For our next haunted place to eat, look no farther than the Garden District, which sits just upriver from the French Quarter.
Today, Commander's Palace is a hotspot of fine dining cuisine for locals and tourists alike. At any time of the day, you'll spot valets running to and from the front door as parades of people enter the establishment.
But the history of Commander's Palace is a complex one, full of elegance and tawdriness--depending on the level of the property you visited. And, it's safe to say that the spirits from these early days have not opted to leave Commander's Palace, even after death.
This land, farther upriver along the Mississippi River, once belonged to the Livaudais Plantation. The plantation was massive, spanning nearly a mile-and-a-half wide along the river and three miles deep. Jacques Livaudais, the second generation owner of the plantation, was a bit of a millionaire playboy. He was more likely to play billiards into the late hours of the evening than to sit back by the fire and read.
At the corner of today’s Washington Avenue and Prytania Street, just a half-block from our haunted restaurant, Commander’s Palace, Jacques Livaudais had even installed a horse track. For those days when he and his comrades were bored and looking for sporting entertainment—if you’re wondering how he ended up you’ll have to take our sister company’s Garden District Tour.
Commander’s Palace sits right on this same Livaudais land, perhaps even where the horse track once was. With its iconic bird’s egg blue coloring, and its Victorian turret pointing up to the sky, Commander’s Palace has been a favorite of locals and tourists alike for nearly a century.
It all started in 1880 when its first owner Emile Commander built it as a wedding gift for his daughter who never wed. Emile had previously owned a saloon a block or two away, but it was Commander’s Palace that would truly grow into tremendous fame . . . For both its cuisine and its scandalous behavior in the 1920s.
To paint a picture for you: across the street from the restaurant was and still is Lafayette Cemetery #1, the first graveyard in the Garden District. The wealthy in the neighborhood would pay their respects to the dead on Sundays before traipsing across the street for a light respite around noon. They’d be ushered right in. The first floor was immaculate and expensive, where only the truly aristocratic could afford to be seated and served. Its reputation? Beyond compare.
But above the families enjoying their soups de jour or their fancy cuisine was the second floor. The most appropriate description for the upstairs space would be “rambunctious.”
Gamblers and prostitutes were the main patrons of Commander’s Palace’s second floor. Men wooed their mistresses or found new ones entirely. Private rooms could be rented to anyone who found a need for it. To make matters even more scandalous, there was a separate entrance for the second floor so that the respectable families downstairs were not scandalized—oh my!
Of course, Commander’s Palace is no longer like that. The Brennan family purchased the restaurant in 1969 and since then, it has become a 5-star restaurant with executive chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. Families still go after church on Sundays or after visiting their loved ones in Lafayette Cemetery. It’s a restaurant with class and history and ghosts.
Although Commander’s Palace is not entirely open about the paranormal activity transpiring within, there are many who have witnessed the phenomena for themselves. Emile Commander’s ghost has been seen as he meanders through the tables, taking sips from the drinks of the living. The apparition of a little girl has been spotted walking down the staircase from the second floor. Silverware disappears, only to reappear elsewhere in the restaurant or not at all. Lights flicker in the kitchen, even as others hear the sound of disembodied footsteps that truly belong to no one of the living.
Others claim that the heightened paranormal activity at Commander’s Palace is the result of its saloon days in the 1920s when the second floor was used for promiscuity. Others, on the other hand, swear that the phenomena is due to its location right next to a graveyard.
Who is haunting the elegant Commander’s Palace? It’s safe to say that at this haunted restaurant, you come for the cuisine—and the .25 cent martinis served at weekend brunch—and hope beyond measure to come into contact with one of its permanent spirits. To up your chances, I’d highly suggest taking a walk through the cemetery first.
You never know who will follow you across the street.
Are you looking for a bite to eat? Are you looking for a meal at an iconic restaurant that has (quite literally) contributed innumerable chefs to the restaurant world? (i.e., Emeril Lagasse got his start here!)
If you've answered 'yes' to any of the above, then you don't want to miss out on eating a meal at Commander's Palace. Remember to wear your finest clothes, and prepare for a decent-sized bill. But, let us just tell you that the ambiance, the food and the service are all well worth the price tag.
And that doesn't even the ghosts!