Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A New Orleans Love Affair

Sitting room in the Clio Suite
Here is an excerpt from a recent review: "The trip was a gift from my husband for my birthday, he was there too, but this really is a story of how my romance began with NOLA..."  That's a good husband.  Luckily, he's not the jealous type.  

There are currently about 370,000 people living in New Orleans.  That's down from 480,000 prior to The Storm.  See how long I've lived here?  I've started to call Hurricane Katrina just "The Storm." We've only lived here four years but that's what happens when you immerse yourself in a place.

By the way, as long as I'm thinking of it.  Nobody here says Hurricane Katrina caused the flooding.  There have been more and worse hurricanes to hit New Orleans.  What caused the water damage and the subsequent evacuation was not the storm itself, but the failure of the federal levees that surround the city.  It's an important distinction.
A rainy day in the 7th Ward

Here is something a lot of people say during their first visit to New Orleans: "We could live here."  Yeah.  You could.  It isn't called The Big Easy for nothing.  The city is still missing about a fifth of its pre-Storm population, so there's plenty of room.  Want to know when New Orleans' population was at its highest?  According to the 1960 census, there were 627,525 citizens.  There is plenty of room.  
Bed in Les Fleurs Suite
If you've booked a few nights in Les Fleurs Suite don't get too attached to the pictures we've posted in the past of the bed.  It is getting replaced tomorrow.  It's another queen, but it's an antique.  It used to be in the Clio Suite, where it was "plantation size," but we sent it to the shop to turn it into a queen.  What's plantation size mean, anyway?  That's innkeeper talk for a full size bed.  Now you know.  I'll take some new pictures of the new bed tomorrow.  Stay tuned.
Same sign, other side, different day
See that picture I put up above?  If you're thinking about visiting New Orleans and you want a boutique bed and breakfast experience, that's called subliminal advertising.  

Recently, a lot of people have been writing to us to say that they've been reading our reviews on trip advisor.  Both Frau Schmitt and I, your humble narrator, would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to write us a kind review.  Neither of us has any background in the hospitality industry.  Our only experience is with the regular kind of hospitality, so it is gratifying to learn that we are doing our jobs right.  
Tammie the Housekeeper
Tammie the Housekeeper has been reading our online reviews, too.  Here's what she has to say: "You should tell folks not to believe everything they read.  You don't want them to get their hopes up too high."  Thanks, Tammie the Housekeeper, you just did that. 
Art gallery on Royal Street
In one last bit of news, I was on Royal Street in the French Quarter the other day when I saw this portrait in a shop window.  It's a picture of Grandpa Elliot Small.  It's a striking resemblance.  How do I know?  Because I see Grandpa Elliot just about every day before breakfast.  That's what it's like to live in New Orleans.  If I were you, I would click on this Grandpa Elliot link.  It's worth it.

And on that sugar sweet note,
A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

La France Suite Revisited

St. Joan of Arc statue in La France Suite
It's about time to post some updates on what our suites look like.  We've made a lot of changes recently all over the inn, but the fewest changes have been made in La France.  

In case you don't know, this is one of our smaller suites, located in the rear of the house.  How small is smaller?  Well, it was the first suite that someone said is bigger than their apartment in Brooklyn.  It is two rooms with a private bath and a balcony.  It has twelve and a half foot ceilings.  It's pretty spacious.
Sitting room in La France Suite
Every room at La Belle Esplanade is painted a different color.  In La France Suite, the colors are those of the French flag: blue, white, and red.  Vive la France.  These are the only rooms that have white ceilings.  

There is an antique wardrobe, a couple marble topped tables, a (non-working) fireplace in each room, a writing desk, antique dressing table, and an antique dresser.  There is a fainting couch to catch you should you happen to swoon.  The bathroom has an antique claw foot tub equipped with a shower head.  The curtain rod is suspended from the twelve and a half foot ceiling.
Bed in La France Suite
The bed is antique, too.  In the bed and breakfast trade, we call it "plantation size."  Know what that means?  It means this is a full bed meant for two people.  It isn't as big as a queen size bed, but who's going to complain about sleeping in an antique like this?  Enjoy the experience.

