It’s been a “modern” hotel, a sanitarium, a courthouse and, at its most humiliating moment, a Dollar General. But thanks to a painstaking restoration headed by Lisa Condrey - and backed by her partner (and husband) Joe Ward, her brother Rick and his wife Gayle - the Southern Hotel across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans is back in business.
First opened on the Northshore in downtown Covington in 1907, the original Southern Hotel was the height of luxury, boasting modern conveniences like hot water and electric lights. But the property fell on hard times and ended up on the auction block. It languished after Katrina until Lisa Condrey got a crazy idea in her head.
The Walker Percy Suite in the Southern Hotel — Photo courtesy of Jeff Strout / Southern Hotel
“I think you need your own little hotel to be a real town,” says the attorney, who after 25 years traded practicing law for historic preservation. “And people interested in coming to Covington don’t want to stay in a Holiday Inn.”
Condrey - who grew up in Lake Providence, a small town in northern Louisiana - imagined the Southern Hotel brought back to its true potential. With the support of her family, she bought the property in 2011. Working with Trapolin-Peer Architects, the renovation was completed in June 2014 and the hotel opened for business June 1, the 107th anniversary of its original opening.
The 42-room boutique hotel is a beauty. The Mission-style building, with its wide archways and lush center courtyard, offers a welcoming oasis to travelers and locals alike.
Decorated in a serene palette of muted earth tones, the public spaces boast details like hand-blown Venetian chandeliers and exposed brickwork, with marble finishes and an exposed fireplace in the lobby original to the site. Historic sepia photographs showcase the hotel’s early glory days.
The renovated Southern Hotel in downtown Covington — Photo courtesy of Dale Smith / Southern Hotel
The comfortable rooms are elegantly spare, offering views of downtown and the courtyard below. Two large suites, named for notable Covington artist Thomas Sully and author Walker Percy, are outfitted with four-poster beds and a turntable with a record collection that harks back to a gentler era.
There is a 2,400-square-foot ballroom that can be configured for meetings, conferences and special events like weddings. An upscale bar and spa treatment and fitness rooms round out the luxurious amenities. Ox Lot 9 restaurant - with Chef Jeffrey Hansell, familiar in New Orleans kitchens including Commander’s Palace and Luke - will open later in the summer.
With its leafy small town location, Southern Hotel delivers gracious hospitality and a restful retreat just 45 minutes from the hustle and bustle of New Orleans.