For history buffs who like to stay in unique accommodations, the Dauphine Orleans Hotel may look simple from the outside, but inside it is a step back in time to the days of Storyville courtesans and madams in New Orleans, LA.
Storyville was the legendary red-light district of New Orleans, which famously legalized prostitution between 1898-1917. Once known as the “unofficial American capital of vice,” madams had the status of local celebrities, women of all races mixed with men, and the first notes of jazz were played and embraced with freedom that comes from unruly culture. As the city grew, politicians and military officers tried to stop the racial, sexual and artistic freedoms, which eventually lead to its abolition in 1918. Most of the buildings were almost entirely torn down, from the expensive high-class mansions to the cheap “cribs.” This is what makes Dauphine Orleans Hotel unique.
Records of the Dauphine Orleans’ site date the historic hotel as far back as 1775, and several of the original structures have survived the test of time. Included in the property is the Audubon Room where breakfast is served today, but from 1821-22 it is where John James Audubon painted his famous “Birds of America” series.
Paying tribute to the vestiges of this unique era in New Orleans’ history, guests at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel are welcomed to take a step back in time with a complimentary welcome beverage at May Baily’s Place which you enter by the pool on-site. The modest cottage at 423 Rue Dauphine, built in 1821, was once one of the better known bordellos operating on the fringe of Storyville. It has been reported that this location was one of the first licensed brothels in New Orleans in 1857. According to historical tales, the city started fining brothels to clean up the city. May Baily’s brothel offered to pay the city in advance. The city realized it couldn’t collect a fine for a crime not yet committed so it created the brothel license. This license is displayed on a wall at May Baily’s.
Today May Baily’s Place is decorated in a Victorian style with portraits of madams by New Orleans’ famous Storyville photographer E.J. Bellocq. Recently, these images have had a resurgence thanks to the viral nature of websites such as Reddit and Buzzfeed where a fascination with the red-light district of 1912 New Orleans has brought once hidden images to the mainstream.
The E.J. Bellocq reproduction images are worth a closer look on your visit. Bellocq was a professional photographer who made money taking photographs of landmarks and machinery for local companies in New Orleans. However, he also privately took photos of the hidden life of locals. Not many people knew that he took these images, which were not discovered until his death. Eighty-nine glass plate negatives of portraits of female prostitutes from New Orleans’ Storyville district were found in his desk. All of the images were taken circa 1912. Eventually, photographer Lee Friedlander acquired them and has made contact prints of the 8×10 negatives on the same gold-toned printing out paper that Bellocq used in his rare prints taking them from obscurity to an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
In addition to this historical site for libations, the hotel itself is a combination of historical properties. For our stay, we were in the Main House with a King Bed facing the interior of the property, not the street, which is what I would recommend — though ask for a Courtyard view if you can get it. This hotel is really charming, and though it is simple style and service, it is still a boutique destination that could not be duplicated in another destination. The staff were very friendly, there is a saltwater pool, a workout room, complimentary breakfast is included, as was bottled water, tea & cookies in the afternoon, a bathrobe and wireless access too — but the black-out blinds and the temper-pedic mattresses are really what made our stay. This was the most comfortable bed I have ever experienced in New Orleans, and it seemed to be larger than any other too. Go for the bed and the black-out blinds. You will sleep like a baby.
A block from Bourbon Street, and three blocks from Canal Street, this is a convenient location but it is important to know that it is still a somewhat rowdy outside as well. However, it offers historical charm with Southern Hospitality. The staff were nice from start to finish, and they never faltered from their smiles. Though I think that room choice is important, I believe that this hotel offers the quintessential NOLA experience with a great night sleep.