At Vessel, you’ll experience lovely libations, delightful fare, and just maybe a hug from the resident ghost. Originally built as a Lutheran Church in 1914, the building was purchased in 1977 by Chris Ansel (a member of the Galatoire family) and Hank Bergeron who converted the church into a restaurant, Christian’s. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the building flooded, and Christian’s closed. Alec Wilder and Eddie Dyer bought the building in 2015 and after extensive renovation, opened Vessel. Soon after, the owners and staff began experiencing many strange occurrences such as a hand on their back, being tripped down the stairs, and random champagne corks popping - just to name a few. Even a visiting critic was the subject of a ghostly prank by having a glass of water dumped on his lap. While Vessel was getting rave reviews for their food, hand-crafted cocktails, and stunning architecture with its original stained glass and ceiling modeled after the hull of a ship (common in turn-of-the-century Lutheran churches), these unexplained incidences were becoming unnerving. Afraid of losing business, the owners reached out to The Travel Channel’s Dead Files team of experts, Steve DiSchiavi and Amy Allan for help. We spoke with Alec and Eddie to learn more about how the restaurant came to be and what the Dead Files team uncovered.
SL: How did Vessel come about?
Alec & Eddie: We were in Paris on vacation and bought the building sight unseen. When we arrived, we were challenged with converting it to a restaurant/craft cocktail bar and keeping the integrity of the church. We interviewed several designers, but none could really see our vision and were too radical with respect to the original architecture, so we took it upon ourselves to complete a design that would be both functional while maintaining the integrity of the original church. The back bar was a particular challenge because of a large stained-glass window, so Eddie designed a way for the bottles to “float” in the window, all complemented by ambient lighting to enhance the spiritual component that is unique to the building. Vessel has been recognized throughout the world for its architecture and design by some of the leading magazines.
SL: You and your staff began experiencing numerous mysterious events and you became worried. So, you reached out to The Dead Files team to come to Vessel and see if there was indeed paranormal activity on the property. What did they find?
Alec & Eddie: The Dead Files team wanted to get here quickly and made it a priority to come. Amy walked the property first while Steve did some investigating in the city. Amy describes a very angry man who likes to play tricks. She calls him the Jester. There is a woman with red hair and wearing a red dress. She hates men and hates the cold. (The woman is the Baroness de Pontalba and the angry man was her father-in-law who tried unsuccessfully to gain control over her enormous fortune and ultimately shot her 4 times then killed himself. She didn’t die but was disfigured for life.) When we announced that we were going to be on The Dead Files, we received a call from the daughter of the owner of Christian’s Restaurant. She called to tell us of the paranormal activity that all her family and the staff experienced during the years they owned the building. Everything they experienced was still happening to us.
SL: Who was the Baroness de Pontalba and what happened with her spirit?
Alec & Eddie: Baroness Micaela Leonarda Antonia Almonester de Pontalba (1795-1874) designed and built the Pontalba Apartments on Jackson Square which today are the oldest continually rented apartments in the United States. These buildings were the first display of the wrought iron on balconies that are characteristic to New Orleans. She is responsible for the unique architecture New Orleans is known for. She was also a very wealthy and powerful woman, which is unique for that time period. We feel that this ties to our success with women management. She was truly a trailblazer of her time and would be considered a role model today. After Amy revealed that the Baroness had issues with (actually “hates”) men, because of her history with them, we realized that she would be happy with women running Vessel. Baroness de Pontalba owned the land where Vessel sits. It was a prized possession to her so it seems that she should be allowed to stay under terms that will keep her happy. This is truly her home and we feel that she’s actually supporting and protecting us now.
SL: Has this affected business in any way?
Alec & Eddie: New Orleans is known for its paranormal activities, but what makes Vessel unique is that the Baroness was not just another spirit, she was responsible for a major part of the development of New Orleans and its French influence. This has been great for business because people want to experience not only the paranormal aspect of Vessel, but also the architectural aspect and its great food and drink.
SL: Have there been any more incidents, like plates flying off the shelves?
Alec & Eddie: We do have incidents at Vessel regularly. We still hear the pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, the whisks of cold air on the stairway, the Baroness occasionally touching Alec’s neck, among other things. What we have not had are some of the scary things that had happened when the Jester-like ghost was there. Some customers and employees report feeling the presence of the Baroness, particularly in the back vestibule where Amy identified her. Some have mentioned that they have felt like someone was gently giving them a hug.
SL: Now the real spirits we want to know about are your craft cocktails and your fabulous food. Tell us a little bit about what guests can expect at Vessel.
Alec & Eddie: We have our signature cocktail special called “Baroness de Pontalba” to commemorate her presence. We are known throughout the city for our new American cuisine (with New Orleans influences) by Chef Amandalynn Picolo. Some of her popular items on the menu are her Market Fish, Scallops, Roasted Cauliflower, Fish Dip and her famous fresh cut French fries. Weekend brunch on Saturday and Sundays is also very popular. People enjoy watching sporting events on our covered outdoor patio. We also get requests every day for events. We have many tourists because we’re only 10 minutes from the French Quarter just off the Canal Street streetcar line. Recently, Bravo Channel’s The Real Housewives of Potomac, rented out the space for their Season 4, Episode 6: Boundaries, Bayous, and Beignets.