In existence before “New Orleans” even bore its name, and having served as a Spanish armory, Tujague’s restaurant has survived decades of war, depression, fire and plague to bring you a tradition of culinary excellence undiminished today.
Tujague’s is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans, the birthplace of brunch and home to the oldest stand-up bar in America, but first and foremost, Tujague’s is a neighborhood restaurant, located in America’s oldest neighborhood—the French Quarter. Steeped in foodie lore, Tujague’s is undeniably one of New Orleans’ most famous and historic restaurants.
Celebrating its 160th anniversary in 2016, this famous French Quarter culinary treasure grew from humble beginnings. Prosperity had never smiled more broadly on New Orleans than it did in the period when Tujague’s first opened its doors. The city’s growth during the 1850s was immense, and, for European emigrants in search of success in the New World, opportunity was everywhere for the taking.
Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujague took this advantage in 1852 when they married and set sail for America from Bordeaux France. Guillaume Tujague had been a butcher in the French Market for three years before they established Tujague’s Restaurant in 1856. They opened the original Tujague’s at 811 Decatur Street just three doors down from the famed Begue’s Exchange, known for lavish, hours-long, breakfast gatherings. Tujague’s would feature this “Butcher’s Breakfast” as well, which is now known as the international tradition of brunch.
Guillaume Tujague passed away in 1912. His sister Alice Tujague Anouilh and her husband, Etienne, took charge of Tujague’s. In 1914, they seized the opportunity to move the business into the celebrated, original Begue’s location. Shortly thereafter, Etienne passed away which led Alice to sell the restaurant to Philip Guichet, Sr., and his business partner, Jean-Dominic (John) Castet. Born in Raceland, Philip Guichet was a newcomer to New Orleans, and he was ready to make his fortune. Jean-Dominic Castet had immigrated to New Orleans in 1908 from Clarion, France and had worked at Begue’s. John’s wife, Clemence Castet, was a talented French-creole cook and would run the kitchen and dining room for years to come. Following Prohibition and World War II, Tujague’s bar was open and hopping at six o’clock every morning to accommodate French Market butchers. John and Philip worked behind the bar together during their ownership. Spicy shrimp remoulade and boiled beef brisket were already Tujague’s trademark dishes, but Clemence Castet introduced the now-famed chicken bonne femme as an off-menu special order.
In 1958, upon John’s death, Clemence took up post behind a hand-crank register in the dining room until her death in 1965. The Castets had no children, leaving the Guichets with full ownership. Philip’s sons, Philip Jr. and Otis joined him in the business, at which time the bar became a clubhouse for politicians and well-to-do people around town. To this date, Tujague’s, one of oldest bars in New Orleans, is known for some of its signature cocktails it introduced to the world, such as the Grasshopper and Whiskey Punch.
Liquid spirits aren’t the only ones to be found on the premises. Owners, staff and patrons have a multitude of stories featuring ghostly unexplained phenomenon such as slamming doors, broken china, shadowy figures and even an actual apparition caught on camera by tourists. It seems Tujague’s remains a popular destination even in the afterlife!
The Next Generation
In 1982, the Guichets decided to sell the business to brothers Steven and Stanford Latter. Philip Guichet’s grandson, “Noonie,” stayed on a bar manager, joined by his uncle Phil. Steven introduced new menu items such as blackened fish and jambalaya but continued to serve the classic table d’hôte meal (a set number of courses with limited choices of dishes, offered at a fixed price). He also decorated the restaurant with his collection of over 6,000 miniature liquor bottles, which are still displayed today. Steven thrived in the business, holding court with his trademark, wry sense of humor.
His son, Mark, was just five years old when his father and uncle bought the business. Mark recalls learning to bet on football and playing dice as a child at Tujague’s. Growing up, he spent time bussing tables and washing dishes. After college, Mark furthered his education in the restaurant business working for New Orleans restauranteur Ralph Brennan, and then later returned to his family’s business. Upon Steven’s unexpected death in 2013, Mark took over ownership of Tujague’s with his wife Candace. Tujague’s received its first-ever written menu as it transitioned into an a la carte menu after 157 years of its traditional five-course menu. Mark also gave the dining rooms a much-needed and much-deserved facelift with mirrors lining the walls. Though the dining room has a fresh look and the menu has evolved, the historic New Orleans bar remains largely unchanged. Tourists and regulars still stand elbow to elbow along its broad expanse, enjoying camaraderie and cocktails as they have since 1856.