by Edward J. Branley
Antoine Alciatore, originally from Marseille, France, rented a building in the 600 block of Rue St. Louis in 1840, where he opened up a pension and restaurant. The restaurant grew in popularity, as Antoine merged the cuisine of his native France with the French/Spanish/African/Caribbean styles he found here in New Orleans.
By 1868, his restaurant had outgrown the original location, and he moved over to Rue St. Peter. In 1882, Antoine purchased a piece of property in the 700 block of Rue St. Louis, where he was able to build a building that would house the restaurant, some private rooms, and living quarters for the family. There the restaurant has remained until this day. Antoine Alciatore returned to France with a terminal illness shortly after moving the restaurant, but his son Jules kept the restaurant operating. The current owners, the Guste family, are direct descendants of Antoine, through Jules' daughter.
To put Antoine's in perspective with other New Orleans restaurants, Commander's Palace opened up in 1884, and Galatoire's in 1921. That means Antoine's had been in business more than 40 years prior to the former and more than 80 years before the latter. The building that is now Brennan's was the Morphy family home (where chess champion Paul Morphy lived) in the mid-late 1800s. The restaurant that claims a heritage anywhere near Antoine's is Tujague's. Tujague's goes back to Madame Begue', who opened her first place in the Quarter in 1847. No restaurant matches the continuous operation and ownership of Antoine's. Not to mention the quality.
Antoine's has hosted all sorts of famous personalities, including presidents (9 of them altogether), along with a King of England (well, a former king, the Duke of Windsor and his Duchess). The restaurant also catered the means of His Holiness Pope John Paul II on his visit to New Orleans in 1984. The walls of the back dining room are lined with photos, letters, cartoons, and other memorabilia from the famous and infamous who have dined at Antoine's. Antoine's was immortalized in Francis Parkinson Keye's novel Dinner at Antoine's, and more recently, scenes from the movies The Client and JFK were shot in various rooms at Antoine's.
I first dined at Antoine's in the summer of 1975. My pen pal from Germany came for a few weeks' visit in-between our junior and senior years of high school. One of the things she knew about New Orleans prior to visiting was descriptions of our better restaurants from a couple of cookbooks she owned. One of these books had a photo of a waiter at Brennan's preparing Cafe' Brulot. This photo had struck such a chord with her that she really wanted to experience that photo. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), that was the summer that Brennan's was being repaired after a wintertime fire had severely damaged the restaurant's 417 Rue Royal location. We went to my momma with the dilemma, and she solved it immediately by pointing out that Antoine's invented Cafe Brulot in the first place! So, off to Antoine's for lunch went two sixteen year-olds. Our waiter, upon learning that my friend was from Germany, took us on the full tour of the place, as well as making sure that we had a wonderful time.
Knowing a bit of the history of Antoine's and having been there definitely helped me out when I met my then-future father-in-law three years later. Antoine's was his restaurant. A partner in a national public accounting firm, Jack regularly entertained his partners as well as clients at Antoine's. We celebrated my wife's graduation from college in the 1840 room, Jack's retirement dinner and my brother- in-law's wedding reception were both held in the Rex Room. Knowing something about the restaurant back on that November evening in 1977 certainly helped me advance from the level of noxious low life dating his daughter to potential human being. :-)
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