Site of New Orleans 2nd oldest eatery

Maylie's Restaurant, New Orleans Louisiana
Date added: October 07, 2023 Categories: Louisiana Commercial Restaurant
North-northwest (1998)

Maylie's Restaurant was one of the early and significant restaurants in the city of New Orleans.

Bernard Maylie and Hypolite Esparbe, businessmen and friends, operated a coffee stall in the Poydras Market beginning in the mid-nineteenth century to cater to the market's many merchants. The Poydras Market, a part of the "public market" system that flourished in nineteenth-century New Orleans, was established in 1837 on the former Gravier Plantation which was subdivided as Faubourg Ste. Marie (now Faubourg St. Mary) in order to provide for the city's expansion. The market soon became a social and business center for its merchants, Native American herb sellers, Italian fruit vendors, and Irish and German green grocers. Located on the Poydras Street neutral ground (median) between Baronne and South Rampart Streets, the market operated until its demolition in 1932.

Due to an increasing number of customers, the two men expanded their business in 1876 to a building located at the corner of Poydras and Dryades Streets which had formerly been used as a saloon and billiard hall. They transformed the billiard room into a wine cellar and opened "La Maison Maylie et Esparbe." (At some point, the restaurant became known simply as "Maylie's" and the French accent aigu was either dropped or forgotten.) The men, married to French sisters whose father was an innkeeper and who therefore were familiar with cooking and business, expanded their coffee sales to include an 11 o'clock meal prepared by the women. Their petit dejeuner, which was actually a late breakfast for the butchers and merchants of the Poydras Market, consisted of stew, coffee, and wine. Although established as an informal market restaurant, Maylie's reputation of providing a delicious Creole meal intrigued further patrons. Mme Esparbe insisted on a "men-only" policy for the restaurant, which was becoming increasingly popular with the many men doing business in this commercial area of the city. It was not until after her death in 1923 that women were served in the restaurant.

In 1894, the men built the current building as a residence, but soon realized that the restaurant would again require expansion. The upper story of the 1894 building continued to be used as a residence until the restaurant closed in 1986, but the first story was occupied as part of the restaurant. At this time, the two buildings were connected, but a large wisteria vine that grew between the buildings was saved at the request of Mme Esparbe by connecting the buildings with only a glass enclosure as a roof. The wisteria vine, which covered the entirety of both buildings' balconies, became a Maylie's trademark and is described as having been the restaurant's only significant decor. Local lore suggested that those looking on the vine for the first time could have a wish granted. Current rehabilitation plans include the re-planting of a wisteria vine at the site.

Maylie's table d'hote menu, which offered a selection of many different items and several courses at a fixed price, was one seen in formal cafes and in many early Creole restaurants. However, Maylie's continued to offer this style of menu long after most restaurants began to offer an a /a carte alternative. This aspect of the restaurant also sets it apart as a Creole establishment that remained true to its history even in the face of modernity. As the Times-Picayune observed in Mme Esparbe's 1923 obituary: "Times have moved too rapidly and the special type of dinner that has made the names of Mme Begue and Mme Esparbe famous has become more and more rare as diners have lost a certain grandeur of appetite ..."

Maylie's was known for its excellent bar and Creole dishes such as daube glace, liquored cracklin' bread, hardshell crab stew, and bouilli. Bouilli, the house specialty, was a stewed soup meat prepared without spices so that patrons could prepare their own sauces from the many ingredients located at the table. In true Creole fashion, wine was served with all meals, which were described as inexpensive, but generous and delicious. Maylie's itself was known as casual (men often removed their coats and ties while dining) and local, but stylish in its Creole traditions.

Louisiana, having been controlled at various times by the French, Spanish, and British, and as the New World home to many West Indian and West African slaves and later European immigrants, necessarily developed a unique cuisine. The term "Creole" refers to an individual of so-called "Old World parentage" who was born and raised in the tropical colonies; a blending of the many backgrounds may also be implied. Thus, Creole cooking is an amalgamation of varying backgrounds, cultures, and ingredients and can be said to be one of the first true American cuisines, having developed in the New World.

As early as 1744, the word "Creole" was used to describe the vegetables found in New Orleans markets. Although most of the cooking methods utilized were Old World, having been brought to the colonies by new settlers and their slaves, the products used were in many cases of the New World, owing to Louisiana's rich agriculture, aquaculture, and trade with France, Britain (through Mobile), Spain (through Florida), and Mexico, Cuba, and the West Indies. Thus, the old methods were influenced by previously unknown ingredients. Creole dishes emphasize a harmony between the ingredients, with no one element being more important than the other. Although some refinements and modifications have been made to various elements of Creole cooking, the fundamentals of the process and ingredients have remained largely unchanged, still emphasizing l'art de bien manger that the French so admired and encouraged. The importance of economy was also fundamental to Creole cuisine, as reflected by dishes such as bouilli which was also influenced by classic French pot cookery.

Although Maylie's changed managers several times in the early twentieth century, the restaurant remained in the Maylie family until it closed at the end of 1986. Maylie's was one of only two restaurants in New Orleans to remain under the continuous operation of one family from its establishment (the other is Antoine's, the city's oldest restaurant, opened in 1840).

