Published on July 24th, 2022 | by Isabelle Karamooz, Founder of FQM0
Discover the City’s Historic French Quarter at Napoleon House and Experience the Magic of New Orleans
Louisiana is undeniably one of the “must-see” destinations in the United States. The southern states offer a sense of authenticity, which makes this the perfect opportunity to dive into the history of the United States: large plantations, the birth of jazz, and an iconic family-owned restaurant “The Napoleon House” that I am going to share with you in this Interview/article with Chef Chris Montero. New Orleans has beautiful attractions to discover on a road trip or weekend getaway!
Right in the heart of the legendary French Quarter in New Orleans is one of the local institutions, the Napoleon House. Although magnificent architecture is not lacking in New Orleans, the Napoleon House has made its mark for its classic atmosphere that has reigned there since 1812.
This restaurant has been an icon for over 100 years. Great personalities have set foot in this unique and iconic place. You will find the total spirit of the French Quarter in the decor, the architecture, the atmosphere, and of course the food.
Beginning with the decorative side, let’s learn about it: The historic details and beloved restaurant blend perfectly with the dark woodwork for a colonial design. Whether you sit inside and enjoy this local restaurant of New Orleans or choose the beautiful outdoor courtyard, you can sip on a Pimm’s Cup or Sazerac and enjoy the view.
What are the origins of the Napoleon House?
According to legend, Nicholas Girod, the original owner of Napoleon House was of French origin and born in 1747 or perhaps in 1751 in the Savoy region of France. In the late 18th century, he and his brothers migrated to North America in order to settle in New Orleans (which was ruled by the Spanish at that time, but with a sizable French population). The Girods were known as wealthy importers and merchants, buying extensive property in the city.
In 1812, Nicholas expanded the family business and created a residence that had been used by the Girod’s extended family as apartments for many years. All of the Girod family were very wealthy. They were billionaires by today’s standards and owned plantation homes as well as enormous plantations. This was designed to be Nicholas’ French Quarter complex of apartments covering 20,000 square feet and wrapped all the way around the courtyard.
By September 1812, Nicolas Girod, a popular fellow, was the first elected mayor of New Orleans, which was by then part of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. He then was re-elected in September 1814. During his administration, many improvements were made to the city. However, Girod is best remembered for being mayor during the War of 1812, particularly during the Battle of New Orleans and became instrumental in helping General Andrew Jackson fight the British. Also, rumors were spread that he plotted with pirates to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte from St. Helena, who was looking to exile to New Orleans.
That’s very important historically and that’s why this building is a national historic landmark which counts as only the ninth in the French Quarter. They’re all the big players. It became even more obvious that he was popular amongst the local French Creoles who were the majority of the residents in the city and viewed him as a hero for his involvement in the Battle of New Orleans.
So, this family owned and operated the restaurant business until 2015, correct?
Girod’s family lived in Napoleon House through the end of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, different parties briefly owned the building. It went into the hands of Joseph Impastato, who changed the downstairs into the one of the first Italian grocery stores, and upstairs resided with his family and siblings. In the 1970s, the building became a restaurant, the Napoleon House and remained in the Impasto family for over 100 years until April 2015. The oldest of the family’s fifth generation sold the building to another longstanding New Orleans family – New Orleans restaurateur, Ralph Brennan, is now the present owner.
Napoleon House is definitely worth a visit. You can enjoy delicious food and drink surrounded by pictures of Napoleon and memorabilia related to the building’s history.
Was there a moment you knew you had something special, that you had a truly unique restaurant?
I can tell you exactly when that moment was because if you’re a local you know this restaurant located downstairs is famous for the Pimm’s Cup. The Impasto family was the first to start serving the famous cocktail in the late 1940’s. The Pimm’s distillery in London told us that Napoleon House was the first to distribute it to America. And the Napoleon House wanted something that was not a hard liquor and wasn’t risky. Today, we sell more Pimm’s Cup than anywhere in the world except for the bar in London where it originated.
We also have our Muffuletta which is the quintessential New Orleans sandwich and signature dish that pays homage to the Italian immigrants who first opened the grocery here. It is made of a round loaf of sesame seed bread. It evolved to include an olive salad and three different types of salami and two different types of cheese. It’s a delicious and wonderful tribute to the Sicilian immigrants who brought us these fine dishes! The food at the Napoleon House is approachable and the smells will have you dreaming of foods from your grandmother’s kitchen.
Can you describe your restaurant in three words?
Accessible, classic, and unique to New Orleans.
Who is your clientele here at The Napoleon House?
What’s so gratifying about this restaurant is the style of food we serve. It’s a delicious and affordable restaurant housed in a historic building, one of the oldest in the city. It is so popular that major motion pictures have been film here for years. We support filming all the time and a Disney movie was just filming here. So, it’s a world-famous restaurant that attracts people from all over the world and families who can dine without breaking the bank. Finally, we’re that special kind of restaurant that epitomizes New Orleans, so, we are the barometer for what’s going on in the city because we see every type of clientele.
Header Photo Credit: Napoleon House