I don’t really travel to shop. I travel to eat, drink, see and experience. I do enjoy a lovely walk around a market, Les Puces or a iconic shopping street (Banhoffstraβe in Zürich, Avenue Montaigne in Paris or even Rush Street in Chicago). That being said, I do love the antique shops in New Orleans situated just a block off of rowdy Bourbon Street.
There are two things on my shopping list that I am not sure I will ever find, but I will continue to look – and if I do find them, I will likely be saddened as I think I enjoy the hunt as much if not more than the actual items. I am looking for a beautiful antique set of silver – you know, the fancy stuff your great-grandma had and when your mother asked if you wanted it, you said “No, that’s OK”, and she got rid of it. To my credit, I was 19 – my mother should have known better than to ask me at that point. The other item on my wish list is something that will get much less use than the fancy silver (when I say fancy, I emphasize the first syllable: FAN-see…with a bit of a nasally tone too – purely in jest, but it’s now common pronunciation among me and my friends) – I want an antique duck press. This press will ideally be from the 19th Century, have been well used, so the ornate design will be slightly worn away, but will still be 100% functional.
I figured if there was any City in the US where I could find a beautiful silver set (or maybe even a duck press) it would be New Orleans.
I found myself with about 2 hours one day between afternoon meetings and evening events and I decided to hit a couple antique shops in the French Quarter. I started at Canal and Royal – just one block southeast of Bourbon and walked northeast staying on Royal. Shop after shop I came across the most gracious and inviting shopkeepers. They (genuinely) asked where I was from, why I was in town, where I had eaten/drank and if there was something I was looking for specifically — yes, in that order. So inviting, so civilized and so different from the debauchery on a Wednesday afternoon just a block away on Bourbon (especially when the insurance conference happens to coincide with Fleet Week).
At each shop I asked about a full silver service (full setting for at least 12 people) and a duck press. At most shops, I found the silver service – mostly they were too ornate for my liking, missing a couple salad folks or just too expensive. When I asked about the duck press their eyes opened wide and then sadly said they didn’t have one, but if someone in New Orleans did it would be the fine folks at Lucullus a couple blocks away on Chartres.
I made my way over to this quaint little shop. I was blazing hot. Wearing a full suit / tie when it is 30C (~86F) with the thick sticky air of New Orleans and without a breeze, I was quite warm and a bit uncomfortable. I entered Lucullus and was promptly greeted by Mr. Kerry Moody. We exchanged the same pleasantries as I did at the other shops. I was offered a glass of ice water (served in a beautiful crystal glass) – like I said, I was hot and I’m sure I looked like an uncomfortable mess. I hadn’t made it more than 15 feet into the store at this point. I saw a ton of silver – again, I was looking for an outrageous bargain. Unfortunately, the items at Lucullus were of such great quality, I wasn’t going to get a beautiful set for next to nothing. I then asked about the duck press. It was then that Mr. Moody said he needed to call the proprietor Mr. Patrick Dunne. Mr. Dunne appeared – immediately offered to have my water glass refilled upon seeing me (I’m not sure if this was because I looked like an utter mess or Mr. Dunne is the epitome of a gracious host — or a little bit of both).
I asked about the press and Mr. Dunne scoffed a bit – not in a condescending way at all, but more in a “boy, do I have a story for you” way. He asked what I would pay for a duck press in perfect condition. As I danced around the subject – thinking we were in initial negotiations – he cut me off and said “I don’t have one. I don’t carry them. I don’t even look at them on buying trips in France. They are such unique and lower demand pieces, they cost me too much to buy, refurbish then hold. The casual buyers don’t exist here.”
He asked me to sit and we found some beautiful chairs arranged as a quaint little seating area in his shop and chatted about our prior trips to France. I told the tale of finding a single duck press at Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, and the dreadful condition it was in. He told tales of finding beautiful presses in the Loire and in Burgundy in the 1990s – for a steal – but there was no market for them. The open marketplace has bought up all these presses and sold them to restaurants who do elaborate Canard à la Presse services which fetch $150 per.
Mr. Dunne then pointed to a beautiful armoire filled with exquisite china and glassware. He said, I could sell you that entire setup there – china, glassware and the armoire for what it would cost me to make a tiny profit on buying and refinishing a duck press. He continue by saying my best bet was to find a restaurant that has one and wait for it to go out of business and make them a reasonable offer before their creditors come knocking on the door – cash is king.
While I was disappointed a duck press wasn’t in my immediate future – I was thrilled to have been welcomed into Lucullus with open arms and been allowed to listen to travel tales and to share tales of my own. I so wanted to invite these two gentlemen out for a drink and dinner to hear more of their experiences, but unfortunately I was double booked for dinner that night and I’m sure they had better things to do than to tell tales to a fanboy.
Mr. Dunne was a gracious host and the epitome of a gentlemen. Upon my entering his shop, I felt like a member of the family and felt I could stay there listening to stories long into the night. I will promise that on my next trip to the Crescent City, I will pay a visit to Lucullus and hopefully next time pickup some flatware or some decanters. This place was a slice of heaven.
When you travel do you shop? Is that a main reason for your travels? Where do you shop – modern stores or antique shops? Have you ever had the urge to just drop anchor and while away the time chatting with a shopkeep?
If you are in New Orleans and have even a passing interest in culinary antiques, Lucullus is the number one destination for you. If you go, send my regard to Mr. Dunne and the rest of his team.