Extinct Restaurants

Cafe Pontchartrain
The Silver Whistle
The Pontchartrain Hotel, 2031 St. Charles Avenue

From the smallest hamlet to the biggest city, there’s always one restaurant where the big names in the community go to have breakfast with others of their kind. For many decades in New Orleans, that place was the coffee shop of the Pontchartrain Hotel.

Every morning at seven, a changing cast of highly-recognizable men (they were all men, at least on all the occasions when I saw them there) sat down with chicory coffee, the hotel’s famous (but overrated) blueberry muffins, and perhaps a serious breakfast. The latter ran the full gamut from the standard bacon, eggs, and grits to the fanciest hollandaise-topped poached eggs with crabmeat or the like. The coffee shop’s kitchen could do it all, because its other job was to feed the customers who came in for the excellent lunches and dinners in the hotel’s vaunted Caribbean Room.

No matter what you ordered or when you did, chances are that you’d linger much longer than you would over breakfast anywhere else. The elite diners at the round table replaced one another as the hours ticked by. Everybody knew everybody else, if only by reputation. I was often tempted to just walk up and sit down there, but never had the guts to do it. These guys were mostly attorneys and politicians. I never saw a journalist sitting there.

The place originally opened as The Silver Whistle. Sometime in the 1960s, it was renovated into a much more handsome space, and became Cafe Pontchartrain. In later years–after the founding Aschaffenburg family lost control of the hotel, the new management tore out all the dark paneling and found the old decor again. It was now charmingly retro. It was a little beat up, but they left it that way. And the name changed back to the equally antiquated Silver Whistle.

But the food service was in decline by then. About a year before Hurricane Katrina–with the Caribbean Room extinct–the Silver Whistle became Lafitte’s, a touristy parody of New Orleans food. It never came back after the hurricane. The hotel is being turned into condominiums. The Cafe Pontchartrain may even return.

And most of the denizens of the round table are now either retired or deceased.

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