As well as reviewing hotel openings across the city, on our recent visit we also wanted to return to the properties that we’ve recommended for many years, to see if they still live up to their reputations or have been resting on their laurels.
The Windsor Court Hotel has been a favorite of Hideaway Report members since it opened in 1984. Close enough to the French Quarter to be convenient but secluded enough to offer serenity, the 316-room property recently received a $15 million renovation that included a modernization of guest rooms, a new pool bar and a refresh of the public spaces and the ballroom.
Guest rooms and suites at Windsor Court are decorated in a traditional English style with French accents to reflect the city’s heritage.
Having pulled onto the red brick drive, the porter had my bags on his trolley before I’d even stepped out of my vehicle. A hearty hello from the doorman made me feel right at home. (Over the course of our stay I’d often see him welcoming guests by name.) Check-in was more laid-back than I expected and didn’t match the formality of the surroundings — paintings of English royalty, 17th- to late-20th-century furnishings and the hotel’s trademark roses in a Mason’s Ironstone bowl. Friendly as they were, the staff at the desk seemed somewhat disengaged, as if their only job was to offer a key and tell us our room number. We met the bell person at our 18th-floor Premium Suite and he walked us through the various features of the room, then sped off to get us a bucket of ice.
Guest rooms and suites at Windsor Court are decorated in a traditional English style with French accents to reflect the city’s heritage. Our 800-square-foot suite opened to a spacious foyer and butler’s pantry/wet bar. It included two refrigerators, one fully stocked and one empty to accommodate leftovers. In a city like New Orleans, where dining out is integral to the experience, this seemed a thoughtful amenity. (Microwaves are available upon request.)
The living area was spacious and soothing. With a light-blue-and-cream color palette, it offered a plush sofa and two armchairs, a work desk and a dining table and chairs. Heavy, floral-patterned drapes framed the picture window, which afforded commanding views of the Central Business District. French doors with privacy glass separated the living quarters from the bedroom, which had a king-size bed, nightstands with lamps and the same large windows and view as the living room. (Some bedrooms offer balconies). A well-lit dressing area connected the bedroom and the bath. Overall the latter was a disappointment. The standard shower-tub combination seemed dated, and the “signature amenities” felt extremely cheap. Not only did I not want to take them home, I didn’t even want to use them. The green tea and lemongrass Spa by Windsor Court shampoo stripped my hair, requiring a whole bottle of untangling conditioner. I missed the Molton Brown toiletries from days gone by.
During our stay, we had drinks in the Polo Club Lounge, which is always a pleasure to visit. The classic cocktails are expertly crafted, the service is on point, and if you hit the place at the right time, you can enjoy live piano or jazz music (9 to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays).
The Grill Room is a delightful way to start the morning, and it’s hard not to indulge in its Creole specialties. We found the omelet with local crawfish and Poche’s andouille sausage particularly delicious. My coffee cup was constantly refilled, and the service was impeccable.
That said, a few slip-ups occurred throughout our stay: The front desk didn’t know when the Grill Room restaurant opened, and the concierge couldn’t secure a dinner reservation unless he saw it available on OpenTable, something we could have easily managed ourselves. The Wi-Fi in our room was also a problem. It didn’t work initially and when I called down to ask about it, I was given a number to call and found myself on the phone with the hotel’s outsourced tech team.
We didn’t get to see the ballroom, La Chinoiserie, but renovations include a makeover of the 3,700-square-foot space on the top floor. The biggest recent change at the hotel is the addition of a cabana-style Waterman Poolside Bar adjacent to the 65-foot saltwater rooftop pool. Open year-round, it offers four flat-screen TVs, towel service, wine, beer and light al fresco dining.
The privately owned Windsor Court has long been the standard bearer of luxury hotels in New Orleans, and the $15 million revamp has only served to keep it as such.
The mixologists at the Polo Club Lounge; the quick, friendly valet and doorman.
Service at the front desk, which could have been more polished.
The Waterman Poolside Bar is open to the public through Resort Pass.
In the French Quarter itself, we revisited the charming Hideaway Report-recommended Soniat House, a 30-room hotel at the quiet end of Chartres Street. I liked imagining the property as the family home it once was, with horse-drawn carriages pulling into the main courtyard that now acts as the hotel entrance. This cozy hotel comprises three townhouses from the 19th century, so guests should expect some of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that tend to come with older properties.
We stayed in Room 19, which is a Junior Suite on the ground floor. It was comfortable but notably dark; our only windows faced the inner courtyard with guests and staff passing by, so our shades had to be kept drawn. Given the size of the room, the bath felt too small for two people. While the room and the property overall exude warmth and a sense of place, I came away feeling that refreshment is needed. I found cracked paint and carpet stains both in our room and in the upper public hallways, as well as worn furniture in our room’s sitting area.
Feeling as if you’ve stepped back in time can be a positive thing, of course, but I have no desire to travel back to 1980, when recycling wasn’t commonplace. The sheer number of plastic water bottles we encountered was shocking. I wish the hotel would think about recycling and conservation. (Perhaps New Orleans itself needs to do more on this front.)
Though Soniat House is somewhat tired, it makes up for the shabbiness with charm and an ideal location. Guests can walk to Café Du Monde, Jackson Square, the best restaurants in the Quarter, and take in the Frenchmen Street music venues just three blocks away.
As has been our experience in the past, the staff were helpful and personable throughout our stay. A highlight was provided by the complimentary homemade buttermilk biscuits served with Louisiana strawberry preserves (available upon request once a day from sunup to sundown). Wine was also gratis in the library, but more choices other than one white and one red would have been appreciated.
Biscuits and jam!
The property needs refurbishment.
If you crave more sunlight, you may want an exterior, upper-level room, but some French Quarter noise may come with the location.