‘Warm, richly detailed lounge inspired by romance, rebellion and joie de vivre’
As local burlesque dancer Elle Dorado coaxed a sip from her amber-hued craft cocktail, she declared the new Bar Marilou at 544 Carondelet St. bears an intoxicating resemblance to Le Bar at the famed, five-star L’Hotel in the heart of the Left Bank in Paris.
“There’s such a sophisticated vibe,” she said, savoring another splash of The Lover Speaks that contains agave Tequila Reposado, Frangelico, Martini Ambrato and three drops of floating sesame oil. “The drinks here are innovative, but they pay homage to the classics.”
Bar Marilou, a luxe French apéritif cocktail bar and lounge housed in the former law library of the New Orleans City Hall Annex, started pouring drinks on May 17. You can enter by way of an outdoor alley lined with palm trees and lush vegetation, or through the opulent 12-seat speakeasy where glasses are passed through a clandestine fenestella for hotel guests only. The private room adjoins Bar Marilou to the Maison de la Luz, a luxury guest house developed by creative agency Atelier Ace, the team that dreamed up the Ace Hotel across the street.
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Quixotic Projects, a France-based hospitality group behind multiple acclaimed Parisian bars and boîte de nuits, partnered to produce Bar Marilou, its first-ever U.S. collaboration.
“Bar Marilou marries their French roots with their love of New Orleans’ legendary cocktail history, European apéritif culture and the warmth of Caribbean spirit and flavor,” said Bar Marilou general manager Kiah Darion. “It’s a warm, richly detailed lounge inspired by romance, rebellion and joie de vivre, built on a classic foundation with layers of idiosyncratic details elevating the mood to convivial delight and relaxed elegance.”
Decorated with custom chandeliers, mirrors, oil paintings, dark wood wall-to-wall bookshelves and red and coral walls accented with pink floral wallpaper, the bar and lounge hosts an effervescent clientele that drinks in the ambiance from plush couches, deep chairs and decadent golden barstools upholstered in velveteen tiger skin with a tasseled fringe. Bar Marilou also features an array of eclectic curiosities that Darion said personifies the venue’s discreet glamour.
“We’re also known for our amazing bartenders,” Kevin Robida touted from behind the bar. “Seriously we’re all about service, and we undergo rigorous training.”
Quixotic Projects’ Joshua Fontaine, Adam Tsou and Carina Soto Velasquez, who was inducted into the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s 2019 Dame Hall of Fame, garnished the indulgent beverage program. It features an expansive selection of apéritifs (alcoholic drinks taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite), a curated natural wine list and specialty cocktails available in small, medium and large.
“New Orleans has a strong heritage in cuisine and cocktails that we have a lot of respect for,” said Fontaine. “The entire project is exciting, from the collaboration with the Ace group and being a part of the hotel, to having the opportunity to create a space and bringing our craft overseas. We get inspired from music, cinema, anecdotes, literature and local expressions. The name of a cocktail is very important!”
Bar Marilou’s potent potions boast not-so-sober sobriquets, including Fontaine’s favorite The Holy Mountain, prepared with frozen Suze, crème de cassis and lemon; The All-Seeing Eye, mixed with bourbon, amontillado sherry, Heering cherry liqueur and lemon; Sea, Sex and Sun awash with frozen rosé wine, mezcal, agave, lime and absinthe salt; and the Brave Margot that merges rum, Campari, pineapple, falernum, lime and absinthe.
Bar Marilou sources ingredients from around Louisiana and is in cahoots with local breweries, distilleries and bitter companies that integrate their liquid delicacies into the bar’s inebriating cocktails.
“We’re a destination bar because we’re all about the experience,” mixologist Robida said while preparing a Postcard From Bangkok with Thai lime leaf-infused vodka, génépi, lemon, coconut and a house-made grapefruit spiced cordial that’s served in a copper-plated bluebird-shaped vessel.
The 80-seat lounge also offers palate-pleasing small plates, including ceviche with tuna, avocado, trout roe, leche de serrano and micro sorrel; Saint Jacques seared scallops with charred broccoli rabe, white miso dressing and blackberries, heirloom tomatoes with peaches, shishito peppers, garam masala and ricotta salata; pommes Marilou crispy potatoes with crème fraîche and bowfin caviar; and a signature bar burger with cantal and tomme de brebis (sheep’s milk) cheeses, pickled cucumber, lettuce and onion.
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Sweet bonne bouches include chocolate pot de crème; crushed strawberries with toasted cinnamon croissant, browned butter, maple syrup and vanilla mousse; and a selection of artisan sorbets and gelatos from Piccola Gelateria on 4525 Freret St.
“It’s super groovy in here,” said Jeff Young from Metairie, who was nursing a Red Devil concoction consisting of Bonal apéritif, rye whiskey, single malt, strawberry, lemon and sparkling water. “There’s a hip crowd.”
Poppy Le Pew, another local burlesque dancer, said she slinks into the swanky salon about twice a month. “I like the atmosphere,” she said in between kittenish laps of her Jardin de Mémé infused with Green Chartreuse, St. Germain, lime, basil, absinthe and Aquafaba. “Plus, you can dress up cute in here.”
“Timeless, transcendent of trends and a bit mischievous, Bar Marilou is a gracious host for a multitude of delights in one of the most beautifully complex cities in the world,” said GM Darion. “We invite guests to embrace the French café culture celebrating the conviviality and camaraderie of friends. They also love to try and find the secret entrance to our secluded, private ‘speakeasy.’ It’s tucked behind a secret bookcase door.”
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Bradley Phillips, from Charleston, South Carolina, who was enjoying an overnight stay in New Orleans, sweet-talked his way into getting a sneak peek of the speakeasy. He heard about Bar Marilou’s “Apéritif Hour” and imbibed a Lillet Blanc libation.
“I asked around if anyone knew of an upscale bar with great cocktails that didn’t have too many college kids in it, and Bar Marilou was recommended to me,” he said. “It’s loungie and laid back and not a meat market. The moment I sat down at the bar I knew it was 100 percent the right place to be. The servers are friendly and not pushy, and I enjoyed listening to the live jazz performance. It’s very New Orleans above anything else I’ve seen.”
Bar Marilou currently presents live music on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month and plans to book weekly entertainment in the new year. Ambient performers such as tarot card readers and magicians also flit around the venue that’s open to both the public and Maison de la Luz guests Mondays through Thursdays, from 4 p.m. to midnight (with Apéritif Hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.); and Fridays through Sundays, from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. (with Apéritif Hour from 2:00 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Reservations are available.
Blotto boozers with a thirst for Bar Marilou can also enjoy 30 percent off all wines on Terroir Tuesdays, and for those in the restaurant industry 25 percent off the tab on Sunday’s Industry Nights.