An unassuming double shotgun sits on a busy stretch of Saint Claude Avenue, between Montegut and Clouet, alongside Red’s Chinese and Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s Spellcaster Lodge. Its last occupant was the Sugar Park Tavern pizza parlor. Before that, it housed Leo’s Bar & Grill, where DJ Soul Sister hosted her first Hustle parties. The building is now home to Saint-Germain, a Parisian-inspired bar and bistro that opened this fall, but Sugar Park’s massive neon sign still hangs over the front porch.
“We’re gonna light it up!” says Drew Delaughter, Saint-Germain’s co-owner, general manager and wine director. “It gives us some character.” Delaughter and his two partners, chefs Trey Smith and Blake Aguillard, plan on changing the sign when they have the money to do so, but until then, the Sugar Park logo will remain front and center.
Saint-Germain has been opening piecemeal since mid-October as its moving parts coalesce. The bar section came first, featuring a full complement of natural wines and classic cocktails, as well as a small selection of light French appetizers. The dining room is currently open to bar patrons, but this month, it will transform into a 16-seat, reservation-only area, operating as a separate entity from the bar. The large, well-lit backyard is still awaiting its central fountain, but the space is already beginning to fulfill its double function as an herb garden/seating area. “This is a very grassroots business,” says Smith. “With nothing other than a dream and hard work, we’re making this happen, and we’re hoping that people respond to it.”
Aside from the plumbing, electricity, bar and glass windows, the three owners renovated the entire building themselves, working all summer to get the restaurant ready for its opening in October. “We did 100 percent of the demolition, the zinc bar top, the light fixtures, the painting, the patio, the backyard area,” says Aguillard. “I’d never built a building before, so in my mind, we’d pay the designer to do the design, do the demolition, hand the contractor the plans and, when we came back, there was gonna be a restaurant. Maybe we were gonna paint and do some minor stuff. And all of a sudden, I’m looking around, and I start noticing ‘No one’s coming. This is us doing everything.’”
Smith and Aguillard met at Restaurant August nearly a decade ago, working at the same station under Michael Gulotta, who was executive chef at the time. As part of their training, Guilotta sent them to Germany’s Black Forest. “The area has been part of France and Germany,” Smith explains, “So it’s not really Germany and it’s not really France. It’s just this wooded, Alsatian region. They have their own dishes, their own cuisine. They deal with a lot of wild game, which Blake and I both developed a passion for.”
In 2013, Smith and Aguillard left August to help Gulotta open Mopho, his southeast Asian fusion venture on City Park Ave. Delaughter, a friend of Smith’s from culinary school, joined them as a bartender at Mopho and had worked his way up to general manager before leaving in late 2017. Aguillard left MoPho earlier that year, giving up a position as chef de cuisine to work as a cook at Saison, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in San Francisco. There, he mastered the dry aging and hearth cooking techniques he’ll employ on a smaller, more intimate scale at Saint-Germain, over Binchōtan coals on a yakitori grill. He moved back to New Orleans this year, joining Smith and Delaughter to conceive Saint-Germain.
“The places in Paris that inspired us to do this—places like Septime and Chateaubriand—use less expensive ingredients but a lot of technique to create these amazing restaurants that are accessible to everybody,” says Smith. “We’re gonna feature a lot of fresh-baked bread, pastas, meats grilled over the coals—things that are inexpensive but can be done very well with technique.”
Delaughter took a similar tactic when assembling the wine list. He focused on natural wines, which have low sulfite content and are harvested organically. “You can get a very interesting bottle for not much money and the soil it comes from is living. It’s not just overplanted, overharvested crap,” Delaughter says.
Whether they’re finding wines that breathe in the bottle, etching a patina into their hand-hammered zinc bartop, or slow-fermenting their sourdough bread for exactly 12 hours to get the perfect bubble on the crust in a deck oven without convection or steam, the founders of Saint-Germain are embracing a DIY aesthetic but taking the time to let everything oxidize just right. The food, drinks and atmosphere are thoughtfully constructed and curated but never stuffy. “We plan on being a comfortable, neighborhood bar,” says Smith, reaffirming the group’s mission to stick to the basics. “Doing the few things we do to the best of our ability,” Aguillard adds. “The more confidence you have, the more you keep it simple.”