Ready to reopen, Commander’s Palace reinvents itself for the COVID era

The legendary New Orleans restaurant reopens its dining room Friday and launches a new to-go concept.
Commander’s Palace
Photo courtesy of Commander’s Palace

New Orleans institution Commander’s Palace, which has been in business since 1893, is rolling out some modern changes as it copes with the coronavirus pandemic.

The landmark restaurant, which closed its dining room in March, reopens for dine-in service Friday. It is also debuting a new concept, called Le Petit Bleu, a walk-up takeout window selling some of its most popular items.

When the pandemic began, Commander’s Palace started selling to-go options from its dining room. With the dining room reopening, the new takeaway spot has moved next door.

Even before the pandemic, the restaurant had been eyeing a way to create a to-go concept that matched the Commander’s style, according to a press release.

“Our CFO wants to kill us, but we have been eyeing the front of our accounting office for Le Petit Bleu right across from the cemetery for a couple of years,” co-owner Lally Brennan said in a statement. “Poor thing, we pushed her out, but wait ‘til you see it. It’s cute as a button with floor-to-ceiling Commander’s blue stripes. We took a page from Aunt Adelaide, who said, ‘aqua blue paint doesn’t cost any more than beige.’”

Commander’s Palace dining room will reopen with distanced tables and masked employees. Live jazz music will continue for weekend brunch, moved out onto the restaurant’s patio for safety. Customers must wear masks as well.

“This includes walking back and forth to your table, while using the restroom, while saying hello to a nearby table of friends you haven’t seen in a while and while exiting the restaurant,” Commander’s Palace says on its website. “Disposable masks, cloth masks and scarves are all acceptable. Mardi Gras masks likely won’t fit the bill, but hey, you can wear one of those, too, along with your protective mask.”

Guests will undergo no-contact temperature checks before entering. The restaurant has installed UV lights and will only allow one party at a time in the foyer.

Menus are now single use, as well as available for viewing via phone.

“We will refrain from handshakes, high fives and, unfortunately, hugs,” the website says. “We will be practicing smiling with our eyes and new gestures of gratitude.”

The restaurant is adding several new menu items, including an updated version of its Pecan-Crusted Gulf Fish, made with crab fat butter, and the new Cafe Pierre Lacquered Quail.

The venerable restaurant employed several new ventures to stay afloat during the coronavirus shutdown. It began shipping popular dishes nationwide via Goldbelly, sold directly from its wine cellar and hosted weekly “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” virtual wine and cheese tastings with live music.

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