Ernst Café (600 S. Peters St., 525-8544, www.ernstcafe.net) serves many purposes. It's a haven for Warehouse District professionals and service-industry workers looking for a lunch spot, after-work drinks or somewhere to go after a late-night shift. It's a prime spot for hospitality-industry bookings, with its close proximity to the New Orleans Convention Center and its location in the Fulton Street Promenade. But it also is a piece of New Orleans history.
The place locals now know for its burgers and bar scene opened in 1902 in the then half-century-old space adjacent to the old Chicory House. Ernst Café owner Cindy Besselman says the allure of the building's age is what draws corporate and social events and even some weddings to the sprawling upstairs Balcony Room that overlooks the Lafayette Street Pedestrian Mall. To accommodate larger events, Ernst has purchased the Chicory House, which adds an additional 9,000 square feet. That facility is slated to open by April 2009.
"We already have four weddings booked for next year," Besselman says. "People love the fact that (the building) is so old."
Ernst Café also can add to its history a stint as the hospitality sponsor of the New Orleans Hornets. Now it will play host to sports radio host Joe Block's post-game show as well as after-game celebrations. The team approached Ernst after the cafe's success in hosting a very unlikely contingent of sports fans.
"We had a huge party for the BCS championship game, and we hosted Ohio State fans," Besselman says. "It was a long shot for us, with LSU being the home team, but there were 60,000 to 70,000 people in town, none of whom had tickets, so we made the decision to host the opposing team. It was very successful for us."
Ernst will go straight from hosting the Hornets to entertaining guests from the series of "Miracle on Fulton" events during the holidays. Besselman says constant traffic in the budding downtown area certainly helps her business.
"I sat out there one Saturday and thought how 10 years ago, you'd be lucky if 10 people walked by," she says. "(Fulton) was always a dead street, and now it's just constantly people walking by."