US Oldest Continually Operating Restaurant Turns 175
NEW ORLEANS, LA - Antoine's – an icon and a standard bearer for traditional French Creole culinary traditions in America – will commemorate its 175th anniversary in 2015 with a year of special events, menus and celebrations inside the walls of its fabled French Quarter dining rooms, as well as in other markets around the country. The legendary New Orleans restaurant is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America, the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller, and remains owned by the same family that started it nearly two centuries ago. "Dinner at Antoine's" is such an experience that those three words fittingly served as the title to a famous novel, and the restaurant's namesake is considered "the father of Creole cooking."
"We are honored to be celebrating this monumental anniversary in the city that welcomed my great-great grandfather 175 years ago," said Antoine's fifth-generation CEO and Proprietor Rick Blount. "This anniversary is more than a celebration for Antoine's – it is a celebration for the city of New Orleans – and we cannot wait to make this major milestone something for the entire city and restaurant community to celebrate."
Born in France in 1822, Antoine Alciatore came to the New World at the age of 18 aiming to establish a business of his own, and after arriving in New Orleans in 1840, he opened a pension – a boarding house and restaurant in the French Quarter – that was simply to be known as "Antoine's."
In ill health by 1874, Alciatore returned to France, where he died and was buried. Under Antoine's wife's tutelage, their son Jules served as an apprentice, running the restaurant for six years before traveling to France, where he served in the great kitchens of Paris, Strasbourg and Marseilles. He returned to New Orleans and became chef of the famous Pickwick Club in 1887, before his mother summoned him to head the House of Antoine.
His genius was in the kitchen, where he invented Oysters Rockefeller, so named after Standard Oil Founder John D. Rockefeller, for the richness of the sauce. While its namesake reportedly despised its title, Oysters Rockefeller is widely considered one of the greatest culinary creations of all time, with the recipe remaining a closely guarded secret.
Jules was succeeded by one of his three children, Roy, who followed in his father's footsteps and led the restaurant for almost 40 years through some of the country's most difficult times, including Prohibition and World War II, until his death in 1972. His legacy includes the invention of famous dishes such as Oysters Foch and Eggs Sardou, as well as the creation of several of its famous dining rooms and their white tablecloth decor. Roy's vision and meticulous management of the restaurant solidified the international culinary stature of Antoine's and firmly established it as a dining destination unto itself.
Roy's nephews became the fourth generation of the family to head the restaurant, and in 1975, Roy's son, Roy Jr., became proprietor and served until 1984. He was followed by his cousin, Bernard "Randy" Guste, who managed Antoine's until 2004. In 2005, Rick Blount, Roy Alciatore's grandson, became proprietor and CEO, and he has led the institution through Hurricane Katrina's devastation and the city's post-storm recovery.
Antoine's legacy is a storied one, and countless world leaders and celebrities have dined there. Lining the walls are photographs of the rich and famous who have feasted amid the splendor including Franklin Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, the Rolling Stones, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Jimmy Buffett, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to name only a few.
Chef Michael Regua has been at the helm of Antoine's for more than 42 years, continuing the quality and traditions that have made Antoine's famous. Under Chef Regua's expert command, Antoine's has received numerous awards, including the Lafcadio Hearn Award, presented through the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute Hall of Honor. The restaurant also has been named to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum's National Culinary Heritage Register. When Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987, Chef Regua was chosen as one of the local chefs to prepare a meal for him.
"My focus and my passion is to continue the tradition of classic, French Creole cuisine that people have come to associate with Antoine's and with New Orleans. The high quality of our food stays the same, and that's what people expect when they dine with us. We hold true to tradition, and that's what makes Antoine's so very special," said Chef Regua.
Another longtime Antoine's tradition is the historic longevity of its wait staff. Loyal customers of Antoine's often have a designated waiter, and it is not uncommon for a member of the staff to wait on many generations of the same family. Third-generation waiter Charles Carter commented, "It's one of the wonderful things about Antoine's, and why people keep coming back – it hasn't changed. I've served multiple generations of one family, from the great-grandpa to now the great-grandkids. You get to watch them all grow up, and I think it shows how food and dining is so central to a happy life."
Antoine's features 14 dining rooms of varying sizes and themes, all steeped in history. Three of the private rooms bear the names of Carnival krewes – Rex, Proteus and Twelfth Night Revelers, with the bar named after the Krewe of Hermes. The walls are adorned with photos of Mardi Gras royalty and memorabilia, including crowns and scepters from many years long past.
The Mystery Room acquired its name from Prohibition, the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcoholic drinks from 1919 until 1933. During that time, select patrons would go through a secret door in the ladies' restroom into a speak-easy behind it, and exit with a coffee cup of alcohol in spite of the laws. The protocol phrase to describe its origin was, "It's a mystery to me."
The 1840 Room replicates a fashionable dining room from the era of the restaurant's founding and is also a museum of sorts, housing a Parisian cookbook circa 1659, and the restaurant's antique silver duck press, among other treasures. Portraits of successive generations of the Alciatore family also dot the room and add to the richness of the warm, red interior.
The Japanese Room was originally designed with Oriental motifs and decor popular at the turn of the century, down to the hand-painted walls and ceilings. Many large banquets were held there until December 7, 1941, when it was closed for 43 years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was reopened in 1984, and it is being renovated as a new dining room that will be unveiled in 2015. The Tabasco Room is the last named room at Antoine's. It was recently renamed after one of the restaurant's most distinguished customers and community leaders, Paul McIlhenny of the famous hot sauce family. The room is appropriately painted "Tabasco" red and is rumored to be the location of most engagements in New Orleans.
The long and narrow wine cellar, which measures 165 feet long and only seven feet wide, holds approximately 25,000 bottles when fully stocked. It is a legendary space and can be viewed from a small window on Royal Street. It has been lovingly and creatively restocked since 2005, when power outages from Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent heat ruined every bottle in inventory.
"Surviving 175 years is significant for any business, and we hope the city and its visitors take this opportunity to celebrate New Orleans' unique culture," said Blount. "We are honored to be a part of this great American city and to represent our restaurants and the city's culinary heritage."
From its humble beginnings in 1840, Antoine's has endured under the Alciatore family's direction for five generations, helping make New Orleans one of the great dining centers of the world. The name has become synonymous with fine dining, and no visit to New Orleans should exclude a meal there.
Antoine's, a traditional French Creole fine dining establishment since 1840, is located at 713 St. Louis Street in the historic New Orleans French Quarter.