La France Suite is located in the rear of the inn.  I know I already said this, but it bears repeating because it has a balcony that overlooks the fountain in the garden out back.  You can also see the Superdome from there, which is about two, maybe two and a half, miles away as the pelican flies.  At night, the Superdome is lit up in an ever-changing array of colors.  It's really something to see.  

By the way, I should probably be calling the Superdome the Mercedes Benz Louisiana Superdome, since the car company purchased the naming rights.  It's where the Saints play football.  The Pelicans play basketball in what was formerly the New Orleans Arena.  They just sold the naming rights to that a few weeks ago so here is its new official name.  Brace yourselves.  It is now called the Smoothie King Center.  It's kind of hard to say with a straight face, but Smoothie King is a local company with franchises throughout Louisiana and South Korea, of all places.  I've never been inside of one myself but they sell smoothies, 'natch, and I think powdered diet supplements, too.  

Of course, none of this has anything to do with what concerns you or I, so let's keep moving along to this article's end, shall we?
La France balcony
I was in the garden last evening as the sun was going down when I snapped a picture of the balcony in the back.  Notice how the back of the house is shaped like an arrow pointing to Heaven.  Excelsior!

If you are wondering what excelsior means, it's Latin for "ever upward."  It is the motto of the Great State of New York.  Louisiana's motto is in English: "Union.  Justice.  Confidence."  New Orleans' motto is Laissez les bon temps rouler.  I told that to some French guests recently and they remarked that it made perfect sense, even with my Connecticut accent.

We have a statue of St. Joan of Arc in La France Suite.  Frau Schmitt and I have taken a fancy to her, as has most of the City of New Orleans.  Here's a picture of the St. Joan of Arc statue in the French Quarter:
Joanie on the Pony
If I've just convinced you that La France Suite is a beautiful place to stay, please visit our website to see if it's available for the dates you are considering.  If it isn't available, our other suites are just as nice.  We look forward to meeting you.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

P.S.  If you want to read our first description of La France Suite, you can find it here.

Bonus video:  St. Joan of Arc vs. Miley Cyrus.  While I don't exactly approve of the medium, I do approve of the message.  I'll take St. Joan any day over the other, of whose existence I am only vaguely aware from what I read in the newspaper. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How to effectively market a New Orleans B&B

We're in the orange house
I was contacted by a reporter the other day.  Someone referred her to me to do an interview about how to effectively market a bed and breakfast.  After she told me what she was up to, all I could say was, "Whoever you talked to was pulling your leg."  Turns out it was her masseuse.

Luckily, it wasn't serious journalism.  She is an internet freelancer who specializes in writing lists of top 5 amazing tips.  I love to read those, don't you?

I told her that I just happened to have an expert in the house.  I turned over the phone to Tammie the Housekeeper, who was less than pleased to be given a new chore.  She played along anyway.  It gave her a break from making the bed in Les Fleurs Suite.
Tammie the Housekeeper
"How can I help you?" Tammie the Housekeeper asked in her best phone voice.  The reporter asked if we advertise on any online booking engines.  "We do," Tammie replied.  

The reporter said, "I saw your listing on, on, on, and on  That must take a lot of coordination."  Tammie the Housekeeper looked at me.  I shrugged.  I'd never heard of any of these sites and I'm in charge of these things.  I did check them out afterward and we are listed on them.  Who knows why?  I suspect we are just chum to fill up the pages.  Put in your dates and the answer comes up No Rooms Available. Small wonder.  It must make us look very busy. 

Their descriptions of our inn are somewhat accurate.  We are located in New Orleans.  One of us is bilingual, but they don't say what languages we speak.  If you speak anything but English, German or a tiny bit of slow French, we'll only be able to communicate through pictures and gestures.  While playing charades can be fun, it's going to make for a long weekend for everyone involved.  Tammie the Housekeeper said, "Oh, it's no work at all."  No point in lying.
It's the house in the middle
We do list our inn with two OTAs, as I've recently learned that they're called.  It stands for Online Travel Agents.  Now you've learned something, too.  I toss it into casual conversation all the time now.  The OTAs we're partnered with are (more fondly referred to as booking.yeah, hereabouts) and with and, by extension,  I think most people call that last one just expedia.  At least that's what I do.   

