500 Chartres Street, New Orleans
Make your way down Chartres Street in New Orleans, and you might hear classical music overflowing to the sidewalk from the historic bar and restaurant “Napoleon House.” Peek inside for a glimpse at walls that haven’t been painted in over a century, cluttered with paintings and pictures of old New Orleans and the Vieux Carre.
Saddle up to the bar and order a Pimm’s cup. If you’re looking for some company, it’s here. The ghosts you’re clinking glasses with might be pals of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
To understand who may be haunting the Napoleon House, we have to go back to it's beginning.
The ghosts rumored to be haunting the building range from a sailor who relishes in drinking late at night to an older woman still sweeping the balcony in her afterlife.
The Napoleon House gets its name from a legend that has yet to be proven.
The story goes that New Orleans Mayor Nicholas Girod built the home on Chartres Street sometime around 1800 with the intention of it being “The finest building in the city,” for an important guest.
That man was Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, currently living on an island in exile. The home would be Napoleon’s safe-house, and the escape plan included a colorful cast of characters, such as Pirate Jean Lafitte’s men.
However, you won’t be sharing a happy hour with the ghost of Napoleon; he never made it to the house.
New Orleans learned of his death just three days before they planned to launch the mission to save him according to a book printed in 1884 called “Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans.”
The Napoleon House employees say reflections and movement are spotted in the cupola’s windows at the top of the roof, usually closed by shutters. Some believe that when the shutters are open, they unlock the spirit living behind the dark blinds.
Is the ghost of Mayor Nicholas Girod still in the house today, keeping a lookout at the top of the home for Napoleon Bonaparte to show up?
Historical documents don’t leave many clues about what exactly happened at 500 Chartres Street between 1821 and 1900s. We do have a general sense of what the building was used for and found some possible candidates who might be spooking residents, employees, and customers at the Napoleon House today.
According to the Historic New Orleans Collection, the house was once a Civil War hospital, and legend has it you can still see one unfortunate soldier walking the second-floor balcony in the early morning hours.
After the war, The Napoleon House fell into a state of disrepair.
Between 1850 and 1870, New Orleans had the largest Italian-born population of any city in the United States. Some say the home was under the ownership of the New Orleans mafia.
People who lived in the surrounding areas claimed if you saw someone brought up to the upstairs floor, there was a good chance you would never see them leave.
Staff at the Napoleon House say a group of paranormal investigators who inspected the building a few years ago encountered the ghost of a woman near the second-story courtyard who was murdered or met a suspicious end. Was she a victim of an organized crime syndicate?
By 1900, the “Napoleon House” became a little store called “Labourdette’s Grocery.”
About a decade later, a man named Joseph “Uncle Joe” Impastato rented the building for $20 a month and took over the grocery downstairs. He lived upstairs with his brothers and sisters.
The Napoleon House’s Executive Chef Chris Montero says the ghost people encounter most in the building is a little old lady. She is seen sweeping the second-floor balcony in the early morning hours.
Are some of the early members of the Impastato family still watching over the location? Perhaps the woman sweeping is stuck in a loop, destined to move a broom into eternity.
In 1920, “Uncle Joe” Impastato made a $14,000 purchase that turned “The Napoleon House” into what it is today. He bought the building and continued running the grocery, ultimately opening up a tavern on the side during Prohibition.
For years, the Napoleon House staff have witnessed the same bizarre phenomenon at the old bar.
At closing time, after they have cleaned and put items away, the paranormal activity begins. Staff often come across mysterious glasses sitting out on the counter. As if a ghostly patron is refusing to go home, yearning for the late-night parties of the roaring ’20s.
It’s difficult to say for certain why or when the house on 500 Chartres Street was built. The grey area between record and legend has gotten murkier over the years.
While digging for records related to who could be haunting the building, Ghost City Tours learned even 100 years ago, people couldn’t agree on the true location of the legendary Napoleon House.
Lore and facts collided in the 1930s when many French Quarter buildings were falling apart. There was an immense push to restore the Napoleon House and preserve presumed history before the home rotted away
The city approved preservation efforts, but workers encountered an obstacle. No one could agree on where the real “Napoleon” house was located.
In 1937 "The Times" newspaper article reported, “The committee was directed to take steps to preserve a building on Chartres between St. Louis and Toulouse Streets, which has been pointed out to thousands of visitors as ‘The Napoleon House.’” But city archives reveal that this house was built in 1824.”
It’s just simple math; Napoleon died in 1821. Therefore, that specific home couldn’t have been created for his hide-a-way.
The article reported others speculated that the real house could be at the corner of Chartres and Toulouse (the current Chartres House), Corner of Royal and St. Louis (the current Royal House), or Chartres and St. Louis streets (the current location of the Napoleon House.)
This debate seems to have been buried in time with little mention afterward. What we do know is two years before the article was published, the melon and cream-colored marble floor with the words “Napoleon House” had already been laid in the main dining room of 500 Chartres Street.
The widely accepted “Napoleon House” may have come down to where the name was etched in stone first.
The Napoleon House is now a bar, restaurant, and reception hall. After 100 years of ownership under the Impastato family, it traded hands to a new owner, Ralph Brennan.
The bar and restaurant proudly established itself as a place that “suspends you in time,” over a Pimm's cup and their famous muffulettas. The staff promises to show their guests the same warm welcome reserved for Napoleon.
If you stop by, give a second thought to the abandoned glass next to you at the bar. Listen closely through the classical music at the restaurant for sounds of sweeping. Keep a sharp eye out for an oddly dressed fellow on the second-floor balcony if you’re dining in the courtyard.
You never know who you’ll meet at this historic restaurant.
You never know who you’ll meet at this historic restaurant.