About this Project
The Sazerac Company
500 Canal Street, New Orleans LA 70130
The Sazerac Company
500 Canal Street, New Orleans LA 70130
The 51,987-sq-ft Sazerac House is a state-of-the-art interactive cocktail museum, active distillery, corporate headquarters, and event venue all under one roof. Located adjacent to the historic French Quarter, this project revitalizes one of New Orleans’ most prominent corners – Canal Street and Magazine Streets. This full-scale historic rehabilitation and adaptive-reuse project pays homage to the storied history of America’s first mixed-spirits drink and the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans, not to mention the namesake and homeplace of America’s largest spirits company. The museum experience immerses visitors in the cocktail culture of the vibrant city of New Orleans through history while elucidating the craft and traditions which inform the creation of spirits into the modern era.
The existing conditions of the buildings included multiple insensitive renovations from the past 150 years, extensive termite and water damage, and differential settlement ranging between 2 and 11 ½ inches throughout the building. Failing structural elements of load bearing masonry and heavy timber concealed a century and a half of needed repairs, rendering entire portions of the existing building unsafe prior to remediation. Additionally, during Hurricane Katrina, storm force winds lifted the gravity-held roof from the structure, causing the collapse of support columns, and the need for temporary shoring to prevent complete failure in the decade to follow. As such, the intensity, complexity, and technological innovation required for the remediation and coordination cannot be overstated. The entire endeavor was rife with challenges, as each newly discovered condition required fast, creative solutions.
These construction complexities were only made more challenging by two additional project constraints. First, the project was required to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Rehabilitation in order to qualify for historic restoration tax credits, without which a restoration of this breadth would be impossible. Secondly, the nature of the owner’s program requirements presented unique fire-safety complexities. The building seamlessly blends assembly occupancies (museum and event space), with production facilities for hazardous materials (functioning alcohol production), and a corporate headquarters, all within a timber-structured building located in a dense urban environment. The fire-safety requirements far exceeded those of a standard project type requiring compartmentalization of safety zones, explosion proof assemblies and fixtures including electrical and mechanical components, and even cutting-edge air sampling systems to provide early detection and increased safety for employees, building guests, and the public along two high traffic urban corridors.
Zoning restrictions placed strict height limits on the building’s potential expansion, namely a penthouse addition and roof-mounted HVAC equipment. In close coordination with city planners, the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission, and the National Parks Service, architects negotiated a 6th floor addition with minimal impacts on the building’s massing and visual presence. This hard cap on final building height elevation required remediation crews to carefully coordinate the releveling of intermediate floors without impacting the building’s final roof height.
Now complete, the six-story Sazerac House pays homage to the storied history of America’s first mixed-spirits drink and the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans, not to mention the namesake and homeplace of America’s largest spirits company. The museum experience immerses visitors in the cocktail culture of the vibrant city of New Orleans through history while elucidating the craft and traditions which inform the creation of spirits into the modern era.
Exhibit space is central to the facility, and designers worked to create a world-class museum experience which blends historical artifacts, active production capabilities, and state-of-the art technology while maintaining the aesthetic and charm of the eras represented. Three floors of interactive exhibits include projection mapping, virtual bartender experiences, touch-screen animation, and fully interactive audio and video components. This grants guests a one-of-a-kind experience through free, all-ages, self-guided tours offering the opportunity to learn, interact, and experience the Sazerac brands through all the senses (yes, even tasting). The richness of the company’s historical ties to New Orleans, along with the city’s influential role in American cocktail culture permeates the project at every level.
The focal point of the space is a three-story, glass-encased display wall showcasing thousands of bottles from the array of New Orleans specific Sazerac products. The 46-foot-tall backlit display carves through the three floors of museum experience and serves as a backdrop for a monumental staircase connecting one exhibit to the next. Complementing the exhibit spaces are speak-easy style tasting rooms, rum aging and blending areas, and the return of the production of historic Peychaud’s bitters to New Orleans.
The RGGC team came on board in a design-assist capacity a full year and a half before work even began – prior to landing the construction contract – to support the architects, engineers and owners with budgeting, value engineering and constructability.
The Sazerac management team selected the contractor after a vetting process – and at the suggestion of designer Trapolin-Peer Architects – and looked to them to be its eyes and ears throughout the project. “We wanted a company that meshed with the Sazerac culture, which is about doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason,” says Sazerac Secretary and Treasurer, Kent Broussard. “We found RGGC to be honest, hardworking, day-to-day folks who want to do it right and have a vested interest in the city.”
By the end of the design-assist process, the contractor was intimately familiar with the project. This was fortuitous in a myriad of ways, since the project’s unprecedented nature – a combo industrial, museum, and office space in twin historical buildings – virtually assured that there would be unexpected detours along the way.
Sazerac also wanted a contractor who could easily adapt to change and could find creative solutions to a variety of unexpected challenges. For example, the exhibit space’s three-story bottle wall – conceptualized as the museum’s “wow” moment – was a complicated and unprecedented endeavor, and the RGGC team had to coordinate with multiple disciplines, including electrical, structural, millwork, and exhibitry to get it done. “They all had to be involved in those meetings,” Thomas says, “to actually collaborate on how to construct it, install lighting components, get the 1,400 bottles installed correctly, and trim it out.” The use of numerous iterative on-site mockups proved critical in fine-tuning the design of such a complex element. “The design phase can only go so far in anticipating the interrelated complexities of such a striking and challenging architectural crescendo. RGGC’s team became active design partners as all members of the GC team (from president to project manager) were actively engaged in problem solving and troubleshooting through hands-on design.” – Shea Trahan, Project Architect. “The mutual respect and combination of skills between architects, contractors, and engineers is the core reason the bottle wall is so stunning today.”
In the end, Sazerac’s overriding goal was to re-create the historical integrity of the building, while giving it a new, exciting purpose. “We’ve been extremely careful to maintain the historical relevance of the building,” says Sazerac’s Broussard. “We wanted to ensure that if it was possible for someone to come back from 1870 and visit the building, they would remember it exactly like that.”
It was RGGC’s job to “put it back that way,” he adds. “And you know, RGGC has been true to that. We’ve never wavered from that since the beginning. We’re all extremely aligned on maintaining the historical preservation of the buildings.”