Bar Marilou

Photo by Rush Jagoe

Step into Bar Marilou, and you’ll see red.

More specifically, a saturated vermilion that covers the walls from head to toe and that makes one want to close the curtains and proclaim daylight overrated.

After years of the all-white interior trend, Marilou’s unapologetic take on rouge is both striking and decadent at once (some may be reminded of the equally colorful restoration of the Hotel Peter and Paul that opened last year in the Bywater).

Replete with ornate goblet chandeliers, stuffed velvet upholstery and enough tassels to beat the band, this newcomer to the city’s growing luxe hotel scene feels less like a bar and more like the former gaming lounge of the eccentric French uncle you always prayed for.

It’s not hard to see why this relative newbie in the expanding portfolio of swank hotel bars in New Orleans has been written up in the likes of Vanity Fair and The Robb Report. Bar Marilou is the newest addition to the Ace Hotel group that’s transformed this stretch of Carondelet Street in the CBD and that represents some of the city’s most hi-end design projects, including the airy Art Deco Josephine Estelle and its handsome partner lounge across the lobby, as well as natty Seaworthy, whose digs in one of the area’s oldest townhouses a few doors down from the hotel make it seem as though the oyster bar had been plucked out of a well-preserved fishing village on the Med.

And while all certainly see their fair share of hotel guests from the Ace and Maison de la Luz, the bars are simply too darn good-looking not to draw strong interest from locals looking for a spot of chic respite for the price of a cocktail.

Bar Marilou library
Bar Marilou cocktails
Bar Marilou
Bar Marilou exterior
Bar Marilou design
Bar Marilou cocktails
Bar Marilou design
Bar Marilou cocktail menu

Unlike traditional layouts that favor long counter runs, Bar Marilou’s bar is a bijoux fronted by some half dozen tiger print stools.

Marilou is the first non-residential project of the Los Angeles-based designer Studio Shamshiri. Once a law library, the space hasn’t shed the traces of its bookish past. Miniature plaster busts and built-in cases line Marilou’s walls, one of which spins out in mystery house fashion, to lead into the guest-only “speakeasy”—a decidedly more intimate hideaway lined with cushy seating, framed Hermès scarves, worldly curios, and service buttons for whenever the well runs dry.

For non-guests of Maison de la Luz, a glimpse before the bookcase shuts again is as close to the hotel lobby as you’ll ever get. With a high profile clientele, Maison de la Luz is adamant about protecting the privacy of its guests.

In addition to its thoroughly red color scheme, Bar Marilou also deviates from the expected when it comes to the bar itself. Quite simply, it’s tiny. A bijoux. Unlike traditional layouts that favor long, space-anchoring counter runs, Marilou’s bar is tucked into a beautifully lit corner and and fronted by some half dozen tiger print stools.

As a result, it offers an intimate spot for solo drinkers or couples, leaving groups to gather around the multiple seating arrangements that fill the length of the room.

Bar Marilou

Photo by Rush Jagoe

The drinks menu from Quixotic Projects, a Parisian group responsible for creating the programs at several upscale bars in the City of Lights, represents the outfit’s first American foray, and is divided like a three-course brasserie meal: starters, mains and sweeter finishes. Cocktails tend to depart from classics, favoring bold experimentation and often incorporating French and Italian spirits.

Chances are you won’t have heard, let alone tried, every ingredient listed on the page; as a result, those looking for basic brown goods like bourbon and rye may be better served by ordering off menu.

In addition, Marilou offers a selection of upscale small dishes that feel more international than Southern. Personal favorites include deviled eggs with soy and scallions and when available, the house made chicken pâté. I’m not ashamed to say I licked the jar clean!

Word to the wise: regardless of where you sit, you may find yourself lingering longer than intended. As the friend of a friend recently pronounced, “I could live here.”

I’d been thinking exactly the same thing.

Bar Marilou, 544 Carondelet Street, New Orleans, (504) 814-7711

Know before you go: Cocktails $9-14; plates $9-19. Accessible jazz some evenings; the volume isn’t overpowering although it can make group conversations tricky.

Attire: Marilou bills itself as casual, but jeans and a t-shirt just bring down the place. Instead wear all red and amuse your friends with your floating head act.

Reservations: Half the seating is reserved, the other half walk-in. Consider calling in advance; it can get crowded.

Need more Nola nightlife tips? Check the Punch Lists.