Travel

Pay Tribute to a Pioneering Female Journalist at This New Orleans Hotel

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane

If the vibrantly colored paneled walls of The Eliza Jane hotel could talk, they’d probably have a lot of news to share. At the very least, they’ve surely been listening as guests come and go, offering silent attention in response to the oft-repeated question formed on countless visiting lips: Who the heck is Eliza Jane?

The walls can’t tell you, but General Manager Michael Klein sure can. He says the question is so common that management has included relevant talking points in their employee orientation process. When I asked about her at check-in, I was also given a pamphlet with a short bio. The hotel’s lesser-known namesake is Eliza Jane Nicholson, the first woman publisher of a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States. She owned and operated The Daily Picayune for 20 years, and the 19th-century warehouses that housed the paper (alongside businesses like gunpowder manufacturer Peters Cartridge Shop, the Gulf Baking Soda company, and botanical spirits maker Peychaud’s Bitters) have since been transformed into the Hyatt Unbound Collection hotel. The paper is still around today, though it goes by the name of The Times-Picayune-or Nola.com online.

Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane

“We use Eliza Jane really as our inspiration because she was a storyteller who brought community elements together,” explains Klein. “Her medium was the paper, and we feel that that medium is an inspiration, tying into the community and telling stories that are unique to New Orleans.”

Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane

The hotel honours Eliza Jane and the historic newspapers of New Orleans (the property’s Magazine Street location is also a half block away from the city’s historic Newspaper Row) through its design. Much of the building’s original brick, masonry arches, and metalwork still remain, now adorned with marble accents. Look closely for details like a hallway papered with newspaper designs, or antique typewriters in some of the hotel’s 196 guest rooms (mine greeted me with a typed welcome note).

Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane

You’ll find similar artifacts in the Press Room lobby lounge, where craft libations and small plates are served up in a decidedly literary space. The cranberry-coloured panelled walls are rimmed with bookshelves, featuring hardcover books and vintage typing implements, along with other decorative touches. The seating area is grand yet comfortable, with leather and velvet upholstery, a marble fireplace, and brass light fixtures.You may wish to sit and snack, maybe read a book, but it’s also the perfect place to contemplate the accomplishments of Eliza Jane. Born in 1843 near Pearlington, Mississippi, fiery-haired Eliza Jane Poitevent grew up visiting her grandfather in New Orleans. As a young woman, she went on to submit her writings to the city’s newspapers, including The Daily Picayune, under the pen name Pearl Rivers, eventually moving to the Big Easy to pursue a career in journalism.

Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane

“We know that writing was something that was a lifelong passion of hers,” explains Amanda McFillen, director of programs and interpretive services at The Historic New Orleans Collection. “I don’t know why she wanted to do it professionally, except that she just had this very strong desire to have her work published and be recognized for it and to be paid for it.”

Eliza Jane was hired as The Daily Picayune‘s literary editor in 1870. Two years later, she married the paper’s owner. When her husband passed away in 1876, Eliza Jane inherited the paper, which then was on shaky financial ground. She began making what were innovative changes at the time, including expanding the paper’s subscription base. Over the course of two decades, she added sections to the paper that appealed to different readers, such as an advice column, sports reporting, and stories of interest to women and children. She also mentored other women writers and gave advice columnist Dorothy Dix her start.

The Eliza Jane New Orleans
The Eliza Jane New Orleans
The Eliza Jane New Orleans

She was very passionate about writing, but she was also a really savvy businesswoman,” says McFillen. “Within a few years, she had paid off the debt and had made it a very profitable newspaper.”

Credit should also be given to the fact that Eliza Jane had a great staff, which included her business manager, George Nicholson, who she eventually married. While Eliza Jane passed away in 1896, ownership of The Daily Picayune remained in the family until the 1960s, a legacy that really speaks to Eliza Jane’s success as a businesswoman and journalist.

Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane
Photo courtesy of The Eliza Jane

And then, of course, there’s the legacy of The Eliza Jane hotel. Located within New Orleans’ Central Business District, two blocks north of the French Quarter, you’ll find that richly coloured lobby accented by a patterned tiled floor. A marble-topped bar sits under a glass canopy, across from the Press Room lounge. If you fancy some open-air relaxation, you can also sit in the hotel’s open-air courtyard, where greenery meets the building’s original exposed brick and a fountain designed by a local artist adds a little dramatic flair.

The Eliza Jane New Orleans
The Eliza Jane New Orleans
The Eliza Jane New Orleans

Arched passageways connect the hotel to the French-inspired Louisiana brasserie Couvant, located in the portion of the former warehouse that once housed the Peychaud Cocktail Bitters factory, which shared the space with the newspaper.

Under the direction of Executive Chef Ryan Pearson, Couvant draws upon Louisiana’s coastal and agricultural bounty for dishes that include shrimp and grits, gougères, and duck confit-plus an impressive Côte de Boeuf for two. A standout item is the Raclette Burger, available only at lunchtime and completed tableside with the scraping of this Swiss cheese from a cast iron pan onto a dry-aged patty. Originally, Pearson was dead set against a burger, but presenting it as an experiential dish changed his mind. “I still give him a hard time that it’s there but I love the fact that we have it,” says Klein.

Couvant New Orleans
Couvant New Orleans
Couvant New Orleans

The hotel also recognizes Antoine Peychaud, who founded Peychaud’s Bitters. He’s
the influence behind The Eliza Jane’s new in-house bitters aging program, the Publisher’s Alchemy, which will develop custom aromatic spirits for the craft
cocktails served at the Lobby Bar and Couvant.And what might Eliza Jane have thought of her namesake property, from the luxe guest rooms to the brasserie? Whatever her opinion might have been, she would have been sure to let everyone know. McFillen notes that she was not shy about expressing her thoughts, explaining that she was once misattributed as a “Mister” by Field & Stream. She corrected them on the error, “and they wrote her this wonderful, very funny reply where they apologized profusely,” says McFillen. “She was definitely in a male-dominated sphere for her entire career and had to navigate this continuously throughout her career. And I think she did it with a lot of spirit.”

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Michele Herrmann is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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