The reporter asked a few more questions and Tammie the Housekeeper gave some more honest answers.

"What do you find is the most important thing you do online for marketing your brand?" the reporter asked.  Tammie the Housekeeper got a smug grin on her face as she leaned back in my chair.  "It's our blog," Tammie the Housekeeper said.  "All our success comes from our blog." Then she stuck her tongue out at me while she placed her thumb on her nose and waggled her fingers in my direction.  

That isn't entirely true.  All our success comes from running a tidy and tasteful boutique inn in a beautiful neighborhood that is within walking distance of the usual tourist destinations while being in a neighborhood that offers much, much more than people expect.  I see that on the AARP travel site we are rated 4.6 out of 5, whatever that means.  I should google our name more often to find out what people are saying.  Did you know we have five reviews on Yelp?  They're all 5***** stars, too.  You can watch our video there.  I think it will be up until October this year.  If you're trying to link to it after then, I'm afraid you'll be out of luck.

"What's the real secret to your success?" the reporter asked.  Tammie the Housekeeper got serious.  She looked me right in the eye and said, "Frau Schmitt."  She's right of course.  I say that all the time.  Frau Schmitt is too modest and she would disagree.  This is one of the rare times when Frau Schmitt would be wrong, and she is usually right about these things.

If you are thinking of staying in New Orleans, we're the orange house on Esplanade Avenue.  There is only one.  If you choose to stay with us, make sure you say it was because of our blog.
Our front porch
A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Top places to stay in New Orleans

There are plenty of nice places to stay in New Orleans
Let me admit at the outset that I'm biased.  Let me also point out that a bed and breakfast experience may not be the best fit for everyone visiting New Orleans.  There is someone in our neighborhood who illegally rents out a house nearby.  This weekend, he or she had rented it out to a group of hip hop promoters.  They are nice enough, but they parked their trucks on the front lawn and made enough commotion for me to notice that someone had taken over the corner house and the corner was not as peaceful [empty] as it normally is.

That house sleeps 12-16 and rents, illegally, for $1000 a night.  Needless to say, it is rarely rented out for romantic getaways or by thoughtful people looking for an authentic New Orleans experience in a real neighborhood.  The usual clientele can be distilled in two words: frat party.  They usually aren't too much bother.  They spend all night on Bourbon Street and all day passed out and snoring.  
Where thoughtful people choose to stay in a real New Orleans neighborhood
Anyhow, one of the other house's temporary tenants was banging on our front door.  "How much does a room go for, here?" he asked.  "It depends on the season," I answered.  "How about tonight?" he asked.  "We don't have anything tonight.  It's Valentine's weekend.  It's a busy time now."

"Yeah, it's busy.  The NBA All-Stars are in town, too," he told me.  I already knew that.  50,000 extra people are in town for this, along with star crossed lovers and people celebrating honeymoons and anniversaries.  Krewe de Vieux and Krewe Delusion are also parading tonight, kicking Mardi Gras season into full swing.  Nice timing for everything all around.  

"We've got some friends coming at the last minute and they're going to have to sleep on our floor," he told me.  "Are you sure you don't have any openings?" he asked.  Unfortunately, we have been booked up for months.  We are a small boutique operation.  We only have five two-room suites available.  

I don't want to dissuade anyone, but we can only offer our inn five suites a night.  Any more and we would be breaking the law.  We don't rent out the storeroom.  The best way to check availability is through our website, which is being updated as I write this.  The worst way to check availability is to bang on our front door.  

We'll be unveiling the new website in about two weeks if you choose to follow this blog that long.
New furniture in our Clio Suite
If you can't stay at La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast, we want to direct you to, the official site of the Professional Innkeepers of New Orleans (PIANO).  If we are full, you can find bed and breakfast accommodations for the dates you'll be staying there.  Check us first, of course, but if you want to go there first, our availability will also show up.  We're card-carrying members.  We are professionals.  We are also members of the Convention and Tourism Bureau

If you want to stay somewhere illegally, there is always airbandb.  There is an interesting article on Slate that details the pernicious influence of illegal rentals on property values and the fabric of neighborhoods.  A lot of cities are starting to prosecute the websites that list these "share rentals."  New Orleans is, too, in its usual way: inefficiently and ineffectively.

