine since 1990; Compère Lapin adds some Caribbean kick to its menu. Killer Po'Boys is a good shout for local lunching – you'll find their HQ on Dauphine Street or a rough-and-ready pop-up at the back of Irish bar, Erin Rose. Tujagues, on Decatur Street, comes with a side of history – it's been serving Southern specials for 160 years.
In the French Quarter, check out the Napoleon House – it was meant to be a residence for Napoleon after his exile but he died before making it to Louisiana. Raise a toast to him with a Pimms Cup in the shaded courtyard. If it's live music you're after (and you're in New Orleans; why wouldn't it be?) your choice will be spoilt on Frenchman Street in the Marigny. We like Three Muses for its live bands and small plates and Snug Harbor for jumping jazz and rightly renowned burgers. Cocktail connoisseurs shouldn't pass up the opportunity to sip a sazerac in the very room it was first shaken: the appropriately named Sazerac bar at the Roosevelt.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from NOLA’s most illuminating abode and unpacked their jazz records and bakery-fresh beignets, a full account of their Big Easy break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Maison de la Luz…
This particular Maison is brought to you by the house of Ace – of pioneering hipster hotel mini-empire fame (and next door to its NOLA outpost; also yours to use) – but is cut from a very different cloth indeed. No urban-cool trappings, no Macbook-clutching crowds, no novelty photobooth, just invitingly elegant high-touch luxury; it’s more a calmly convivial hideaway than a buzzing cultural hub. Inside, designer Pamela Shamshiri has coaxed the grandeur from a faded municipal building to captivating effect. Its natural assets – a sweeping statement staircase that flanks both sides of the lobby, regally high ceilings, welcomingly wide corridors – are given space to shine. The old library is reborn as a high-spirited bar courtesy of Parisian visionnaires, Quixotic Projects. Guests-only communal areas are artfully accented with bespoke furnishings and eye-catching objets; a theme continued in the generously proportioned bedrooms. It knows how to show it all off, too – as the name suggests, la Luz is bathed (by day, at least) in the most brilliant beams of Louisiana light. To use New Orleans’ preferred musical parlance, this is an elegant waltz in a city that swings.