The sidewalks have been scrubbed, the keg lines flushed, and in the cavernous krewe warehouses, tutti-frutti floats are heading into hibernation. Mardi Gras is over, but New Orleans still glitters.
The stretch between carnival and Jazz Fest, which begins April 24th, is an ideal time to visit New Orleans: the crowds aren’t crushing, the weather is magnificent and this year, there’s a gold rush of new hotels eager to welcome guests. One is the handsome Le Méridien, which opened in December following a $29 million transformation of the former W. The location, on Poydras Street near the Harrah’s casino, homely outlet stores and an impenetrable section of the waterfront, is charmless but convenient. To the north, Canal and the Quarter are only a block away, leading into must-visit neighborhoods like Marigny and Bywater. A short stroll in the opposite direction passes beneath the Pontchartrain Expressway into the stately Garden District and Uptown. As winter relents to spring, you can stroll from one end of the sun-splashed city to another without breaking a sweat.
Le Méridien’s grand reopening in March will see the completion of the second phase of a two-part renovation. For now, all 410 guest rooms have been remastered with a Champagne-and-tobacco palette, window-side fainting couches and steamer-trunk minibars. Overlaid like trace paper on the brand’s midcentury Parisian design language, city-specific details bubble to the surface and recede into the background. Lattice-like aerial maps of New Orleans cover the elevator doors. Louis Armstrong quotes play hide and seek in topographic wallpaper patterns and on rimless bathroom mirrors. Da Vinci Code’s Dan Brown would be a good guess for designer, but this project bears the signature of New York’s Meyer Davis, a frequent Starwood (hot) collaborator that worked on the Ws in Chicago and Mexico City.
Downstairs, the Hub stands in for a traditional lobby with a resident Master Barista making latte art by day and bartenders pouring sparkling Sazeracs by night. The main restaurant, literary-themed LMNO, has servers taking orders for Columbian chef Mauricio Gutierrez’s Andouille fritters and duck confit with kumquat jam on journalist notepads. A second restaurant, Marché, is open for breakfast only, and the Eye Opener shots (blueberry with chicory coffee and kale, Tabasco-flashed apple-lime) are complimentary. On the roof, cabanas flank a modest pool.
The diversions Le Méridien connects guests to outside its walls are more interesting. Through the brand’s Unlock Art program, you get complimentary access to the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. (The latter two are within walking distance; cab to the former, a Beaux Arts treasure anchoring the southeast corner of sprawling City Park, which feels like Central Park’s wild Southern cousin.) When you check out of the hotel, save your room key. Another Unlock Art feature, they keycard is its own piece of art, designed by LM100, Méridien’s conclave of consulting creatives. It’s a better souvenir than a string of Mardi Gras beads.