The rich architectural history of New Orleans stands in plain sight on our streets and sidewalks, but sometimes, it’s a bit hidden. The Dovetail Bar is a perfect example. Dovetail joints, a woodworking skill, are scattered around the 99-year-old former furniture showroom built in the early 1920s. Now, the building has a new life as a hotel and bar paying its respects to the original craftsman.
Built in 1923 by Joseph Paul Schaeffer, the J.P. Schaeffer Furniture Company held the space until the 1940s, and then over the decades, the building was various other furniture stores, like Joy's Furniture in the 1960s. During the 1990s, it eventually fell vacant.
Architects Walter Antin and Ariana Rinderknecht saw the beauty in the vacant property that was almost destroyed through years of abandonment, sitting behind the Saenger Theatre. The site also sustained damage from the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel site which sat across the street.
The husband and wife architect team are creators and owners of The Dovetail Bar, a new cocktail lounge and coffee bar tucked inside The Schaeffer Hotel (which they also own) on N. Rampart Street at Iberville. The name of the bar was inspired by the architecture technique of dovetail joinery, a wooden joint used in furniture building without nails or screws.
The couple also owns and operates WAAR Design, a design firm dedicated to preserving the historical value of New Orleans architecture. They have worked on projects for Tulane School of Social Work, Sucre, The Black Duck Bar (inside of the Palace Café), and the St. James Cheese Company.
“As an architect I believe in maintaining the spirit of the building,” said Rinderknecht. “I always design with a very conceptual approach.”
Rinderknecht says since they live close by, she and her husband had become enamored with the once vacant building, and thought one day they would transform it to its former glory, but with a new use. The couple always envisioned having a food & beverage component to their boutique hotel, and, as admirers of J.P. Schaeffer, knew they wanted the concept to be architecturally inspired.
Dovetail offers a relaxed space for hotel guests to start their day with a coffee, or call it a night with a crafted cocktail. The specialty cocktail menu is as handcrafted as the building is. Rinderknecht and her husband worked with a bar team to create drinks closely tied to joinery techniques, like the rabbet spritz, dado collins, pocket joint, tongue & groove and mortise & tenon.
Locals in the area enjoy having a place where they can casually meet with friends, but still be part of a curated atmosphere. Rinderknecht was heavily involved in the design process, which involved hand selecting timber to repurpose left from the original structure.
“It’s quite different, and very casual,” Rinderknecht said. “We chose color, and repurposed wood from the original building. It was such incredible quality.”
Upon first glance, the name of the bar brings to mind a dove. Many people who aren’t familiar with carpentry techniques hear the name ‘dovetail’ and truly think of the tail on a dove. Coincidentally, the joinery term is named after the resemblance to a dove’s tail.
This woodworking method even inspired the bar’s logo. Look long enough and you’ll see the merging of two dovetail joints, something Rinderknecht intentionally created, saying, “once you know the history, it pops out at you.”
Story originally posted on May 19, 2022
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