I admit that before we became professional innkeepers, when I was just a guy on the street looking for a cheap deal instead of a good deal, I was attracted to the "sharing economy."  If you don't mind sleeping in a room where a woman was murdered, short term rental listings may be for you.  Nobody has ever been murdered at La Belle Esplanade.  It is an unhaunted place full of good memories.  

We don't rent our inn out to sleep 12-16 drunken frat boys.  So, if you are 12-16 drunken frat boys, or 6-8 drunken frat boys with 6-8 drunken sorority sisters, or any mix in between that I don't want to think about, we aren't the place for you.  Try airbandb or vrbo (vacation rental by owner) or craigslist.   I'm not going to link to them.  You know how to find them.  

If you are older or more mature and you want a catered concierge introduction to New Orleans, we are ready to host you as guests in our boutique bed and breakfast inn.  Not tenants.  Not customers.  Not a sideline income stream, but as guests in our city in our neighborhood, and in our home.  It is a labor of love.  Home is where the heart is.
6F Clio Suite front door
I fully realize that legitimate rentals are offered on short-term "sharing" rental listing websites.  I also know that illegal rentals that look legitimate list there.  They are beautiful properties and they are less expensive than professional inns.  There is one in our neighborhood a few blocks away.  They are less expensive than we are.  Want to know why?

When we got our permit from the city, we had to conform to local zoning for our neighborhood.  We were inspected by the City of New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits.  We have a working sprinkler system throughout the house and our fire extinguishers are inspected and certified annually.  We are licensed food handlers who keep our credentials up to date through continuing education.  I am a professional tour guide licensed by the City of New Orleans.  We run an inn because this is our chosen career.  We are not renting out rooms to fleece gullible people looking for a deal.  We pay taxes as responsible citizen business owners.  Everything is transparent and on the books.

We do offer a deal.  When you stay with us, or any other licensed bed and breakfast in New Orleans, you are getting more than sweet dreams.  We are not the cheapest option but we try to be the best option.  We know you are spending hard-earned money to stay with us.  We want you to leave feeling your money was well spent. 
Breakfast for three
You can spend as much per night staying at the Roosevelt Hotel.  We've never stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel, but I tell everyone that if they are in that neighborhood, they should at least walk through the lobby.  It's beautiful.  We had lunch in the Fountain Lounge the other day.  It was wonderful.

If I were visiting New Orleans, I wouldn't necessarily want to stay in the Roosevelt Hotel, though.  It is top of the line.  You get what you pay for and you pay what you expect.  At La Belle Esplanade, you get what you pay for, and you get things you don't expect.  It's a boutique operation.  We are just two people who love our city and we want to share that with you in a way that makes good memories.  If you are interested, you know where to find us.  We're right in the middle of Esplanade Avenue, one of the most beautiful streets in New Orleans.  I can't say that about the Roosevelt Hotel.
The camera doesn't lie
We look forward to meeting you.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Enjoying New Orleans

Photo taken by a recent guest
I don't know if it's night or photoshop in the picture above, but I like it.  I haven't shared many pictures of the green house next door, but it has recently been repainted.  Nice job, too.

There are a few ways to visit New Orleans.  

Some people take a safe approach and plan everything out, reading a bunch of Yelp and Open Table reviews and planning out every meal in advance.  That's okay.  They'll probably not have a bad meal, but it is almost impossible to have a bad meal in this city, even if it's stewed turkey necks from the back counter in a corner meat market.  "We have to see this, and we have to see this, and we have to see this..."  Okay, but don't miss the parade for the floats.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who come in blind, waiting to see.  That's okay, too, but I think that wastes a lot of time getting to learn the lay of the land.  This is a magical city full of magical sights (see the next picture), but I think it's best to have some idea of what to expect.  New Orleans is different than any newcomer can imagine.  If you rely just on Frau Schmitt and myself for all of your information, you aren't going to remember half all the things we are going to tell you in the lobby.  Once you hit the street, you are going to get swept up in what's around you and become disoriented quickly.
The next picture
I love that black sky.  This has to be photoshop because there are twinkling stars out under normal circumstances.  

