Situated only a few short blocks from St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square is one of the most popular restaurants to eat at in the French Quarter: Chartres House Cafe. We’re talking delicious Cajun cuisine: Crawfish étouffée, duck empanadas, and blackened redfish.
This Spanish Colonial townhouse, with added Greek Revival influences, manages to hit every dining check-list; including, but not limited to ambience, seating with a view, and great food and spirits. Although the current building at 601 Chartres Street dates back to 1793, the property has been utilized as a residence since 1722 when the first owner, Joseph Reynes, staked his claim. It was a fine piece of real estate and was referred to as The Reynes Mansion.
But like most of the French Quarter at the end of the eighteenth-century, the first building went up in flames with the Great Fire of 1788. With nothing left but an empty lot, it was not until 1793 that the current-day building was built for Arnaud Roche. Originally a passageway led into the property on Chartres Street, although that no longer exists.
And, like many other French Quarter properties, 601 Rue Chartres also ceased to be solely a residence by the mid-to-late nineteenth century when Victor Valentinien purchased it in 1896. From that moment on, the property became known as “Victor’s” and the Valentiniens continued to own it until 1962. It was a grocery, a restaurant, a bar. During that period, and even after, one of the most notable patrons of Victor’s was Tennessee Williams himself.
All good things must end at some point, however. After Victor’s closed its doors, Teresa Torkanowsky bought the establishment—by 1966, she had brought a bit of Spain to New Orleans by naming the second floor as the Flamenco Room.
Today, the Chartres House Cafe continues to be a local restaurant that serves up great food and good customer service. Then again, it’s quite possible that some of its patrons come in hopes of running into the restaurant’s resident ghost. Up on the second-floor dining room—which was once the Flamenco Room—a male spirit is often spotted. Dressed in attire from the 1970s, it’s suspected that this otherworldly specter is the energy of a man who killed himself on that floor in the 70s when the space was used as apartments.
For years following the suicide, the room was allegedly impossible to lease. Those who tried were often afflicted with illness, their bellies roiling and their head pounding with such throbbing pain that no one lasted long in the second floor of 601 Rue Chartres. Was the man’s death in the 1970s the cause? Although no one can be certain, the second-floor dining room is now used frequently for parties and events. The windows let in light and it’s been some time since that dark energy has been truly felt.
But if you think that the male spirit has disappeared in recent years, guess again. His apparition can still be spotted standing by the windows of the second floor as he glances out onto the busy street below.
At this haunted restaurant, it’s probably a smart idea to dine on the ground level, lest you incite that dark energy to strike again.
This historic property has a story to tell, whether the story emerges via the excellently cooked dishes or the ghosts who linger on the upper floors. It was once a haunting ground for Tennessee Williams, and continues to serve clientele from all walks of life.
Should you be hoping for a run-in with one of the restaurant's many spirits (those not of the cocktail variety), ask to visit the second floor. You never know what might await you there.