Sharing the Crowne

The Astor Crowne Plaza and Alexa hotels join forces in the Big Easy

By: George Abry

It took me some time to figure out why I couldn’t find the sign for The Alexa Hotel on Royal Street: It had been taken down. On July 1, The Alexa became an additional wing of the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street.

Now known as the Alexa Quarters of the Astor Crowne Plaza, this adjustment creates an additional 192 rooms at the hotel. With a total of 707 available rooms now, the merger makes the Astor Crowne Plaza one of the largest Crowne Plaza properties in the U.S.; second in size only to New York’s Crowne Plaza in Times Square.

“I expect our leisure market will expand now with the additional rooms, but it’s also easier to sell a brand of facility that people feel confident with,” said Don Zimmer, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. “The owners finally asked themselves, would it be easier to sell this as one property?”

In the past, although both hotels had the same ownership, they were marketed as two separate entities. Each one had its own lobby: The Alexa Hotel opened onto Royal Street while the Astor Crowne Plaza fronts Canal Street. Guests of the Alexa Hotel, which was connected to the Astor Crowne via a series of corridors and elevators, had access to the Astor’s swimming pool, business center, restaurant and bar.

The Alexa had more of a repeat leisure clientele, drawn to the old-world charm of its exposed masonry, high ceilings and intimate quarters, Zimmer said. On the other hand, the Four-Diamond Astor Crowne Plaza caters to conventioneers and meeting professionals as well as leisure travelers. Gas lantern replicas, chandeliers and robust furnishings speak of its turn-of-the-century appeal.

“We sold them separately depending on need,” Zimmer said. “The feel was so different at each one.”

Recently, I rode the Canal streetcar downtown, where I spent a few days rediscovering old New Orleans. I spent two nights at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel in the lap of luxury.

The hotel’s location on Canal Street, which is known as the widest street in the U.S., is the forefront of commercial activity. With the recent merger, the hotel now commands frontage on three of New Orleans’ most renowned streets: Canal, Bourbon and Royal.

One afternoon, I mingled with priceless French chandeliers and grandfather clocks on Royal Street, home to numerous antique stores such as M.S. Rau, Ida Manheim Antiques, Keil’s Antiques and countless others. One of my favorite art galleries is Crescent Gallery on nearby Toulouse Street, which carries the work of Louisiana abstract realist Rolland Golden.

I shopped at Rubenstein’s on Canal Street, where the Rubenstein family has been outfitting locals since 1924. With limited dining funds, I grabbed a Cuban sandwich for dinner at the Country Flame Restaurant, an inexpensive hole in the wall with dependable Mexican, Cuban and barbecue offerings.

The next morning, I had breakfast at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, an upscale seafood-heavy restaurant located downstairs in the Astor Crowne Plaza. My Creole Eggs Benedict was one of the tastiest early morning meals I’ve had in a long time. However, last year, I left the same restaurant dissatisfied with the seafood gratin I had ordered. In addition to being pricey, that dish was bland, tepid and uninspiring. In contrast, my wife’s tuna steak was well-seasoned and seared to perfection. So it’s clearly hit and miss.

Over breakfast, I spoke with Zimmer about the hotel’s plans for the upcoming year. Zimmer said the plan is to step up the turn-of-the-century theme in the hotel. The lobby, as well as ballrooms and hallways, will be fully refurbished and retrofitted with period furnishings. Artworks featuring New Orleans jazz musicians will be hung prominently throughout the hotel.

As for the Alexa: “Those rooms are of a different character than the Astor,” Zimmer said. “The long-term plan is to make that entire building an upgraded version, or an executive club level, of the hotel.”

After breakfast, I took a walk to the Aquarium of the Americas to meet my wife and two daughters. Along the way, I visited Stella Jones Gallery on St. Charles Avenue. The gallery specializes in high-caliber, 20th-century African-American and Caribbean art.

I’ve been to the aquarium too many times before to get really excited about it anymore, even though it is considered one of the best in the country. My 5-year-old daughter Charlotte, however, never tires of it. I suspect getting ice cream is a major part of the attraction.

The July heat in New Orleans is nothing to trifle with, so the four of us went back to the hotel, put on our bathing suits and passed the afternoon in the Crowne Plaza’s rooftop pool.

Down below on Bourbon Street, the action was already under way. The far-off trumpet of a street musician set an upbeat tone. A night club doorman beckoned tourists like a carnival barker, and the neon lights have never been brighter.


Astor Crowne Plaza
739 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

Hits: Located on historic Canal Street at Bourbon, the Astor is steps away from all the finest things New Orleans has to offer: Restaurants, antique stores, art galleries and the newly up-and-running Canal streetcar line, as well as Harrah’s Casino, the largest casino in the South.

Misses: Clients in search of a quiet, romantic getaway in New Orleans they do exist should steer clear of the Astor. Bourbon Street is a 24-hour street parade with its own marching band “do not disturb” signs carry little weight here.

Plugging In: Rooms include two-line telephones with voice mail. Internet service is available for $7.95 per 24-hours.

Dining: Located on the first floor of the Astor Crowne Plaza, Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House Seafood restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with brunch offered as well on Saturday and Sunday. The Oyster Bar is open from 11:30 a.m. to midnight daily.

Clientele: Business and leisure travelers

Rates: Room rates are seasonal and range $109-$229. Suites run $375-$695, depending on suite type.

Commission: 10 percent

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