Arnaud’s was the undisputed leading restaurant of New Orleans in the Thirties and Forties. Arnaud’s was where one went for any occasion that demanded celebration. It was the prime rendezvous for businessmen from Canal Street, who occupied their regular tables with conversations of great pith and moment over Arnaud’s special lunches. And it was at the top of every out-of-town visitor’s meal plan. The menu created by the Count was vast. Listing (for example) nine oyster appetizers, 51 seafood entrees, and 40 vegetables (among them potatoes prepared 16 ways), it defined French-Creole cuisine for decades. This menu was not just for showing off; the Count chose it to appeal to the entire range of eaters, from the gourmet to the casual diner.
Arnaud’s was a very profitable restaurant, and the Count channeled much of its fortune into expansion. He bought up one adjoining property after another until Arnaud’s 13 buildings (some of which had previously housed reputed opium dens and houses of prostitution) covered most of the block. He constructed an enormous, well-equipped kitchen – still the largest of any free-standing New Orleans restaurant. He built subsidiary dining rooms throughout the complex, ranging in size from the grand second-floor ballroom with its parquet dance floor to small chambers suitable for sub-rosa assignations. The buzzers used to summon a waiter to the locked rooms are kept in working order. Guests took full advantage of the serpentine network of passageways through the various buildings as a means of maintaining absolute discretion. Arnaud’s was still in its prime after World War II, when New Orleans became one of the great travel destinations of the Western world. With Europe destroyed and most American cities starkly boring, the excitement and unique culture of the French Quarter drew the most interesting and sophisticated possible travelers. Dinner at Arnaud’s was de rigeur. Unfortunately, the Count’s health was declining. He died a month shy of his seventy-second birthday in 1948. He continues to look down on his main dining room from a large oil painting mounted there. It is flanked by portraits of his wife Irma and her sister, Marie Lamothe. Rumor has it that the Count never could make up his mind between the two sisters. The slightly roguish twinkle in the Count’s eyes might fill in the rest of that story for you.