Culture / Travel

New Orleans Church Hotel Defies the Big Easy’s Sinful Reputation, Lets You Chill in Former Convent

Hotel Peter & Paul Shows a Different Side of the City

BY Colby Goetschius // 06.26.19
photography Hotel Peter & Paul

Known as “The City That Care Forgot,” New Orleans recast its epithet during a recent visit. Perusing polished culinary antiques at Lucullus, smudging a tablecloth at Gautreau’s, and tapping our feet to the Stanton Moore Trio at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro all took second fiddle (or saxophone) to a walk with my petit ami, David Wantland.

We tripped over stray vines of Confederate jasmine as we traversed the Holy City in what David, an Episcopal priest, named a novena of churches.

New Orleans’ decadence shone in the carousel lighting of St. Alphonsus; a fifth-generation congregant told the city’s history through the lens of Touro Synagogue; and I may well have seen the city’s heart beating, cast as a red stain against the wall of Christ Church Cathedral’s sacristy, which glowed through a cracked door into its Gothic nave.

The steeples bookending every block are beacons of hope for the city that wears its scars proudly, signs that Care eventually remembers.

We stayed under one of those steeples, at the 19th-century church turned Hotel Peter & Paul. The Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church was built by architect Henry Howard in 1860 and for more than a century, the church offered a spiritual base for the Faubourg Marigny and educated its youth. But as the years passed, suburban flight led to a decrease in enrollment, and forced the school to shut its doors in 1993.

A Church Reborn

The church and its accompanying rectory, schoolhouse, and convent had been abandoned for more than a decade before developer Nathalie Jordi arrived with a big (but not easy!) vision. Determined to resurrect this community sanctuary, she brought in partner ASH NYC, an AD 100 design and development firm versed in historic hotel conversions (The Dean in Providence, Rhode Island, and The Siren in Detroit). Local architectural firm studioWTA joined the team, to preserve the beloved building fabric and to apportion guest rooms and baths from children’s lavatories, an auditorium and gymnasium in the school building, and to reconfigure Mother Superior’s private quarters in the Convent.

New Orleans church
The 19th century church is today one of New Orleans’ most romantic boutique hotels. (Photo by Hotel Peter & Paul)

On trips to France, Belgium, and beyond, Jordi and ASH NYC’s Ari Heckman and Will Cooper sourced 770-plus antiques to fill the hallowed halls. Pointing to the city’s history of immigration and trade, the accretion of objets adds up to a monastically austere hybrid of French country, Italian palazzo, and Gustavian styling. Iron beds topped with crosses, trompe l’oeil wardrobes inspired by Christian Bérard, and hand-painted shower tiles showcase the talent of countless local artisans and craftsmen whose hands built Hotel Peter & Paul.

The 71 guest rooms of this heaven on earth are canonically suffused with miles of check fabric by Filtex, a 100-year-old Swiss textile manufacturer, in a color palette derived from the hotel’s vertu of 14th through 18th century religious paintings. In the School House, where we took pine-colored corner quarters (from $194 a night), each floor is devoutly green, blue, yellow, or red monochrome, and no two rooms are alike.

Profusely cloaked in treillage, with a faux-cypress bar surround crafted by a Mardi Gras float maker and banquettes tented with bolts and bolts of billowing saffron silk, The Rectory’s suite of public parlors is the scene of Tennessee Williams’ New Orleans, which he described as “the last frontier of Bohemia.” In The Elysian Bar, communion comes in the form of a Sazerac cocktail crafted by the Cana-esque wine-and-spirit outfit Bacchanal. Alex Harrell, former owner and chef of the Sofia Coppola-favored Angeline restaurant, runs the hotel’s culinary program, which challenged Lent with small bites such as a caviar-crowned omelet of duck eggs.

The story of Hotel Peter & Paul is not complete without reverence for the church itself. Though officially deconsecrated by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2000 during a parish consolidation, the 9,450-square-foot structure continues to be a sacred place for the diverse community, which uses the space for events and weekly yoga and Pilates classes. Folks from the neighborhood are invited in for tours by the clergy-like staff, whose apostolic stewardship of Jordi’s vision preserves the cultural texture of the City that Care Remembered.

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