Maylie's enjoyed comparable status to some of the city's finest restaurants despite its lack of formality. Most notable are its similarities to Tujague's Restaurant, which also began as a "market" restaurant (serving the French Market), and which continues in operation today.

Maylie's Restaurant received wide acclaim as a real "New Orleans" restaurant which emphasized the city's Creole heritage through a relaxed atmosphere and simple but delicious meals. Although visited by celebrities, its primary clientele throughout its more than 100-year history was the local businessmen who worked in the Poydras Street area, the hub of the Central Business District.

A 1918 Times-Picayune news article provides a good idea of the place Maylie's occupied in New Orleans' restaurant history. The lengthy article, complete with photos, was on the occasion of Mme Esparbe's decision to close the restaurant temporarily, or perhaps permanently. The reporter bemoaned that "hundreds of New Orleans men and epicures all over the world will mourn the news when the tidings spread. Maylie's is closed." Fearing that the closure would be permanent (which it was not), the article noted that the passing of Maylie's "will bring a chorus of regret from New Orleans men whose weekly or nightly dinner about its friendly board has been an institution for years." The article cited not only the delicious meals that Maylie's offered, but also the "local color" that tourists had come to admire and seek (referring to the restaurant as "an institution that has helped to make New Orleans famous"). Equally, when the restaurant permanently closed in 1986, another Times-Picayune article revealed a sense of sadness and nostalgia felt by many of the restaurant's devoted clientele, reflecting its importance to the community-at-large.

Building Description

The building which formerly housed Maylie's Restaurant is a two-and-one-half-storey building of brick construction located at 1007-09 Poydras Street (at the corner of O'Keefe Avenue) in the New Orleans Central Business District. The 1894 building is a typical example of New Orleans' late Victorian architecture, exhibiting a cast-iron balcony at the second story and Italianate brackets.

The former restaurant is located in a portion of the CBD characterized primarily by modern skyscrapers and parking lots. Although the area has historically been a commercial one, the streetscape has changed significantly from that of the building's period of significance, when the surrounding buildings were of only a few stories and most larger commercial buildings were located several blocks away on the Canal Street corridor.

When the restaurant was originally opened in 1876, it was housed in a building located to the east of the candidate at the corner of Poydras Street and what was then Dryades Streets. This two-story brick structure was demolished in 1959 in order to widen Dryades Street, the name of which was then changed to O'Keefe Avenue.

The front facade of the building at the first storey features four bays of cast iron which are marked with an 1894 date. Three of the bays are in-filled with full-length wooden French doors with three lights each and matching sidelights with operative transoms above; the second bay from the left is filled with a modified entrance which was probably added following the 1959 demolition of the original building, as the entrance was formerly located in the original building. The second-story balcony of the front facade is supported by four cast-iron columns featuring simplified Corinthian capitals.

The brick upper story of the front facade features windows of 9/9 lights with cornice window heads; these windows were formerly shuttered. The capped asbestos roof is gabled at the front with an extending flared eave. The gable features a segmentally arched opening (formerly a window) and flanking quarter-round vents; two chimneys protrude from the roof. Although now sided with asbestos, small portions of the gable's historic textured shingling are visible. The eave is supported by decorative millwork brackets in the Italianate taste and provides a beaded board ceiling at the second-story gallery. The dormers protruding from the roof slope are modern additions. The sidewalk at the Poydras Street elevation features tilework reflecting the building's purpose in capital letters "Maylie and Esparbe Table d'Hote."

The west elevation is not visible, as there is only a narrow alleyway separating this building from the adjacent one. However, interior examination reveals several window and door openings at this elevation.

The stuccoed lower story of the east elevation features two door openings with French doors and transoms identical to those at the front facade, but without sidelights. The upper story of this elevation features two door openings with treatments identical to the others and two window openings in a window-door-window-door pattern. All are shuttered. This gallery is supported by four simple wooden columns.

A patio located at this elevation features a low wall of corbeled brick topped by a cast iron railing which may be from the balcony of the original restaurant building.

The building has a service wing to the rear, the gallery of which has been enclosed and a dormer has been added. This rear elevation of the service wing also reveals four windows, two of which are associated with the enclosure of the service wing porch and are not original openings.

Current plans include the rehabilitation of this building and an adjacent one (through tax credits) for use as a restaurant by the New York restaurant Smith & Wollensky.

Maylie's Restaurant, New Orleans Louisiana North-northwest (1998)
North-northwest (1998)

Maylie's Restaurant, New Orleans Louisiana West (1998)
West (1998)

Maylie's Restaurant, New Orleans Louisiana First floor (1998)
First floor (1998)

Maylie's Restaurant, New Orleans Louisiana Exterior detail, west (1998)
Exterior detail, west (1998)

Maylie's Restaurant, New Orleans Louisiana Second floor (1998)
Second floor (1998)

Maylie's Restaurant, New Orleans Louisiana First floor (1998)
First floor (1998)