Just one day after the Four Seasons hotel officially opened its doors, New Orleans’s summer of big-deal hotel openings continues: The Richard Branson-owned Virgin Hotels New Orleans debuted Wednesday, August 18, along with the hotel’s restaurant, Commons Club. The stylish restaurant, located on the ground floor of the 238-room hotel in the Warehouse District, is now open for dinner service daily, from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The hotel’s food program is from Alex Harrell, a well-known local chef who’s led the kitchen at Sylvain, Angeline, and most recently, at the Elysian Bar in Hotel Peter and Paul. In addition to overseeing food for a coffee shop and rooftop pool and lounge, Harrell developed the menu of contemporary Southern-American cuisine for Virgin Hotels New Orleans’s Commons Club — which shares the same name as the restaurants at Virgin properties in Nashville, Chicago, and Dallas.
“I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself, grow in my career, and do something I haven’t done before, on this big of a scale,” Harrell told Eater of pursuing the role. “The menu creation was a concern of mine. I didn’t want to go into a hotel setting where there were multiple layers of oversight, where I would have to stylistically change the way I cook. That was my preconception of what the process would be like at a big hotel.”
Harrell was pleased to learn it would be otherwise with Commons Club, where he was free to set the identity and menu for the restaurant. He worked with his two longtime friends and sous chefs, Bryan Buckler and Colin Pound, to develop the menu over the course of a few short months. “Without the two of them here with me, without having the trust and support that they give me, this process would have been a lot more daunting. I can’t commend them enough for all they’ve done,” Harrell said of the process.
Harrell says Commons Club feels like a chance to continue what he started, stylistically, at Angeline (now closed), which he calls “elevated Southern mixed with a ton of seasonal and greater Mediterranean influences.” When asked to highlight some of his favorite dishes, Harrell starts off somewhat unexpectedly, naming the smoked potato croquettes. “It sounds really simple, and it is, but we really wanted to make sure they were right — we’ve gone through at least eight different variations, tried them with different cheeses, at different frying temps,” he says. “Now we have these crispy, smokey, cheesy little potato bites, with all this acid from the trout roe and creaminess from the rouille.”
There’s also a steamed corn flan topped with pickled watermelon rind and blue crab, a play on corn pudding, a favorite of Alabama-born Harrell. The sourdough cavatelli utilizes Harrell’s longtime sourdough starter — “her name is Sassy,” Harrell says — to lend a tart flavor to the pasta that marries with a sweet and sour-style roasted eggplant, with heat from the pesto calabrese. Smoked grapes are a central component to the tuna dish, a recipe by Buckler that sees grapes gently cold-smoked with rosemary stems so they retain their hydration and become relish-like.
Commons Club is broken into a few sections, with design by New Orleans-based Logan Killen Interiors — there’s the Kitchen at Commons Club, comprised of one dining room centered around the open kitchen and seven-seat chef’s table — the style here skews distinctly art deco, with muted pinks and vintage prints. That room leads out onto a narrow, porch-like dining area that’s outdoor-adjacent, with an interior to match its Southern porch vibes — hanging ferns, shades of blue and green, and a floral cushion print combine for a pretty, almost preppy look. The private dining alcove, next to the porch seating, is surrounded by a green trellis and lit by a stunning beet-pink glass chandelier.
The Bar at Commons Club includes a lounge area decked out with bold prints, colors, and textures (think blue suede, cognac leather, and red leopard print), with a two-story, fringe chandelier created by well-known lighting designer Lindsey Adelman as its centerpiece. The final component of Commons Club is what is called the Shag Room, decorated with rich, dark hues that reflect its Playboy mansion-style atmosphere.
If that doesn’t sound particularly New Orleans-esque, Harrell says locals should give it a chance. “The biggest thing for me in the way we’re approaching Commons Club is to be considered by New Orleanians to be a great New Orleans restaurant. I know it’s here to serve visitors and guests of the hotel, but I really want locals to feel like it’s a restaurant for them too. I really want us to become part of that local restaurant scene.”
The kitchen at Commons Club, located at 550 Baronne Street, is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 until 11 p.m.; the bar at Commons Club is open daily beginning at 4 p.m.