Like many great places in New Orleans, what you see from the street is only part of the story.
This is especially true with M.S. Rau Antiques. Certainly, when you pass the front of the French Quarter showroom (630 Royal St.) you can see some of the exquisite objets d’art and antiques that have helped M.S. Rau garner an international reputation.
When you step through the front door, the quality — and quantity — of the items housed there is made quickly apparent; beautiful jewelry, artwork, silver and furniture abound. But go back further into the gallery, and you feel as if the owners are playing some elaborate optical trick: beyond the first room is more space and thus more treasures, a fact that appeared impossible from the vantage point of storefront.
So, there I was at the back, ogling an extremely rare, eight-foot-tall Ice Age bear skeleton and wondering how far this antique store stretches out — if, indeed, there was any end to it — when I realized that I’d stopped thinking about the main purpose to my trip to M.S. Rau: to visit the store’s renowned “secret room.”
Following my guide through the tromp l’oeil door that leads to the aforementioned mysterious room, I wondered what I’d see inside. Would it be a disappointment, a la Geraldo Rivera’s anticlimactic jaunt into Al Capone’s vault? Or was there more wonder to behold?
Thankfully, it was the latter.
Here’s a brief selection of what’s in the secret room (which is actually three floors): art by the European masters, including a Van Gogh and three Monets. Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask. Two paintings by Norman Rockwell, and one by Winston Churchill — who knew? Oh, and there’s a dinosaur skeleton. One moment you’re gazing upon a painting by one of history’s most important leaders, and the next, you’re turning your attention to a dinosaur. And, guess what? Unlike a museum, every single object is for sale, and for that reason (and several others) M.S. Rau is a true national treasure right here in New Orleans.