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There’s a reason they call New Orleans the most haunted city in America. The Big Easy is not only known for its storied cuisine, but also its dining haunts that may be, well, haunted.
“New Orleans, which is celebrating its tri-centennial this year, has had a long history of battles, diseases, natural disasters and basically, a great many people living in a compact area,” says Larry Montz, parapsychologist of the International Society for Paranormal Research. “These are some of the factors that can lead to various types of paranormal activity. On a happy note, we’d like to believe that some people enjoyed the Big Easy so much, they just don’t care to move on.”
Here are five places where diners can connect with the other side within the city limits.
One of the most well-known restaurants in the city, The Court of Two Sisters is best known for the duo the eatery is named for: Emma Camors and Bertha Angaud, who opened a shop at the location and served tea and cakes at its famed courtyard. The siblings, who died two months apart in 1944, are often “seen” around the premises. Montz says during a 2003 investigation, his team found the sisters. “One of my clairvoyants had a lengthy interaction with Emma who offered that she is on site far more often than Bertha,” he says.
Today, the restaurant is famed for its wisteria-covered courtyard, the largest in the French Quarter, and its live jazz brunch buffet, which takes place every day of the week, says Sherry Constance, director of sales.
The city itself isn’t the only one celebrating a special birthday this year. Arnaud’s, which is marking 100 years of service, still whips up many of its dishes that have been on the menu since opening doors in 1918, like its famed Shrimp Arnaud, Trout Meuniere served with Brabant potatoes and caramel custard. It’s referred to by some regulars as “the happy meal,” says co-owner Katy Casbarian.
As for one of its most frequent visitors? That would be Germaine Cazenave, the daughter of the restaurant’s founder, Arnaud Cazenave, who has been encountered by both diners and employees. “Most recently, a group of diners in one of the restaurant’s private dining rooms upstairs said they saw the floating torso of a man appear in one of their photos,” Casbarian says. “It is believed to have been Coun’ Arnaud himself. An employee doing an after-hours audit found a highball glass half full on the bar at the Richelieu Bar [in the restaurant], which struck him as odd considering the restaurant’s strict clean-up rules. Moments later, he glanced back to find the glass was empty.”
Muriel’s lays out the welcome mat for its customers—both living and dead. The restaurant’s owners and staff keep a table set for the establishment’s resident ghost, Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, who died where the property’s Seance Lounges are now. “I think it is the perfect example of how New Orleans doesn't just tell ghost stories, she embraces the spirits that are still roaming the streets and buildings; never to make them feel unwanted,” says Gretchen Upshaw, general manager.
“The location is rich in history, as well as hauntings,” Upshaw adds. “Many of our guests have captured apparitions on their cameras at Muriel's during one of our tours.” In addition to its otherworldly clientele, Muriel’s is known for its classic creole menu, extensive wine list, and their spin on classic New Orleans cocktails like the Crescent City Mule and The Saint 75, she says.
Photos are a common thread for uncovering the paranormal, and Napoleon House is no exception. Just two years ago during a professional photo shoot at the restaurant, there was a new sighting, says Chris Montero, executive chef and general manager. “When the photographer developed the photos, there was a clear image of a man's profile up in the cupola at the top of the building,” he says. “No one saw it at the time the photo was being taken, and the attic was locked up to the cupola so there was no chance anyone was up there! Yet, it revealed itself in the photograph, there was a distinct profile of a man up in that window.”
The most common sighting at the restaurant, however, stems from multiple people reporting seeing a woman dressed in 17th century period clothes sweeping the balcony of its second floor. “She would sweep outside of what would have been one of Mayor Nicolas Girod's apartments,” says Montero. Girod, who was mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815, offered the locale as a refuge to Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile. (Even though Napoleon never actually made it, the name remained.) Now, some of the restaurant’s most popular offerings are muffuletta, a hearty sandwich of cured meats and cheese, that nods to the Italian population that opened delis in New Orleans, and the Pimm's Cup, a refreshing cocktail for hot Louisiana days.
“Our city's history is steeped in voodoo, war, ritual, and religion,” Montero says. “The setting itself, with swamps and a generally eerie atmosphere is very popular for vampire novels, haunted history novels, and pirate stories. The culture and history lend well to a lot of the supernatural and paranormal storytelling.”
Set in a 19th century mansion, Cavan has had its share of baffling occurrences even before it opened. When owner Robert LeBlanc’s restaurant group LEBLANC + SMITH purchased the mansion, the former owners warned of strange incidents, like motion sensors going off when the location was empty, lights going from dim to really bright, and the upstairs bathroom door repeatedly locking itself from the inside, according to LeBlanc.
Archdiocese of New Orleans Monsignor Christopher Nalty recommended that an exorcism be performed on the home, but it was ignored until the girlfriend of a former bartender complained an unidentified angry woman was answering his phone during shifts—impossible since the phone was dead and in the bartender’s pocket. Eventually the bartender, his girlfriend, and another restaurant employee were leaving when the girlfriend’s phone rang, showing the bartender’s number as ringing, LeBlanc says. “She picked up the phone to a voice repeating ‘Don’t look at my face. Don’t look at my face.’” An exorcism was eventually performed on the building.
When it comes to the food, diners will enjoy accessible and inventive dishes that pay homage to flavors and ingredients found in southeastern coastal American cuisine. Try the turtle carbonara, crawfish Bolognese, jerk spiced fish, and boudin tater tots. And save room for the Key lime pie, LeBlanc says.
Kelsey Butler is a writer and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for a number of health and lifestyle publications, including Men's Health, Women's Health, Brides, and NBC News Better. Hot sauce, black coffee, and bacon make up 50% of her diet.