As with most things, the best way to enjoy is New Orleans is a middle way.  Do a little research, but not too much.  Get familiar with the neighborhoods.  If you are reading this blog, you are headed in the right direction.  I always say read a book about New Orleans beforehand to get a flavor of the city.  I don't mean a book by Ann Rice.  I mean something like "Letters from New Orleans."  It's a little bit dated, but everything is in a city that is changing right before our eyes.  

Here is something else I like to say: We live in a gigantic sociology experiment.  By that I mean that the omnipresent renewal and resurgence in this city, and its shifting demographics, make for a wondrous kaleidoscope of tradition and change happening at the same time. 

Get a flavor for New Orleans before you get here but don't romanticize it too much.  Don't try to pigeonhole it either.  It is different from what you think.  Be open to unexpected experiences.  Admit that you don't know what to expect, and then venture forth each day ready to be pleasantly surprised.  Make the best of things.  Things are very, very good here.  It is an old city full of quirks like no place else. 

Open eyes and an open heart are the best way to enjoy New Orleans.  We've been fortunate recently, as our busy season begins, to be able to warm up our innkeeping skills with some delightful guests who have made the most of their stay.  They've come from all over the country and all over the world.  They have left our fair city full of good memories.
The new bed in our Clio Suite
As much as I hate to provide a link to a Yelp review, here it is.  Cajun Seafood is on South Claiborne Avenue, about three blocks off Esplanade Avenue.  Like most places here, Cajun Seafood doesn't have a website and doesn't feel a need to advertise.  Word of mouth is enough.  We had two couples go there this week, independently of each other.  It was rated the second-best meal they had during their stay.  The first best meals?  Liuzza's-by-the-Track, up the street from us in the other direction, and Dooky Chase's, even closer nearby and I'm surprised does have its own website.  Neither of these are particularly tourist destinations along the lines of Emeril's or any one of John Besh's establishments.
Breakfast for three at La Belle Esplanade
As I say, it is very hard to have a bad meal in New Orleans.  It is even harder to have a bad time, no matter how you go about it.  As a popular television theme once pointed out, it takes diff'rent strokes to move the world.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

P.S.  If you click the Dooky Chase's link above, that's the younger Leah Chase singing the soundtrack.  I usually hit mute any time a website offers music, especially in New Orleans since it's usually some generic tinkly Dixieland, but I kept the sound on while I typed this.  Sometimes I lost my train of thought while I paused to listen, spellbound.  Not that you'll be able to tell, of course.

Monday, February 10, 2014

More sights around New Orleans

City Park
I've got plenty to talk about but I'm too lazy to download the latest batch of photos from my phone.  We've made some changes to some of our suites and I've been taking pictures, but I've got a bunch of old pictures to get through first.  No time like the present.

I wasn't in an airplane to take that photo of City Park, above.  I swiped it from an email they sent me.  It's just as impressive on the ground.
Joy Theater on Canal Street, New Orleans
We did go to the recently reopened Joy Theater two or three weeks ago, however.  We went to see a one man show, "The Kingfish."  It was about former governor Huey Long.  He has his own website if you are interested.  His motto was, "Every man a king."  I naturally like that slogan.  The seats are a little tight at the Joy, otherwise it was an enjoyable theatrical experience.
Circle Food Store mural, S. Claiborne Ave., New Orleans
The Circle Food Store also reopened recently, complete with restorations with an eye to its past.  This is a major grocery store in our neighborhood and it had been closed since Katrina.  It is located in a historic old city market building and the interior is filled with murals and period signs.  Here's another mural:
Artist's impression of the Circle Food Store, New Orleans
While I was shopping at Circle Foods, I couldn't resist a shot of New Orleans' favorite soda.  With a name like Big Shot, you know it's a local brand.
Pineapple Big Shot
We stock a bottle of Big Shot in the refrigerators in our suites.  Not just the pineapple flavor, it comes in all kinds.  I warn you, it's very sweet.  The only flavor I've seen come in a diet version is cream for some reason.

