Following their final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte on the plains of Waterloo, Belgium, in 1815, the British sent the former French Emperor into permanent exile on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena. But even a remotely imprisoned Napoleon remained the best bet going for many with a bone to pick with the Brits (and there were many).
Among these was one Nicholas Girod, a former New Orleans mayor whose cooperation with Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 had as much to do with his hatred of the British as any pro-American sentiment. In 1821, Girod went so far as to offer his house at 500 Chartres Street in the city’s French Quarter as a residence for Napoleon pending the success of an alleged plot to break the exiled emperor off the rock and bring him back to New Orleans. However, Bonaparte died before any such effort could take place.
But his would-be association with the house at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis Streets lived on; nearly a century later, in 1914, the Impastato family opened the Napoleon House Bar and Café in Girod’s former home. Today, Napoleon House remains a throwback to a twice-bygone era, where the white bust of the former French ruler that stands behind the bar holds court over the locals and tourists alike who are drawn to its decayed old-world ambiance.
The café serves Euro-Creole-inspired cuisine such as muffuletta, boudin, and a variety of salads. But the real draw, for me, is the bar’s house drink, the Pimm’s Cup. The concoction’s base ingredient is a gin-based, herb-infused liqueur that can be mixed with anything from lemonade and club soda to ginger ale or champagne, and typically served in a Collins glass garnished with a cucumber slice. It’s a most refreshing libation in the paint-warping heat and humidity of a New Orleans summer; to be sure, meted out, one might drink it all night long to maintain a pleasant buzz without ever feeling any adverse effect.
If you’ve never had a Pimm’s Cup, Napoleon House is a great place to acquaint yourself. Indeed, over the years, it has become ritual for me, upon arriving in New Orleans, to drop my bags wherever I may be staying and head straight for Napoleon House to plot my next move over a Pimm’s (or three) within the peeling walls that once might have housed the man who first sold the city to America.
Napoleon House Bar and Café
Address: 500 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: (504) 524-9752
Hours: Monday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday – Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Bar Hours: Bar open till.