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A Night With Eliza Jane

Stay in a New Orleans boutique hotel named for the first woman to own a newspaper.

My dress and apron bore the sign
Of frolic wild and free,
The brambles caught my yellow hair,
And braided it for me.

Eliza Jane Nicholson wrote poems, and later newspaper articles and columns, under the name Pearl Rivers. Eliza became the first woman publisher and editor of a major American newspaper, the Daily Picayune in New Orleans. And it’s this accomplishment that resulted in a boutique hotel in the city’s French Quarter being named for her.

The Eliza Jane Hotel on Magazine Street was once a printing house and bitters factory dating to the late 1800s. It’s now part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection after a hotel past life as a Country Inn & Suites. Eliza Jane got her makeover in March of 2018 under design firm Stonehill Taylor in New York. The firm is also responsible for the Ace Hotel in New York and Brooklyn, Holston House in Nashville, AC Hotel in Greenville and Moxy French Quarter in New Orleans.

Suite bathroom

According to their website, “the hotel is built within seven historic warehouses that stand distinct on the outside but have been internally conjoined to create luxury accommodations.” Existing brick and metalwork were uncovered, and masonry arches and woodwork on the walls and ceilings highlighted. The hotel’s 196 rooms, which go for about $200 a night, are small but big on Art Deco furnishings and posh, tiled bathrooms. Unless you’re lucky enough to book a suite—with its own living room and oversized bathroom with a freestanding soaking tub enclosed within the shower—you’ll want to spend time in the common areas downstairs. (There’s even a full gym with a refrigerator of cold towels.)

The lobby includes an atrium lounge and bar appropriately named The Press Room. Take a seat at the bar overhanging with plants and order a Sazerac or glass of wine and then sink into a deep sofa with a book or a game from the elegant adjoining parlor. Or venture outside to the courtyard and find a private spot to sip with a view of the black-and-white patterned cement tiled fountain with a Venus-inspired sculpture by local artist Brent Barnidge.

Reading area in the lobby
Courtyard fountain

You can access the hotel’s restaurant Couvant from either the courtyard or lobby. Housed in the original Peychaud bitters factory, Couvant (which means convene in French) combines New Orleans and French cuisine. Try the gougeres with truffled Mornay, cochon de lait or blue crab gnocchi but save room for the flaming Baked Alaska for dessert.

Like most hotels, the Eliza Jane has still been recovering from COVID-19, but room service is expected to be back this fall, along with several other amenities like lunch at Couvant, a lemonade stand in the lobby and mini gift shop at check-in. Eliza herself is remembered through the book-filled lobby, Press Room and “Publisher” and “Editor” suites, but General Manager Michael Klein hopes to do more.

Press Room Bar

“She had a couple of husbands and was shot by a lady over an affair,” he says. “People know Eliza Jane.”

She is indeed infamous in New Orleans and mostly remembered for saving a dying newspaper, promoting women’s rights and raising money for things like an orphanage that was located behind the hotel. The Picayune sold lemonade and a cookbook to raise funds, hence the idea of a lobby lemonade stand. But, even at less than 5 feet tall, she was no demure Southern belle. She is said to have been called the “wildest girl in school” by a publication of women writers in the South.

Eliza’s first husband was Alva Holbrook, co-owner of the Daily Picayune. He was 29 years older than her, and it was his ex-wife who shot but missed Eliza in her own home. Holbrook died bankrupt, and Eliza decided to keep the paper. Business manager George Nicholson, who would become her second husband, acquired 1/4 ownership and the pair worked to make the paper profitable again. Eliza took on the role of editor in 1880 and began a gossip column, published the first weekly issue of a serial novel, and covered issues about women, children and animals. She fought against corruption, supported building a railroad and hired other female writers.

Hotel room

In addition to the Eliza Jane Hotel, her legacy is The Times Picayune (nola.com), which still reports the news of the day in New Orleans and surrounding areas.

It’s easy—and tempting—to get lost in thought inside the Eliza Jane, and you could spend the day frolicking in the soaking tub, reading a book off the lobby shelf or having cocktails at the bar. But Magazine Street—and the streets of New Orleans that Eliza so loved—awaits outside the hotel doors.

Learn more about Eliza Jane Nicholson at The Historic New Orleans Collection, which has items like her pen and case, photographs, letters, poems and more in its collection.

Photos by Deep South.

Thanks to Bread & Butter PR, the Eliza Jane Hotel and GM Michael Klein for hosting us for two nights and giving us a tour of the hotel.

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