Just this afternoon, I came across a video promoting lodgings in New Orleans.  The better way to stay, if you will.  Hint: you won't find it on airB&B or on craigslist.  I don't know why I didn't know about this video until I stumbled across it.  Everything about it is true.

I walked up to City Park last Friday and I witnessed a boxing match under the Dueling Oaks, which are next to the New Orleans Museum of Art.  I asked the participants to pose for me:
Mismatched combatants
You never know what you are going to see in New Orleans.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Walking in New Orleans

We're the house in the middle
Thirty years ago, for those old enough to remember, nobody wanted to live in a city.  Cities were dirty, decaying, and full of criminal activity.  That was the common understanding: the city was unsafe.  

Frau Schmitt grew up in Hamburg, Germany.  Like many Europeans, she doesn't have an aversion to city life.  I grew up on the New York side of Connecticut, spending many, many hours in New York City.  Because of that, I have always been more an urban animal than a country mouse, though I'm still somewhat trusting and naive.  

When people come to visit us, some of them are a bit hesitant about walking around our fair city.  I suspect they have a bit of that leftover urban paranoia in them.  

Some people just plain come from places where walking anywhere past your mailbox is problematic, so the concept of walking down the street to get somewhere is a tad alien.  People from big dense cities, like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and even cities Milwaukee, Washington, Baltimore, or Charleston, find New Orleans a very pleasant surprise.

I never dreamed I would someday live in a place that looks like New Orleans.  Frau Schmitt says she has never been anyplace like it.  Everyone says that if they aren't from here.  It is a dense urban landscape full of details.  There is crime, of course, but everyone is exceedingly friendly.  It takes some getting used to, but only in a good way.
A close up view
Everyone who visits New Orleans is charmed.  The city casts its spell.  Few people ask me if it is safe in the French Quarter, but that's where most of the petty crimes are committed against tourists.  Let me throw out a eyeball estimate after reading the NOPD reports: 70%, with another 20% in the Central Business District (CBD)?  You are more likely to get your wallet stolen on Bourbon Street than on Esplanade Avenue by a three-digit factor, yet plenty of people look up and down our peaceful oak-lined street and ask me, "Is it safe here?"

Frau Schmitt and I have gotten used to it.  Frau Schmitt likes to say, "It depends on what you mean by safe.  If you are feel unsafe, then you should follow your instinct.  We don't feel unsafe here, but we live here and walk around the neighborhood all hours of the day and night.  If you don't feel safe walking, you should take a cab, especially if you don't feel safe walking at night in a strange city."

She gives good advice, as she usually does.  I don't discourage people from taking a cab the twelve blocks to the French Quarter, but I don't really see the point.  We live on such a beautiful street that I enjoy walking and getting to experience it in the round, instead of through the window in a smelly cab.  To each his or her own, of course.

When you walk in New Orleans, you make all sorts of discoveries. The city is so rich in incident that it makes most other places seem dull.  There are streets so beautiful they will make you tear up in wonder, and their are streets so forlorn that you will wonder in schadenfreude.  Life runs the gamut in New Orleans.
Another angle.  Our inn is in the middle.
Our inn is 12 blocks from the French Quarter.  Some people think that's too far.  Again, to each his or her own.  If all you want to do is be in the French Quarter, you should book a room there so that you won't have to leave.  If you are coming to visit New Orleans instead of just the Vieux Carre, you should probably stay a little outside the Quarter, say about 12 blocks.  It is close enough to the action, but in the real city, the part that everybody else lives in.  

We live here for a reason.  It is very, very nice.

A common theme in some of our reviews, and those of the other boutique bed and breakfast inns in our neighborhood is that guests are happy they chose a little outside the tourist zone.  They come to appreciate that New Orleans is more than a bunch of out-of-towners throwing and catching beads out of season.  People don't fall down and sleep on the streets in every part of town.  The city, by and large, is picturesque and safe.  They wouldn't know that if they stayed only in the French Quarter.
A perfectly good place to stay
A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.
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