On a Friday afternoon in the French Quarter, in perfect early spring weather, I make my way down Royal St and step inside Brennan's. Things have soothed since I was last here four months ago, surrounded by the frenetic energy of the staff putting the final touches on the iconic restaurant's ambitious remodeling. Which is not to say that the restaurant's quiet -- it's Brennan's, after all -- and diners are seated everywhere, making the most of the newly dawned weekend.
Passing a table of well-dressed women laughing gaily, I make my way to the courtyard doors and step outside, where the calm, assured air of the restaurant I sensed upon entering multiplies a hundredfold, even amidst the bustle of staff setting up for a wedding reception. My eyes are drawn immediately to the fountain -- home of the famous second-lining turtles -- whose twin jets of arcing water cast a tranquil spell over the scene.
Brennan's general manager Christian Pendleton greets me. He'd just been working in said fountain, so he steps away to wash his hands before returning to shake mine. The first thing he tells me about is the stone, which belonged to the courtyard but was pulled up and stored during the remodeling. In a city like New Orleans, one must plan for any outdoor area to receive torrents of rain. With the help of landscape architect Karl Becnel, Brennan's redesigned the courtyard so that rainwater would drain away without flooding it, or worse, the restaurant itself. Afterward, the original flagstone was relaid, affirming the courtyard's connection to the Brennan's of old.
The artistry of the remodeled courtyard, as with the rest of the building, comes Louisiana-sourced. The outdoor furniture was built and designed either by local artists or by the maintenance team at Brennan's. Next to a traditional lantern sourced a few blocks away from Bevolo's, a beautiful copper awning is perched on the southwest wall, under which a table of beverages is displayed for the forthcoming reception. On either side of the courtyard stand calamondin trees, heavy with their small golden fruit, swaying slightly in the breeze.
"What's been the reaction from Brennan's regulars? Have they been happy with the remodeled courtyard?" I ask Pendleton. He responds energetically. "The reaction's been overwhelming. New and old fans are happy to see it's been given a facelift… obviously done with a great deal of care and thought. It's one of the nicest courtyards in New Orleans." He tells me about figuring out a way for the courtyard to serve brunch for guests (at prices that have actually lowered since Brennan's was last open) as well as accommodate private receptions.
The team of servers have circled up, attentively listening to their leader issue final preparation instructions for the reception in a hushed but firm tone. Against this backdrop of activity, Pendleton shares his philosophy behind the courtyard remodel, which couldn't fit more perfectly with the serenity of the setting, to say nothing of New Orleans' eternal disposition. "We just didn't try too hard."
Photo via Alison Moon, words by Art Bueno
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