Hotel Intel: Omni Royal Orleans, New Orleans

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Hotel Intel: Omni Royal Orleans, New Orleans

While New Orleans is a colorful city with a boisterous personality, it took a rocky road to get here. And in no hotel is that more evident than the Omni Royal Orleans, one of four hotels in New Orleans inducted into the Historic Hotels of America.

The site of the Omni Royal Orleans at the corner of Royal and St. Louis streets was originally the New Orleans Exchange, a marketplace where Creoles of the French Quarter conducted business and trade. It later was the location of the first Creole hotel in the French Quarter—The City Exchange, which opened 175 years ago.

It was to be a “Creole palace, a place for aristocrats to meet and do business, to eat and drink and make love, to buy slaves and sell plots of land on the banks of the Mississippi,” John DeMers wrote in Tumultuous Life and Times of Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, French Quarter Royalty.

It’s been many other properties since then—including the Saint Louis Hotel, which was destroyed by a fire, and the state capitol building—and the current hotel honors its many identities in multiple ways (see What Pops).

While the location’s history wasn’t always pretty, the Omni doesn’t try to hide anything or only show the good parts. They embrace their story while trying to leave their own mark on the land, and they are doing a good job of it so far.

First Impressions

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Photo courtesy of Omni Hotels & Resorts

It’s hard to take in the Omni Royal Orleans just by standing in front of it and looking up. You can try to cross the street for a better view but the streets are so narrow, going across doesn’t really make that much of a difference. So you’ll have to trust us when we say, it’s impressive.

The front facade runs the length of the entire block and while it’s only seven stories high, it seems to tower over you with its greatness. But even if it is a little intimidating, the plantation style arches and wrought-iron balconies that wrap around the building remind you that you’re in the South, where hospitality abounds.

Three sets of doors await your entrance. With marble staircases on each side of you, a plot bursting with fresh plants in front of you, and two statues holding chandeliers above the plants, you might wonder, “could there be any more grandeur in a relatively small entryway?” The answer to that question is, yes. Look up and you’ll see a chandelier of epic proportions—think Phantom of the Opera (OK maybe not that big, but you get the point). If you like glitz, seeing this gleaming piece will make you smile almost as brightly as this fixture sparkles. However, don’t let this burst of glamour fool you, there’s plenty of laidback Southern comfort to be found throughout the rest of the property, balancing out that initial shock.

Walk up the stairs on your right, veer left at the antique credenza topped with flowers, walk back toward the ballroom (where more chandeliers glisten through glass doors) and you’ll find a long marble reception desk and a small shop for snacking while you wait in line. Follow the marble floors to the center of the lobby, where archways look over the hotel’s main entrance and antique chairs offer a kitschy place to wait. The arched glass doorways straight ahead lead to their soon-to-be Champagne bar and jazz lounge. Keep going to reach the hotel bar and their restaurant, The Rib Room.

Follow the sparkles on the floor from the chandeliers above as if they were the breadcrumbs you dropped to get back to the centrally located elevator banks and up to your room.

The Room

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Photo courtesy of Omni Hotels & Resorts

This hotel knows it’s not modern, and it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. In the rooms, they embrace their historic identity with wooden counters in the bathrooms, ornate gold frames around paintings of old Nola, antique chairs, and wooden chests.

There’s no fancy equipment to hook your phone up to the TV or open the drapes with a remote. It’s simple, old-fashioned, decadence with dark heavy drapes, jewel-toned bedding, and if you’re lucky, French doors that lead to a wrought-iron balcony with matching table and chairs. It’s actually a breath of fresh air in a world where modern hotels abound.

Note: The petite rooms are usually a great deal, but if you need extra space, don’t take the bait.

What Pops

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Photo by Maggie Parker

With its narrow streets and pedestrian walkways, New Orleans is a foot-friendly city, which is why your hotel location is key. When opening, Omni claimed a plot of land with historical significance and current convenience.

As mentioned, the land has had many identities, all of which can be explored simply by wandering around the hotel. The exterior was designed to replicate the original structure, and you can see the comparison side by side if you walk around to the side of the building, where five of the original arches remain (the only ones left standing by the time Omni got to it in 1960) under the second half of the word “Exchange” from the original sign. The chandelier in the lobby is from the Saint Louis Hotel, and the flooring in the Rib Room is original as well.

The site’s backstory and access (more about that below) are the things you’ll be writing home about.

The Locale

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Photo courtesy of Omni Hotels & Resorts

You’ll be forever grateful that you never had to go far after a late night at a jazz club on Bourbon or even Frenchman Street. And escaping the party is easy thanks to the proximity of Armstrong Park. If you want to go anywhere else in the city, Canal street, where the trolley stops, is about a seven-minute walk away. To get a feel for your surroundings, head up to the hotel’s rooftop pool and observation deck with unobstructed 360-degree views.

Address: 621 St. Louis Street
Website: Omni Royal Orleans
Room Rates: $127 – $346

Maggie Parker is Paste Magazine’s assistant travel editor.

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