Galatoire’s and the end of an ice age in New Orleans
In 1996, the venerable Galatoire’s Restaurant installed an ice machine, much to the chagrin of regulars who previously enjoyed having their precisely mixed drinks chilled with ice that waiters had chipped by hand from blocks. It was yet another change that long-suffering customers had to endure at their beloved Bourbon Street bistro, after the addition of women to the wait staff, the relaxation of the dress code and the acceptance of credit cards. Yet everyone soldiered on.
At 112 years old, Galatoire’s is thriving, and the legendarily raucous midday Friday repasts, where lunch can segue into happy hour and then dinner, are still going strong. Although the no-reservations policy prevails in the bright, festive downstairs dining room, where everyone can see everyone else in long mirrors, reservations are accepted for upstairs tables, and Galatoire’s “33” Bar & Steak has set up shop next door. After 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Galatoire’s Bistro was opened in Baton Rouge.
- Jean Galatoire, a native of a village near Pau, France, established the restaurant bearing his name in 1905 at 209 Bourbon St., taking over a spot that had been Victor’s Restaurant.
- Mickey Easterling was one of the customers who complained about the ice machine. To dramatize her concern, she had a block of ice, complete with ice picks, delivered to her table.
- Galatoire’s bends its no-reservations rule on two occasions: the Fridays before Christmas and Mardi Gras. On those high-demand days, it auctions off spots at the 155 bentwood chairs for people who simply must join the throng. Each chair can fetch hundreds of dollars, and the money goes to charities such as the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, Boys Hope Girls Hope New Orleans, and New Orleans Mission.
Not even Charles de Gaulle could get Galatoire’s to change its no-reservations rule. In advance of his visit to New Orleans in April 1960, the restaurant was asked to set aside a table for the World War II hero, who was then France’s president. The restaurant refused.
- When J. Bennett Johnston was in the U.S. Senate and Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the legendary White House switchboard tracked down the Louisiana senator when he was standing in line at Galatoire’s. He came inside, took the call and, according to restaurant lore, resumed his place in line after hanging up.
- Tennessee Williams was a regular. In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Stella Kowalski and her sister, Blanche Du Bois, dine there.
- Among the biggest controversies in the restaurant’s history was triggered by the firing of Gilberto Eyzaguirre, a waiter for more than 20 years, in April 2002 after a female waiter filed a complaint of sexual harassment.
- Since this was in the days before people vented their wrath via social media, Galatoire’s received more than 100 indignant letters protesting Eyzaguirre’s firing. The best of them became “The Galatoire’s Monologues,” an evening of readings of those missives that attracted sold-out audiences. The readings also set social arbiters to tut-tutting about such matters as the attitude of the privileged classes, their willingness to overlook the serious subject of sexual harassment, and the fact that such a kerfuffle could have happened only in restaurant-crazed New Orleans.
The reaction to Eyzaguirre’s firing was just the latest manifestation of New Orleanians’ fondness for this outpost of haute cuisine, which sits in the middle of New Orleans’ bawdiest thoroughfare. Though there have been some tweaks in the menu during the past 112 years, the traditional favorites such as crabmeat maison, brabant potatoes, trout amandine and café brulot are still served, with flair, and people flock from everywhere for the privilege of standing in line on Bourbon Street.