Bistro Battles On, Plans October Reopening

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The fire that ripped through the Tropical Isle bar at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse streets in May damaged more than the French Quarter nightclub.

The blaze also forced the closure of the bar's neighbor, the Bistro at Maison de Ville. But more than four months later the restaurant is gearing up for a come back.

"We're still committed," says chef and co-owner Greg Picolo. "With any luck at all we'll bounce back."

Picolo says smoke from the Tropical Isle fire did most of the damage to the Bistro. Among other things, the blaze next door consumed hundreds of cases of tall green cups kept in storage for the Tropical Isle's patented Hand Grenade cocktail, releasing plastic fumes. Rehabilitating everything at the Bistro from air conditioning ducts to the artwork after that exposure has been a huge undertaking.

The end for repairs is in sight but a firm reopening date is still a bit elusive, Picolo says, "because of all those reasons people in New Orleans are all too familiar with after Katrina to hear about again." Still, he's shooting for some time in late October.

When he does, it will mark the third time Picolo has reopened the Bistro, a tiny place that has made a disproportionately large impact on the New Orleans dining scene since first opening in 1986. Its original chef was Susan Spicer, who went on to open Bayona. Her replacement was John Neal, along with his sous chef Anne Kearney. They left together when Neal decided to open his own restaurant, Peristyle, which Kearney later took over.

Picolo was at the helm for years before Katrina, and he was there when it reopened after the disaster. But in June 2006, the restaurant's owners decided to close the Bistro until some unspecified later date. Months passed and seasons changed. Behind the scenes, however, Picolo and a business partner were working up a new deal to buy and run the restaurant themselves. The Maison de Ville property changed hands in the intervening months, stalling things a bit, but Picolo kept at his plans. He was finally able to buy and reopen the Bistro in May 2007.

Two years later, the Tropical Isle fire shut him down again. When Picolo does reopen this time, he plans to extend his Sunday brunch to Saturday as well. Here's to hoping the Bistro reopens in time to take advantage of its beautiful courtyard dining area during the mild fall weather.

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