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There are many great antique cities in the world, but shopkeepers on New Orleans’ Royal Street are quick to point out that none have the proximity that the French Quarter offers.
"Not many cities have 40 to 50 antique shops in a row," said Pete Moss, co-owner of Keil’s Antiques on Royal in the Vieux Carre. "We’re all located within 10 square blocks."
New Orleans is unique, explained William D. Rau, owner of M.S. Rau Antiques, because high-end antiques are very easy to find.
Antique shops line Royal Street.
"Visitors to New Orleans with limited time can hit many venues in a short time span," he added.
Because the city is a major port in the U.S., it has constantly attracted antiques and antique shoppers. Rau’s 25,000-square-foot store, for instance, is the largest antique seller in North America by sales and includes items that range from a Vincent van Gogh or Norman Rockwell painting to one of three Paul Revere armorial coffee pots.
Most of Royal Street’s antique dealers are part of family businesses — some are even related to each other — and are happy to serve with a dose of Southern hospitality. Marc H. Friedlander helps run a three-generation business at French Antique Shop, and one of its specialties includes a massive selection of antique chandeliers. Most of these elaborate lighting fixtures were created for candles, but can be easily converted to electricity, Friedlander explained. And for only $600,000, he will part with a rare rock crystal chandelier that’s 150 years old.
Nanette Keil Shapiro’s great grandmother founded Royal Antiques and catered to former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Today, the 20,000-square-foot showroom displays 18th- and 19th-century English and Continental furniture and decorative arts, plus antique and estate jewelry.
Keil’s Antiques opened in 1899 and features French and English furniture, Baccarat chandeliers and objets d’art, such as an antique marble sculpture by Auguste Moreau.
For the wow factor, M.S. Rau hits the jackpot. Every room features astonishing pieces that are unusual, rare and very expensive, even though Rau insists half of the inventory is below $20,000.
Despite the price tags, most storeowners operate knowing that customer service is half their business.
"Our number-one goal is for our client to be happy," Rau said, adding that they will even bring art and antiques to clients’ homes to test them out against the client’s decor.
Royal Street is also home to several art galleries, such as the Rodrigue Studio where Cajun artist George Rodrigue creates his world-famous Blue Dog paintings or the Martin Lawrence Galleries with its national collection of works of art by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol and others.
Gallery openings are celebrated at the beginning of the month and the annual Royal Street Stroll brings together jazz, wine, food, art and antiques as part of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.
Visitors to Royal Street can easily make a day out of the numerous antique shops and galleries. For an elegant and relaxing repast from shopping, stop for breakfast, brunch or dinner at Brennan’s, a landmark New Orleans restaurant.
The story goes that after New Orleans author Frances Parkinson Keyes made Antoine’s restaurant famous in her novel, "Dinner at Antoine’s," Owen Edward Brennan thought to create something equally attractive and thus "Breakfast at Brennan’s" began. Now, brunch draws a regular crowd, especially on weekends, for Brennan’s sherry-enhanced turtle soup, eggs Hussarde, oysters Benedict and the signature bananas Foster.
Most visitors to Brennan’s don’t mind the wait, if there is one, since they can enjoy brandy milk punch, Creole Bloody Marys or the Sazerac cocktail, all of which are New Orleans natives, on the typical French Quarter patio.
Brennan’s takes reservations daily for brunch and dinner, but groups of 15 or more must be arranged through the restaurant’s sales office.