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Then and Now: New Orleans Restaurants Preserve Architectural History

Honoring the New Orleans value of preserving historic architecture, many cafes and restaurants are housed in old re-purposed buildings like banks and grocery stores.

Repurposed spaces may be a green trend elsewhere, but in a city as old as New Orleans, it’s inevitable that over the decades, many of our buildings have been converted and repackaged for different uses. Residences become commercial spaces, warehouses become condos, fire stations become cafes.

An example of the city’s continual re-invention: the popular Uptown bistro, La Petite Grocery, is housed in a former corner grocery. (Photo from Flickr by sean stl)

Such re-envisioning is not only a testament to the staying power, proportions and elements of traditional architecture, but just as important – our city’s love for old buildings. While elsewhere the old may be razed in the name of commerce, in New Orleans we prefer to retrofit older spaces, even if it means modifying our vision to preserve the spirit and footprint of the original.

One of the most obvious examples of revitalization and repurposing is the long-time New Orleans architectural fixture, the corner store. Forerunners of the modern convenience shop, many corner stores remain. However, the last decade has seen a rise in their conversion to residences, restaurants or shops. Another is the shotgun cottage, a number of which are now home to boutiques, such as those found along Magazine Street (especially Louisiana to State Street) or eclectic restaurants like Boucherie, Dante’s Kitchen or Mat and Naddie’s, all of which can be found in the Riverbend neighborhood. And Whole Foods, located Uptown near Jefferson Avenue, was formerly a municipal bus barn.

Upscale Ralph’s On the Park overlooks historic City Park and its graceful Live Oaks. (Photo courtesy of

There are in fact, far too many places to mention here, but focusing on the essential –food and drink and particularly the often under-represented New Orleans breakfast — here are a few spots where visitors can mingle with locals, catch a bit to eat and experience the dynamics of New Orleans’ architectural history.

The Ruby Slipper

There are three locations for this popular, casual breakfast spot with its decadent bbq shrimp and grits, Southern Eggs Benedict variations and full bar. Ruby Slipper‘s sunny Mid-City location was once a corner grocery while its recently opened Marigny location is housed in a former bank.

Ralph’s On The Park

Built by a French sheep herder in 1860 to serve as a coffee house and concession stand for City Park visitors, this two story building with a balcony is now home to white linen, award-winning dining. “The location is amazing,” says Times-Picayune writer and curator James Karst. An avid local historian, Karst says Ralph’s combines three great qualities: a re-purposed building, a view of a historic park and outstanding food. “Across the street is City Park, one of this country’s oldest municipal green spaces with century old Live Oaks and Spanish Moss. Duels were once settled under those branches.”
Ralph’s on the Park is upscale and reservations are recommended. Brunch is offered on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. See the website for lunch and dinner hours.

La Petite Grocery

Known largely as a chic, southern fusion dinner spot, this Magazine bistro in Uptown also serves lunch and Sunday brunch. For nearly a century, the building served as the name indicates, a corner small grocery.

The double story ceilings and windows of this former bank are now home to the cafe Rue de la Course in the Riverbend. (Photo from Flickr by RocketCandy1)

Rue de La Course

Populated by Tulane and Loyola students, local residents and tourists needing a cup of Joe after riding to the end of the St. Charles streetcar line, Rue de la Course still retains the elegance and truly soaring ceiling of buildings originally designed for the public, in this case, a bank. Light-filled and casually elegant; sandwiches, salads and baked goods. Look carefully or you might miss the gargoyles over the doors.
Rue is open from 7 a.m. -11 p.m. every day, located at 1140 S. Carrollton Ave at Oak Street. (504) 861-4343.