The celebrated chefs at Coquette are planning to open a new restaurant in a Lower Garden District building with a storied history at the corner of Constance and Thalia streets.
Chefs Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus will operate the new restaurant in the renovated building at 1245 Constance Street that once was home to the Shamrock Tavern, according to a letter that property owner Beverly House sent to neighbors. Plans show space for 12 tables and a small holding bar with seven seats.
“Kristen and Mike are not only well-respected New Orleans chefs, they are also residents of the Lower Garden District,” House told neighbors.House declined to elaborate on the details of the chefs’ plans, deferring to Essig, who could not be reached for comment late Friday morning. Essig did, however, leave a hint about her plans on her Facebook page in April, a photo of the corner of the building with the hashtag “#deliciousthingscoming.”
House did, however, share her enthusiasm for the new restaurant.
“Kristin is amazing,” House said. “This is kind of her vision, to have something that’s smaller for the local neighborhood.”
House described a labor of love in restoring the old building, which was the Shamrock Tavern from around the 1930s to the 1960s. It was apparently a segregated bar, House said, with separate entrances and areas for black and white customers, and House said the difference in the way they were treated is evident from details such as the columns: Those in the “white” area were made of decorative ironwork, but those in the area for black customers are plain, square wood columns.
Neighbors or former customers of the bar whom she’s met during the renovation process, however, tell her that the clientele tended not to worry so much about those divisions.
“It was a segregated bar, but people kind of ignored it,” House said. “They just did their own thing.”
After it ceased operation as a bar, the building’s life followed the decline and resurgence of the Lower Garden District. During the 1970s, it was used as House generously described as a “boarding house.” Later that, too, closed, and its most recent post-Katrina use was as a woodworking shop. At one point, the boards covering up part of the building apparently had a graffiti image of a stingray believed to have been done by Banksy, but that was torn off and discarded prior to House’s purchase of the building in November 2014, she said.
The building is also noteworthy for its large, faded Dixie Beer murals, which have drawn the attention of neighbors, preservationists and city planners alike. House said she has found photographs that show them in their original condition, and is seeking to restore them as part of the ongoing renovation process.
“One of the things I’m pretty passionate is maintaining some the historic features of the building,” House said. “We’re trying to get it back into commerce to have something serving the neighborhood.”
The project requires a zoning change to restore it from residential to neighborhood business classification with a conditional use for a residence, and is scheduled for a hearing before the City Planning Commission on Tuesday, Sept. 12. City planners are recommending the condition vote to approve the project, however, due in part to the building’s long history of commercial use.
Neighbors are also excited about the project, judging from the outpouring of support in letters to the commission. A neighborhood meeting in July drew about 20 people, and their comment cards were unanimously in support.
“Fantastic,” wrote Constance Street resident Banks McClintock. “Chef is trustworthy and superb.”
The City Planning Commission meets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chambers at City Hall.
Nick Conner, Chris Johnson and I bought 1245 Constance in 2008 when it was still an active “shooting gallery.” There was shredded blue tarp blowing from what was left of the roof and it barely had three sides. The downtown “wall” was entirely open to the elements. Mike Humphrey can attest to its condition at that time. Over the next several years, with $10,000-a-draw payouts from the bank, Nick, along with a small but notable crew – including Eric Ringbloom, Chris Harrington, Kevin Muggivan, and Ross Muggivan – tirelessly re-framed it, re-sided it, and, with acute attention to historical detail, replaced the trim carpentry with millwork fabricated on period machinery temporarily housed in Nick’s millshop in the space below. When it was near completion, Nick’s renovation of the building was nominated for an award by the HDLC. We lived in the cottages next door, which were part of the same lot with 1245 Constance until 2014, when our family outgrew the space and we sold 1245 Constance. We still own the cottages next door, which are now on a separate lot and have their own storied past.
As huge fans of Coquette, we are more than thrilled that Kristin Essig and Michael Stoltzfus are planning their next venture in the space.
And it wasn’t a Banksy. After Hurricane Gustav in 2008, someone hastily affixed several large decals of stingrays to a rotten piece of plywood on the storefront. They looked cool, but when they started to peel off, we removed the plywood to reveal the original Shamrock Tavern sign beneath it.