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Not Your Dad's Country Club


There is no golf course at The Country Club (634 Louisa St., 945-0742), but there is plenty of camaraderie, fun entertainment and other diversions. Any inclinations toward exclusivity relate to its offerings and not the customers allowed to grace its grand clubhouse. The only membership dues apply to the clothing-optional pool and sunbathing area out back, and even that allows for $5 day-pass memberships.

"This is the country club for the rest of us, those who wouldn't want to go to a snooty place," says owner Karl Wilder, who reopened the business five months ago after executing extensive renovations. "And we have lots of fun events every night of the week ... and the most gorgeous pool around."

During the day, several comfortable parlors provide spaces for friends to visit with each other, play pool, read the newspaper or have a few cocktails. At night, special events include Oldies Night on Mondays featuring martinis and old fashions, Wally B on piano with wine tasting and cheese trays on Tuesdays, a happy hour featuring "pucker shots" starting at 6 p.m. and strip poker starting at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, Dive-In Movie Night with a big-screen projector by the pool on Thursdays, and frozen margaritas for $5 all night as well as the music of Freddie Lee from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays. Wilder also occasionally brings in special musical events such as Annie Golden and NOLA Brazil to keep his customers happy and to attract more people from the neighborhood. He also added a kitchen during the renovation to provide customers with dining options.

The Country Club existed before Wilder rejuvenated it and has had a clothing-optional pool since 1971. Years earlier it had been a rooming house for old sea captains, he said. Buying the building was a way Wilder could return to his roots while growing as an entrepreneur.

"I was born in this area," he says of the section of the city where The Country Club is located. "This is my old neighborhood. I went to school here. I had wanted to come back to New Orleans for years and was looking for the right opportunity ... where I could employ people instead of being someone just looking for a job."

The renovation turned an old house that was "falling apart" into a graceful, updated place that invites customers to spend a few hours. There is a main bar area connected to a salon with a grand piano. The other side of the hallway has a room with a pool table, another with a private kitchen and others available for private parties. The club also has regular art displays, currently featuring photographs taken by bartender Eric Rosengren during a backpacking trip around the world.

Although there are still things Wilder wants to improve on the building and there's space to expand the operation upstairs, he confides that he's already met his most important goal: providing a comfortable, fun-loving atmosphere for quality people who aren't attracted to conventional country clubs.

Spicy Repasts

The impression one gets from the outside of Tandoori Chicken (115 University Place, 299-1926) is deceptive with its modest entrance and sandwich board-style sign announcing a $5.99 lunch special. Once you go up to the second-floor restaurant across from the ritzy Fairmont Hotel, however, you're greeted with more elegant surroundings and spicy smells that make your stomach rumble to be fed.

The large dining room, with ornate vases holding flowers on each table, is comfortable with cushioned chairs, cloth napkins and a very unhurried attitude. Lunch and dinner guests are always offered an all-you-can-eat buffet from which they can sample standards that include fall-off-the-bone tender tandoori chicken, several types of curries -- vegetarian and non-vegetarian -- saffron rice and an irresistible soup-consistency rice pudding in coconut milk.

Owners Mohan and Sukhdarshan Singh opened the Central Business District restaurant three years ago and it now draws mostly business people and tourists for lunch, and locals, especially from the Indian community, for dinner.

"It's Punjabi cuisine, traditional North India cuisine," says manager Punnu Jaitla. "As you can tell, our specialty is tandoori chicken," which is cooked in a clay oven over high heat until it is tender. Punjabi cuisine differs from that of north India, which is mostly vegetarian, in that it offers shrimp, lamb, chicken as well as a full compliment of vegetarian dishes.

Jaitla says Punjabi cuisine is to India what soul food or down-home Southern cooking is to America. "Punjabi food is famous throughout India," he says. "People from all over India always really love to find a Punjabi restaurant. It's like Southern food here in America: earthy, satisfying food. Singh is from Punjab and he's been (cooking the cuisine) for about 30 years; he's got a lot of experience."

About 50 percent of the offerings are vegetarian dishes, dressed up with spices and special curries, and Tandoori Chicken enjoys regular patronage from local vegetarians. It also gets a fair share of tourists mingled with business people who regularly sit at the tables that provide a lively view of Canal Street. Two things are for sure: you'll never eat a bland meal there and you'll never leave hungry.

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