Business, Know Your NOLA, Travel

One11 Hotel: an old sugar refinery is now a hotel in the French Quarter

New Orleans locals should check out Batture, the hotel bar offers drinks, small plates and brunch

There hasn’t been a hotel opening in the French Quarter for more than 50 years, but that was going to change if Wayne Ducote got his way.

Ducote, a local real estate developer in the parking lot business, isn’t the kind of guy who gives up easily. A competitive race car driver, Ducote spent his 70th birthday driving in the Indy Grand Prix NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale. That was five years ago, and if anything, his can-do spirit has simply intensified.

Hotel History & Historic Buildings

“When I put my mind to try to do something, I like to see it through,” he said. The most recent case in point is One11 Hotel , a gorgeous 83-room, eight-story boutique hotel that opened in December in a renovated circa 1893 building Ducote bought at auction in 1993. From the start, he envisioned a hotel, and, finally, 37 years later, his vision became reality.

Ducote ran up against a 1969 New Orleans City Council moratorium prohibiting the building of hotels in the French Quarter.

“That was passed after the construction of the Bourbon Orleans and Royal Sonesta, which demolished blocks of historic buildings,” he said. “My building was in the middle of a parking lot and was going to be preserved and renovated, not demolished.”

After years of wrangling, he got the green light in 2004, then Katrina happened in 2005. Finally, in 2015, the City Council approved the conversion of the building at 111 Iberville Street into a hotel, crediting the lack of demolition and the creation of jobs as primary factors. Situated directly across from the back entrance to Canal Place and a quick walk to Harrah’s, the hotel promises to bring new energy to the upriver side of the French Quarter.

The Sweet Spot

The distinctive white building is one of only three remaining sugar houses still standing, buildings that housed refineries and warehouse space for the Louisiana Sugar Refining Company. Ducote owns two of them, the adjacent red brick building serves as his office space. The location is brilliant.

“If you want to go to Bourbon Street, you’re three blocks away. Close to everything, shopping, restaurants, the streetcar, at the bend of the river. I’m so proud of the product,” he said. Once festivals come back, guests will be within steps of Woldenberg Park and the Riverwalk.

Managed by TPG Hotels out of Rhode Island, One11 Hotel was designed by David Ashen and his team at Dash Design, a New York City hospitality design firm. Throughout the design pays homage to the building’s history, from its palette of caramel and white reflecting the refinery past to the sleek modern finishing that accents the industrial elements of the building’s design. In public spaces, guest rooms and the lobby bar area, there is exposed brickwork, massive iron columns and wooden beams, a dramatic juxtaposition that works beautifully.

The view is the real scene-stealer. Perched exactly where the Mississippi makes its most hair-raising turn, the maritime traffic navigating the river never ceases to amaze. Two of the hotel’s trio of suites, called “Sweets,” naturally, offer private wrap-around terraces with views of the river and French Quarter, while the first-floor Sugar Sweet has views and direct access to the lush courtyard, with its fire pit and 83-foot-long heated swimming pool. A rooftop terrace is reserved for all hotel guests, with plans to eventually serve drinks to enhance the stellar views.

Small plates and brunch at Batture

Locals are slowly discovering One11Hotel, whether for a staycation (rates start at around $169 and go up depending on the room) or a chill time in the hotel’s inviting Batture Bistro + Bar.  If a guest pronounces the bistro’s name correctly, they have to either be a local or an engineer. Who else knows that batture – originally from the French word “to beat,” as in land “beaten” by the river – is the alluvial land disbursed over centuries between the low-tide of the Mississippi and the levee.

“I didn’t want to be in the restaurant business,” said Ducote. “There are plenty of great restaurants in the city of New Orleans. I wanted a place where guests could have breakfast, drinks and a bite to eat.”

He opted to have Stacey and George Messina run the lobby cafe and bar. Messina’s Events & Catering in Kenner is a fourth-generation family business, noted co-owner Stacey Messina. Besides offsite events, the company is known for Messina’s at the Terminal, a café at the art deco Lakeview Airport, which will reopen April 4 after being closed during the pandemic. Although they were handling events at Basin Street Station, the second-floor event space above the visitor’s welcome center, Batture marks the first time they are running an eatery in the French Quarter.

Chef de cuisine Drue Vitter shows his deep culinary knowledge – he’s been running hotel food and beverage for decades – with a modern Creole menu for brunch and small plates for nibbling.

“My thought was to illuminate Louisiana’s history through food, to create a menu that prompts questions,” he said.

You’d never know he was working from a small kitchen space – in keeping with Ducote’s idea of not having a full-service restaurant, the prep area is compact and the same goes for the Rational smart oven that he’s still playing with. Service hours continue to expand, with brunch on  Saturdays and Sundays and small plates and inventive cocktails served daytime into the early evening. Brunch Benedicts include many locally sourced ingredients like Steen’s cured ham, Crystal hollandaise, Lake Pontchartrain crabmeat along with takes on iconic New Orleans dishes like the bananas foster Belgian waffles.

Small savory plates served Monday through Friday from 3-9 p.m.and weekends 2-9 p.m., range from boudin egg rolls and a gulf shrimp martini to muffuletta flatbread and charcuterie platters that pay homage to the city’s Spanish and French heritage. Happy hour is 3-6 pm daily, with half price on the flatbreads and $4 beer, $5 well cocktails and $6 house wine.

“We’re finding that guests want a drink and a snack in the afternoon before they go out exploring and sometimes after dinner,” he said.

The inviting lobby area, which includes the Loading Dock, a large climate-controlled patio area, is so comfortable it’s tough to leave.

On a recent sunny afternoon, there was a healthy mix of locals and visitors people watching and on the spacious patio. One guest from Bywater said she’d been watching the distinctive white building for years and was thrilled to find it open and so welcoming. While the views include the parking lot that abuts the hotel, that lot gives guests an added advantage: park for $20 and get $10 towards drinks and food at Batture.

“No other hotel in the French Quarter has 400 self-park parking spots,” said Ducote.

As to the business outlook for his new hotel, Ducote says he’s “cautiously optimistic.”

“Once COVID-19 eases up a bit and people can travel, there’s going to be a rush of regional visitors from within a four or five-hour drive of New Orleans,” he said.

Sales Manager Lisa Miller seconds that notion, with the last quarter of this year already busy with events and small groups.

“I just booked rooms for six guests on the 14th day after their last vaccine shot,” she said.  “People are itching to come to New Orleans.”

Know before you go: One11 Hotel

Address: 111 Iberville St, New Orleans, LA 70130-1105

Website: one11hotel.com

Instagram: @one11hotel & @batturebistroandbar

Book a room: TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking.com