Dozen Best Dining Room Murals
Restaurant walls have to be covered with something, so that people trying to catch the eye of a waiter can pretend to be looking at something else. (Waiters know that when a diner is looking at the art on the walls, he’s really looking for service.)
But some restaurants show off art that’s really worth looking at. Here is a list of the dozen more interesting large paintings–murals, and other works big enough to fill a large wall. This excludes the displays of many small pieces, even if they cover a wall.
Other omissions I will be asked about if I don’t mention them:
Paintings in bars, notably the Art Deco mural behind the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel. It’s only tenuously connected with the Sazerac Restaurant next door.
Great murals in restaurants currently closed, even if they may well return someday. If they do, then the two murals of City Park at the former Peristyle restaurant would make this list. So would the George Dureau mural at Cafe Sbisa.
1. Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. A large painting in the main dining room depicts an authentic historic scene. The wives of habitual customers of the restaurant that was here in the 1800s are being met by the prostitutes the husbands came here to visit. The whole story, and the mural itself, are here.
2. Gumbo Shop. French Quarter: 630 St Peter. 504-525-1486. Four murals show scenes from Jackson Square and the nearby area as it looked a century ago, with good accuracy. They were painted in the Twenties or Thirties in exchange for food and drink for the artist. They’re getting a bit browned by time, but somehow that looks right. The locales in the murals are less than a block away from the Gumbo Shop, which gets the gold for localism.
3. Casablanca. Metairie: 3030 Severn Ave. 504-888-2209. A two-story-high wall in this unexpectedly handsome (it’s in a strip mall) cafe depicts a scene from the namesake city. Owner Linda Waknin has a photograph of it to prove its accuracy. It’s not only impressive, but a little disorienting.
4. Fausto’s. Metairie: 530 Veterans Blvd. 504-833-7121. Scenes from Venice cover the largest of the dining room walls. It’s fanciful, but so well done that you if you’ve ever been to Venice you’ll find yourself pointing to the painting and saying, “I remember standing right at this exact spot.”
5. Bayona. French Quarter: 430 Dauphine. 504-525-4455. A four-table small dining room just inside the entrance sports a four-wall mural of an indeterminate Mediterranean scene. If it’s supposed to be New Orleans, it’s very subtle. The room is casually known as “The Lizard Room,” for reasons you will not discern until your eye catches a detail you didn’t notice until right then.
6. Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994. Until the early 2000s, all the art in the tony Windsor Court Hotel had an unmistakable British look, with particular attention to the royal family. A general manager decided the restaurant needed local color, and had a couple of large paintings done of cliche local scenes. The most interesting shows the French Market of a long time ago. The people in it are all real, although few would recognize all of them. You can spend a half hour trying to figure out who’s who. The paintings are very well done, but they just don’t belong here, in my opinion.
7. Camellia Cafe. Abita Springs: 69455 LA 59. 985-809-6313. From the mind of Luis Colmenares, the walls of the Camellia Cafe depict an imaginary but distinctly Old New Orleans street scene. It’s everywhere in the restaurant, including the bathrooms.
8. Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. Two walls in the upstairs dining room feature large paintings of notable people from the New Orleans music world. They’re assembled into an improbable parade that also includes Ella, Dick, John, Dottie, and Adelaide Brennan–the restaurant-founding generation of the family that owns this and many other New Orleans eateries.
9. Lebanon’s Cafe. Riverbend: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200. A painting of the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon covers the largest uninterrupted wall here. It’s fanciful, showing a certain childlike delight at being at the beach.
10. Red Fish Grill. French Quarter: 115 Bourbon. 504-598-1200. Luis Colmenares–a well-known local artist in many media and designer of many public spaces–created Ralph Brennan’s first restaurant to look like the set for a movie depicting goings-on in an area of advanced decay somewhere in the French Quarter, all decorated by cartoons.
11. Pizza Man Of Covington. Covington: 1248 Collins Blvd (US 190). 985-892-9874. The art most people notice here is the collection of pizza boxes, each illustrated by a single regular customer who has a delightful cartoony style and sense of humor. But look deeper and you see wall-sized framed artworks of a different kind. Everybody who looks at them closely says the same thing: “I didn’t know they made jigsaw puzzles that big!” Well, they do, and putting them together is a longtime hobby for owner Paul Schrems and his wife.
12. Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154. The Tip-Top Shoe Repair sign high in the back of the main dining room looks like it’s been there a hundred years, like the Carter’s Pills and Uneeda Biscuit signs on other French Quarter walls. It’s a fake, really, but its story is good. The late John Santopadre–Chef Duke’s original partner in Cafe Giovanni–began his business career with a shoe repair shop. Tip-Top is still in business, but Santopadre moved on to the restaurant business, among other things. At one time or another he owned Mr. John’s Steakhouse, Smilie’s, Tastee Donuts, and a few other eateries.