The return of the Dew Drop Inn, a legendary Central City nightclub, hotel, and restaurant with major historical significance for New Orleans and the American South, is nearing. And when it reopens, there will be a familiar presence behind the food served: chef Marilyn Doucette, the founder of Meals from the Heart Cafe.
It’s a meaningful collaboration for Doucette and her nephew, the hotel’s new owner and developer, Curtis Doucette, Jr. “She and I are very close and it means a lot to have her in my corner on this project,” says Doucette. Chef Marilyn’s 15-year-old cafe, located in the heart of the French Quarter in the French Market, has long represented a little-known side of New Orleans cuisine: health-conscious versions of Creole classics, including vegan and gluten-free variations. The hotel’s new restaurant will meld that mission with the legacy of the Dew Drop Inn and the comfort food it once served — dishes like grillades and grits, red beans and rice, gumbo, and the famous Meals from the Heart crabcakes. It will also introduce a charcuterie board made with meats from another legendary, Black-owned New Orleans company, Vaucresson’s Creole Cafe & Deli.
The quest to reopen the “Drop,” which thrived for decades in the mid-1900s as a must-stop venue for Black musicians, has been years in the making. It first opened as a barbershop by Frank Painia in 1939, and has been called “the most important and influential music club” in New Orleans’s post-war period, hosting famed artists like Tina Turner, James Brown, Ray Charles, Etta James, and Earl King. The club closed in 1972, a few years after Painia’s death, with the hotel officially closing after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2021, Painia’s grandchildren sold the property to Doucette, who notes, “The Dew Drop Inn was historically a family-run business, and I’m thrilled to continue that tradition alongside my aunt Marilyn.” Not long after, the New Orleans City Council approved Doucette’s plans to reopen the Dew Drop Inn as a hotel, music venue, and bar.
Doucette has spent the last three years restoring the property at 2836 Lasalle Street, recreating a 400-person music venue, 17-room hotel, restaurant, and pool club. There are two full bars, one at the pool club and one in the music venue; the heated pool will offer day passes. The hotel expects to open to guests in February with the restaurant offering a limited menu for the first month, serving food at tables along the perimeter of the music venue, as grab-and-go options for in-room dining, and to eat poolside. The restaurant will serve breakfast and lunch, with plans to add snacks and weekend brunch further down the road. On Sundays, the hotel plans to host rotating jazz, gospel, drag, and trap brunches.
“I’m so excited to see the tables full, folks cleaning their plates and leaving with thumbs in the air saying, ‘Hey chef, I come here every year when I’m in town,’ says chef Marilyn.