Since New Orleans can boast such a long and rich history, it is no surprise that the city contains some of the finest antiques shops in the United States. Royal Street between Jackson Square and Canal Street has several enticing stores, and our recommended hotel in the French Quarter, the Soniat House, has its own retail antiques shop on Chartres Street (viewings by appointment only). On my recent visit, I checked in on a longtime favorite that has recently been expanded and renovated, and then I browsed another well-stocked store nearby.
The most impressive of New Orleans’ antiques shops is 110-year-old M.S. Rau. Owner Bill Rau is the third generation of his family to run the business, and he goes on buying trips with his daughter, who is likely to become the fourth. Even if you have been to the museumlike store in the past, I highly recommend taking another look. Rau has completely renovated the original building and expanded into two more. The former main display space has been converted into a spectacular jewelry gallery, which opened to the public just two weeks prior to our visit. The most dazzling pieces, such as a diamond-and-platinum tiara that belonged to the Duchess of Alba, grace the “Crystal Palace,” an oval glass-walled room where visitors can try items on.
The rest of the ground floor has numerous remarkable pieces of furniture with historic pedigrees. We were able to inspect the desk at which Napoleon wrote while exiled on the island of St. Helena and marvel at an elaborate armoire belonging to Czar Nicholas II. An employee turned a column to reveal a secret compartment, prompting me to wonder what the last of the Russian czars might have kept inside.