$20 and Under: Eerie Eateries
Oct 18 2019

$20 and Under: Eerie Eateries

By: Kim Ranjbar

If you were to Google the phrase "most haunted city in America," New Orleans will invariably appear in the top ten. The dead and the Crescent City are inexorably intertwined due to many reasons, such as its tumultuous and storied history, the unique funereal rites featuring festive second lines, and interring our beloved above ground in tombs and mausoleums.

Locals also generally have great passion for the historic aspects of the city and have always been somewhat reluctant to let them go by the wayside, even if it's a derelict structure or controversial monument, just for the sake of progress. New Orleanian businesses flaunt their antiquity, as if whichever has been around for the longest must certainly be the best. Point of fact: New Orleans has 32 historic districts on the National Register, more than any other city in the United States.

In the French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in this venerable city, many of the buildings date back to the late 18th century and feature architecture that is wholly unique to the city, with influences from both the French and Spanish in their design. Today, buildings that were once mansions or single-family homes have become art galleries, retail shops, hotels, and (of course) restaurants, and many of these have inherited both colorful and terrible histories-along with resident ghosts.

Muriel's Jackson Square is the first restaurant that comes to mind when discussing haunted eateries in the French Quarter. Originally built circa 1745 by Jean Baptiste Destrehan, the huge property on the corner of Jackson Square partially burned down in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788. It was rebuilt by its subsequent owner Pierre Phillipe de Marigny. After being sold to Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, it was lost in a poker game. Instead of leaving the house he loved, Jourdan committed suicide on the second floor and reportedly haunts the space as a "glimmer of sparkling light" to this day. The owners of Muriel's have a table set daily with fresh bread and wine for Mr. Jourdan.

Muriel's owners, Rick Gratia and Doug Ahlers, purchased the building, restored it to its former glory, and opened in March 2001. Though the restaurant is spacious and elegant (like many of the grande dames in the French Quarter), the price point, especially for lunch, is extremely approachable. Guests don't have to worry their pocketbook with a wood-grilled beef tenderloin salad or a mouthwatering blackened Mississippi catfish with roasted new potatoes, spinach, and Crystal Hot Sauce butter, both only $14.95.

About a block away from Jackson Square, toward the French Market, lies 163-year-old Tujaque's (pronounced "two jacks") on Decatur Street. Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujague opened the original restaurant (just a few doors down from its current locale) in 1856 before moving to where it is now in 1914. Though you would imagine a building that was a Spanish armory before the city was incorporated would have had lots of ghost stories throughout the years, Tujague's hauntings first appeared in 2014 when a young couple snapped a selfie that was photo-bombed by a ghost. The specter is believed to be famous actor Julian Eltinge, a cross-dresser who often dined at Begue's Restaurant, which became Tujague's back in 1914. Lunch entrees at Tujague's are fairly priced for French Quarter eats, from their famous boiled brisket with Brussels sprouts ($17) and Gulf Fish Amandine ($18) to their Abita Amber BBQ Shrimp & Grits ($16) and Ms. Brenda's Red Beans & Rice with smoked sausage ($13).

Just four blocks away on Chartres Street, heading downriver from Tujagues, is Napoleon House-easily one of the most famous bars in America. New Orleans Mayor Nicholas Girod, in office from 1812-1815, occupied the residence and offered it to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821 as a refuge. Though the exiled emperor never made it, the name stuck, and the French Quarter bar has been known as the Napoleon House ever since. There are many stories of hauntings at Napoleon House-from the little old lady who sweeps at night on the second floor to a sailor who likes to hang out in the bar and drink bourbon late at night. The Impastato family owned and operated Napoleon house from 1914 to 2015, after which they sold it to another famous New Orleans culinary figure-Ralph Brennan. Along with their iconic Pimm's Cup and other classic cocktails, Napoleon House serves food many would deem pub grub, from cheese boards and boudin to their famous toasted muffuletta ($10.25 for half … it's huge!) and grilled alligator sausage po-boy ($10.50).

Though haunted restaurants and buildings throughout the French Quarter would easily fill an entire book, another notable place is The Jimani. Located three blocks from Napoleon House on Chartres Street, the sports bar and grill has a macabre past and, even though the building has been around since 1848, its most horrifying moments occurred not so very long ago. Formerly known as the UpStairs Lounge, the space was a gay bar that was well known as such among French Quarter residents. On June 24,1973, there were over 50 people gathered in the bar when a fire was set in the stairwell leading up to the club. With no way out, 32 of those patrons died as a result of fire or smoke inhalation, an appalling attack on the LGTBQ community that saw no equal until the recent 2016 shooting at an Orlando nightclub. Years after that horrifying night, many people claim to have encounters with the ghosts that now haunt The Jimani. According to one source, EVPs, or electronic voice phenomena, are the most common discovery by paranormal investigators, which are believed to be voices of those poor souls who died in the fire.

These days, The Jimani is a lively sports bar offering late night bites and cocktails. Delight in a plate of Jimmy J's Big Ass Nachos layered with chorizo and jalapenos ($6.75) or a Peanut Butter Bacon Burger with pepper jack cheese ($8) and spare a moment to remember those who were lost. You may even hear them thank you.

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