Stylist’s features editor Lucy Foster heads off the tourist trail in America’s beguiling southern city of New Orleans.
New Orleans is not the sort of place you immediately associate with chic New York-style loft living. Instead, you think of hawkers selling voodoo card readings in the French Quarter, the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Treme district, or brass band renditions of When The Saints Go Marching In, which we heard at least 16 times during our 36 hours in Louisiana’s largest city.
Yes, you can throw yourself into all these elements of New Orleans, but we wanted something a little more removed from the tourist trail, and that’s just what we found. Loft 523, a 16-suite boutique hotel (which houses two penthouses too), is a study in modern design. And, like all high-end establishments in 2013, it’s almost impossible to find. We walked past the copper doors five times before employing the process of elimination, taking a step back to study the numbers of neighbouring buildings, and then working out which door we should walk through.
Finally inside, I could see a solitary desk at the end of a cool, concrete and copper lobby. There was a computer. There was a man. There was one seat for sitting. It could have been an east London art installation. “Hi there,” says the man, shutting down some sleek Apple device. “We have two nights booked?” I reply in a tone that clearly communicates my incredulity that me and this extraordinarily sleek hotel are to become bedfellows. In fact, as matches go, I’d say the hotel’s come out of this pretty badly.
Two minutes later, with husband and two battered suitcases in tow, I’m in a lift up to the fourth floor. They don’t have room numbers here, they have room letters. In fact, they don’t have rooms; they have 600sq ft suites (by way of comparison, that’s as big as a two-bedroom London flat).
Ours is suite C. We open the heavy copper door and enter a concrete corridor which opens into a concrete room. There is a huge bed, a low table with a tastefully sized TV, a desk, a sofa with no arms and a massive photographer’s lamp. That’s all. The floor-to-ceiling windows are shielded by gauze drapes. I don’t know where to put my case. Just by being in this room, I worry I am ruining it.
But I’m not going to let that put me off. The bathroom is a joy. It has a bath that I can only describe as being the shape of half an almond, while the shower is a glass affair with two – yes, two – shower heads so, I assume, you can stand in there with your beloved and discuss world affairs before heading out for morning espressos.
We can’t shake the feeling that we’ve stumbled upon a real insider’s secret. It is an incredible hotel, and well-positioned. Loft 523 is in the business district, but only two blocks from the French Quarter should you want to wander there. We didn’t. Instead, we jumped on a tram to the Garden District; all Southern Gothic graveyards and pastel clapboard houses, with a main street (Magazine Street) sporting all manner of independent coffee houses, vintage clothing stores and boutique shops.
Discovering our own New Orleans, rather than the one in the guide books, was a day well spent. And being able to end the day in our own minimalist loft only added to the feeling that we’d lived in the city rather than descended on it as tourists. And in a land of plastic fortune tellers and garish bars, that’s a nice feeling.
Prices from £123 per night; loft523.com. Virgin Atlantic fly from London Heathrow to Boston from £480, where you can take a connecting flight; virgin-atlantic.com