New Orleans institution Commander’s Palace, now run by cousins Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin, was built in 1880 by Emile Commander. Brennan and Martin like to say that while they hold the keys to Commander’s Palace, the landmark restaurant really belongs to New Orleans. Similarly, the family home next door, which was also built in the 1800s, is occupied by two of the original proprietors of Commander’s: sisters Dottie and Ella (Ti’s mother) Brennan. But the house, they say, belongs to the whole family.
The interior of the Brennan family home has all of the grandeur and French charm that you would expect from a historic 19th-century house in the Crescent City’s Garden District. The rooms are large and airy with high ceilings and exquisite plaster mouldings. The hardwood floors feature multicolored decorative inlays. And each room is beautifully appointed with antiques, art, and other collectibles. While the kitchen doesn’t get much use (meals are prepared at Commander’s), the rest of the opulent rooms are always ready for entertaining, with heirloom plates, Baccarat crystal decanters, and vintage shakers. Here are some of the things that make the historic Brennan house so special.
Lally and Dottie Brennan with Dottie’s poodle, Talullah, sitting in the garden room. Behind them is an artwork created by a family friend that features sketches of Dottie and Ella’s late sister, Adelaide. Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar was named for her. Matt Taylor-Gross When guests are invited for dinner, Dottie sets up the wine service on the antique sideboard in the dining room. Vintage Baccarat crystal wine glasses are placed on a silver tray and the Commander’s Palace signature blanc de noir champagne chills in a silver bucket. Baccarat crystal wine glasses, from $185 at Baccarat.com Matt Taylor-Gross Dottie always sets a gorgeous dining table for dinner, no matter what the occasion. “We tease and say, as my aunt Adelaide used to say, ‘Casual means no sequins,’” says Lally Brennan. The table is set with Baccarat crystal glasses, silver goblets that are family heirlooms, aqua blue and white China plates—because the color, said Dottie, is a happy one—and linen napkins that were in Dottie’s trousseau 61 years ago. Sterling silver goblets, from $299 at SilverQueen.com Matt Taylor-Gross The antique breakfront in the dining room showcases decorative China platters, plates, teapots, and teacups, as well as a collection of antique porcelain figurines and flowers by Boehm. Boehm porcelain figurines and flowers, from $140 to $150,000 at BoehmPorcelain.com Matt Taylor-Gross On the dining room wall opposite the breakfront, an Asian theme pervades with ornate mirrors, candle sconces, pedestals with statuettes, lamps, plates, figurines, and gold-gilded credenzas. Matt Taylor-Gross These types of nodding Asian pagodas were designed to detect the first tremors of earthquakes. This one may be a Meissen porcelain antique from the 19th century. The head, tongue, and hands move independently of each other. Meissen porcelain earthquake nodders can be found at Meissen.com. Other porcelain nodders may be found, from $785 on eBay.com. Matt Taylor-Gross This little assemblage of vintage silver includes engraved flasks and cases for glasses, tobacco, cigarettes, and matches. “Every southern lady has her flask during Mardi Gras season,” Lally asserted. The round flask was inscribed to Adelaide. “Evidently, they knew her well,” said Dottie, smiling, “because they inscribed it, ‘To the Queen,’ which [was a nickname] she hated.” Similar sterling silver round flasks are available for $1495 on SirJacks.com Matt Taylor-Gross It’s no surprise that the family known for the cocktails at their restaurants and bars (the Adelaide Swizzle, the Cajun Bloody Mary, the Brandy Milk Punch) has an impressive collection of vintage cocktail glassware. The bar in the garden room is set with Baccarat crystal decanters, double old-fashioned glasses, wine and martini glasses, and Hazel Atlas shaker sets. Baccarat crystal decanters, from $1,190, and glasses, from $155, at Baccarat.com and vintage Hazel Atlas “Musical Pink Pigs” shaker, from $75 on eBay.com. Matt Taylor-Gross When the parlor piano got a new paint job, it also got a little whimsical. “Ella just loves Judy Garland,” explained Dottie, “and we had to do something to make it more than just an old piano.” They enlisted a family friend to hand-paint some Judy Garland trinkets, including two tickets to one of her shows, on the lid. “A friend recently tried to pick them up,” she added, laughing. Matt Taylor-Gross The top of the Brennan’s Piano Matt Taylor-Gross Some of the Brennan family home’s most distinctive architectural flourishes are visible on the front foyer, including the intricate woodwork, lavish plaster mouldings, and the stained glass window. “All of the woodwork and mouldings are original, including on the doors,” Dottie explained. “The furniture is all old stuff we’ve picked up through the years.” Two Brennan family photos feature the older and the younger generations. The color photo of the younger generation was staged in the front foyer. Matt Taylor-Gross Adelaide collected 19th-century four-poster Mallard beds over the course of many years. There are still two in the house, including the one shown here that’s in Dottie’s bedroom. The others have been distributed among the family. Similar mahogany empire full tester plantation beds can sometimes be found on auction sites, like LiveAuctioneers.com, for $6,500 to $15,000 Matt Taylor-Gross The expansive and lush garden in the backyard is one of the Brennan family’s favorite spots for entertaining. Cocktails are often served in the garden, and every afternoon, a Commander’s Palace chefs’ meeting held here. You can mix Brennan family cocktails using recipes from In the Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks by Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, $16.38/hardcover and $4.99/Kindle on Amazon.com Matt Taylor-Gross