Omni Royal Orleans

Old World charm puts on a new face

By: Cheré Coen

It took two years to decide whether or not to renovate the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel’s signature restaurant, an award-winning establishment at the bustling corner of St. Louis and Royal streets in the French Quarter of New Orleans. And the decision to perform the restoration had little to do with hotel patrons.

Changing the Rib Room and its woody Old English atmosphere after 40 years might disturb the locals and their intense loyalties to New Orleans’ cuisine and restaurants, said Julie Noto, general manager.

“We were worried natives would get mad at the redesign,” Noto said. “It took them two years to decide.”

When management resolved to go forth with the $1.7 million renovation, they kept locals’ interests in mind, she said.
So far, no one’s complaining. In fact, the first redesign in 44 years caused such publicity that Marc Becker, director of marketing for the hotel, has witnessed 30 to 40 percent of the clientele being those “who have rediscovered the Rib Room since the reopening” in November.

“The overall consensus has been really, really positive,” Becker said.

No doubt locals are pleased that little has been changed to the cozy atmosphere, including the expansive ceiling and Old World charm. Now open to the general public is the Escoffier Room, once a private, secluded smoking room for male patrons, now a semi-private dining room that seats up to 28 and overlooks the Rib Room through wrought-iron railings.

Also unchanged is the dedicated service of Dalton Milton, the Rib Room’s maitre d’ for the past 44 years who’s famous for recognizing patrons.

“I had a friend call and ask me to make reservations,” Becker explained. “It had been 10 years, and Milton knew them well. It’s an art form.”

The Rib Room is only one reason to stay at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel. The historic establishment commands half a city block in the French Quarter, situated next to several famous restaurants, antique shopping on Royal Street and mere blocks from Jackson Square and Canal Street. Although the original St. Louis Hotel burned at this site years before, the Omni has been painfully recreated to mirror its predecessor, including incorporating the St. Louis’ exterior walls that offer, although faintly, images from the French Quarter’s past.

The Royal Orleans, as locals know it, was mentioned in Arthur Hailey’s “Hotel,” and many believe it to be the inspiration for that novel, which was later made into a movie starring Rod Taylor.

“Hailey mostly stayed here during research trips,” Becker explained. “It was definitely largely based on this hotel.”
The award-winning hotel has also been the resting spot of choice to many celebrities and heads of state.

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin was so fond of the hotel, he wrote a song, “Royal Orleans.”

“He was a different kind of client,” Becker said. “He was very demanding in a nice sort of way.”

When Patti LaBelle received a key to the city, the mayor of New Orleans arrived by limousine but refused to enter the hotel until LaBelle came down to the lobby. LaBelle refused to leave her hotel room until the mayor left his car.

“Finally, we had to lie to both of them to get them together,” Becker said with a laugh. “Those are the quirks of the hotel business. You never know what you’re going to be up against.”

Owned and operated by international conglomerate Omni Hotels, the hotel nevertheless has an authentic New Orleans feel. Complementary dark-roast Community Coffee, a java of choice among locals, comes with each room’s coffee maker. An umbrella is placed inside the closet, since sub-tropical New Orleans receives 60 inches of rain per year.

Balcony rooms overlooking Royal Street offer wrought-iron furniture to match the railings, flower planters and elegant French doors, allowing visitors to step back in time as they gaze out on the historic Quarter strands of beads and traffic, the only reminder of the 21st century.

The rooftop features a pool, fitness center and La Riviera, a seasonal restaurant. Be sure and visit at night, when the view of the Vieux Carré and the bend of the Mississippi River are glorious by moonlight. Only the neighboring Monteleone Hotel has a higher view inside the Vieux Carré, but the Omni sits more centrally located within the Quarter.

The hotel also offers an elegant ballroom, complete with Waterford crystal chandeliers, and meeting spaces, including an indoor/outdoor setting with French doors overlooking a private patio garden and fountain.

This spring, the Omni Royal Orleans will introduce a romantic package that offers a variety of amenities. Visitors can choose from features such as late checkouts, roses, chocolates and breakfast in bed.

“We do a romantic package,” Becker said. “When you call for reservations, you can choose from one of the packages. It’s like an a la carte thing.”


Omni Royal Orleans
621 St. Louis St.
New Orleans, LA 70140
Fax: 504-529-7089
E-mail: reservations@omni
Hits: Centrally located in the French Quarter, the Omni is literally one block from some of New Orleans’ finest restaurants, including Antoine’s, Brennan’s,
K-Paul’s and the eclectic Napoleon House. The hotel faces Royal Street on one side, a street full of art galleries and antique shops.
Misses: Centrally located in the French Quarter, a vibrant New Orleans neighborhood, visitors will get an earful come morning when the garbage trucks roll by and businesses open shop. Those who enjoy the busy streets of Paris will feel welcome here.
Plugging In: Rooms include two-line telephones with voice mail and free wireless Internet.
Dining: The Zagat Award-winning Rib Room is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner nightly. A jazz champagne brunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Clientele: Business and leisure. The atmosphere can get rowdy at Carnival time and during other French Quarter events. Locals sometimes book rooms during Mardi Gras for the prime location.
Rates: Room rates are seasonal and range from $109 to $329 for regular rooms. Specialty room types (balcony, Jacuzzi, suites) are also available from about $349 up to $999 per night.
Commission: Travel agents with IATA certification receive 10 percent commission, paid following departure of the guest.