If you have ever eaten at Brennan’s (417 Royal St.), you have likely seen the dramatic spectacle that is Bananas Foster, a dessert the Brennan family invented in the early 1950s. Flames fly from a portable Bunsen burner wheeled right up to the table as butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, banana liqueur, aged rum, and bananas caramelize in the pan. Brennan’s boasts another more subtle sight, however, that may go unnoticed — unless you are looking for it.
Brennan’s carnival panel artwork, an addition during the 2014 renovation under new owners Ralph Brennan and Terry White, wraps around one side of the Chanteclair Room, the main dining room. The gouache murals, imbued with a bit of whimsy, depict vintage Carnival scenes of floats and costumed revelers in the streets (gouache is a painting method similar to watercolor but using thickened, opaque pigments).
The Carnival panels hanging in Brennan’s are replicas of the “Carnivale” series artwork originally painted by Graham Rust, a British painter and muralist. During the renovation, the restaurant’s designer stumbled upon small print copies in New York. Ralph Brennan, suspicious of their authenticity, paid a visit to notable Mardi Gras historian Henri Schindler to verify that the float depictions were historically accurate. Coincidentally, Schindler had the exact parade bulletin depicting the very same float designs as in Rust’s prints, which were late-19th-century Proteus floats. And so it was decided: the artwork would be incorporated into the new restaurant’s design.
Proteus is the second-oldest New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe, its founding dating to 1882. It is fitting, therefore, that as an iconic New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s celebrates the krewe’s legacy.
The next time you are enjoying Bananas Foster (or Eggs Sardou, or turtle soup, or Redfish Amandine…), take a few moments to focus on the walls and absorb not only some beautiful artwork but also one of the many reasons that make New Orleans so special.