OffBeat Magazine: This New Orleans Restaurant is a Vessel for Hauntings
Updated: Jan 18, 2020
The building in which the restaurant is housed has been dealing with suspicious activity for years.
If you’re anything like me, you love a good mystery and a good ghost story. In fact, I would argue that one of the best things about New Orleans are the random hauntings you hear echoing through the streets. I like to think they’re ghosts (more likely drunk tourists, but I digress). When I heard that New Orleans restaurant Vessel was offering up a ghost story which included a famed New Orleans figure, I couldn’t wait to get the inside scoop.
This story begins in 2015, when business partners Alec Wilder and Eddie Dyer decided they wanted to open a restaurant serving some of the best cocktails in town. Wilder has roots in real estate and Dyer is an owner of local craft beer bar, The Bulldog. Wilder has had a special gift his entire life — he’s a psychic and medium who can sense paranormal activity. When Wilder was looking for the location of his new cocktail bar and restaurant, he had a vision of a building that “used to be something else.” He then reached out to a real estate friend to find out if anything that matched the description had been put on the market recently. “The first thing she asked me was if I was psychic. She told me that the owner of Redemption Restaurant was thinking about selling the building and it used to be a church,” he explains. Wilder knew that this was a sign, so he bought the building, which dates back to 1914, sight unseen. The space would soon become Vessel, a restaurant offering a menu emphasizing locally sourced, fresh seasonal ingredients in a uniquely New Orleans tradition, but there was a lot of work to be done.
Wilder explained that as soon as he walked into the building, he felt like something was off– something he described as a “heavy feeling.” After discovering a crack in the foundation, he contacted the Sewerage and Water Board, insisting they come out and investigate the issue immediately. It was discovered that a sewer line attached to the building had collapsed and the entire building was in danger of falling over and the foundation needed to be rebuilt. That was an issue that could have easily been written off as bad luck, but soon other odd things began happening in the space: the compressor went out, brand new refrigerators would stop working without explanation and the walk-in cooler died before opening. Things were getting misplaced and doors that had been locked would be discovered to have been unlocked the next morning. There was a coldness in the staircase that no one could explain and employees reported feeling as if they were being pushed down the stairs. Water would mysteriously spill and beer cans would explode on their own.
After the restaurant opened in summer of 2016, the men hired to work in the restaurant didn’t last long, while the women working there were thriving. Wilder and other people would hear random noises that had no explanation and he recalled seeing a monk figure walking around the restaurant. “It got to a point that we were really starting to believe that we were cursed,” Wilder says. Right about now you might be thinking that all of this could be chalked up to a few rare coincidences. After all, refrigerators die every day and who hasn’t forgotten to lock a door once or twice? Sometimes you might hear things or see things that aren’t there and just write them off, right?
Wilder sensed something else was responsible, so he decided to reach out to “The Dead Files,” a show on Travel Channel that has been investigating paranormal activity since 2011. Medium Amy Allan and former NYPD homicide detective Steve DiSchiavi travel the country investigating haunted locations, looking for paranormal activity. Wilder sent show producers security footage of what seemed to be a bright orb on the patio and his phone call was returned immediately. The show only investigates cases they believe to be completely authentic; producers are contacted about 15,000 cases of paranormal activity a year, and the story about Vessel’s haunting was one of 26 cases the team decided to take on during this particular season. In other words: everyone knew they had something special on their hands and were determined to get to the bottom of it.
During the episode, Allan could immediately sense the presence of spirits; she had trouble breathing and she sensed the spirit was a very angry female. Through Allan and DiSchiavi’s investigation, they discovered that the mysterious activity is likely the spirit of Micaela Leonarda Antonia de Almonester Rojas y de la Ronde, Baroness de Pontalba. Born in 1795 in New Orleans, the Baroness was a Creole aristocrat and businesswoman who inherited a part of her father’s vast fortune when she was only two-and-a-half years old. She married at 16 and moved to France; her husband (and cousin), Joseph-Xavier Célestin Delfau de Pontalba, held her as a virtual prisoner in their chateau. He and her father-in-law, Baron de Pontalba, tried for two decades to gain control of her inheritance. The Baron even went so far as to shoot the Baroness in the chest, before committing suicide himself. The Baroness survived the attack, separated from her husband and thrived. She went on to design the Pontalba Buildings in Jackson Square, here in New Orleans, as well as Hôtel de Pontalba in Paris, where she lived until her death in 1874, at the age of 78. DiSchiavi’s research uncovered that the Baroness once owned the land on which Vessel sits; she told Allan that she had to go there for safety and she expressed a great distrust for men.
Allan determined that Vessel was haunted by many spirits, but the Baroness and her father-in-law were the most dominant. The Baroness was responsible for trying to push men out of the building and the Baron was responsible for the nastier tricks like leaving the burners in the kitchen on overnight. Wilder and Dyer have both done work to calm the spirits who share their space and Wilder says that things have become a lot calmer since hiring mostly women to work at Vessel.
It seems that Wilder and Dyer aren’t the only ones with stories of Vessel’s haunting. Wilder says, “Since the show aired, other people have told us about their experiences with paranormal activity here.” Even Celeste Bergeron McCann, former owner of Christian’s Restaurant, which was once in the building that Vessel now occupies, has her own stories of encounters with spirits in the space.
For now, everyone at Vessel and the Baroness seem to have come to an understanding; Wilder and Dyer want to encourage more women to visit Vessel. “We want Vessel to be a place that women regularly frequent,” he says. Happy hour is offered daily at this beautiful restaurant in MidCity from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Be sure to stop in, raise a glass to Baroness de Pontalba, and thank her for being a welcoming host.
Vessel is located at 3835 Iberville St. in New Orleans.