First Look: Refreshed and reimagined, iconic Juban’s set to reopen

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include new photos from the restaurant.

Over the course of its 40-year history, family-owned Juban’s Restaurant cultivated a reputation as one Baton Rouge’s first and most popular fine dining establishments, ground zero for celebratory dinners, large and small events and seen-and-be-seen meet ups for local movers and shakers. Now, after a nearly two-year closure prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, a reimagined Juban’s is back in business. The restaurant officially re-opens Monday, April 4, at 11 a.m.

Juban’s, general manager Jeremy McKnight, operating partner Michael Boudreaux, chef Chris Motto and operating partner Peter Sclafani. Photo by Ariana Allison.

Fans have missed it. The restaurant’s longtime reliance on face-to-face events created an untenable situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a decision by its owners, the Juban family, to close temporarily. But the closure created a unique opportunity. It gave the legacy restaurant a chance to update its brand, helping it to carve out a fresh identity in a local restaurant landscape that’s become increasingly contemporary and competitive.

Every corner of the massive eatery, which can seat 400 across nine different rooms, has been updated in a style intended to accomplish two things: to gently tug at the heartstrings of the scores of Juban’s regulars who hold fast to memories of dining there, and to rope in new diners excited by Baton Rouge’s evolving culinary scene.

Thinking through exactly what that means has been the focus of a small team for the last several months, including Michael Boudreaux, a member of the Juban family; chef-restaurateur Peter Sclafani, whose restaurant group, Making Raving Fans, is operating the new Juban’s; the branding firm X Design and the architecture firm DNA Workshop. Together, the group has played around with palettes, themes and designs that situate the new Juban’s as simultaneously sophisticated and friendly.

“It’s ornate and polished but also welcoming,” says X Design Art Director Tiffanie Pitrie.

It’s impossible not to liken the updated Juban’s to both Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s in its gilded, airy sophistication, comparisons Sclafani both recognizes and welcomes.

“That’s what we hope you feel when you come in,” Sclafani says. “That you’re in this cool New Orleans space.”

Juban’s Tigre Room features art work that appears surprisingly familiar. Photo by Ariana Allison.

The dusty pink exterior is now bright white. A sprawling new outdoor patio flows off the main front dining room, which has been renamed the Hallelujah Bar because it now features a large bar at one end. The jazz-themed space is painted in lush, deep teal set off by brass sconces and chandeliers that mimic clusters of trumpets.

The immense Atrium Bar, designed in soft pastels with lots of brass and glass, sprawls through the center of the restaurant, with a bar that stretches end to end, and floor space filled with numerous dining tables. The cocktail program features signature drinks named for songs and blended with boutique and local spirits. The wine list features close to 200 producers. It tilts New World and is meant to put diners at ease, Sclafani says.

“People are going to find familiar wines here,” he says. “We want them to find things they recognize.”

Juban’s reimagined Atrium Bar with craft cocktalis named for songs. Photo courtesy Juban’s Restaurant.

The most talked about space, Sclafani says, is the new moody Tigre Room, a Victorian explorer-inspired “library” hidden behind a sliding wall just off the bar. To the Atrium’s well-lighted excitement, the Tigre Roomy is a sultry contrast, wallpapered in grown-up Jungle Book-ish tigers and peacocks. There are animal skin rugs, a large screen T.V., stuffed chairs and tables for dining. It also holds the restaurant’s cheekiest design move of all: a series of “paintings” of beloved LSU sports personalities, including Joe Burrow, Shaquille O’Neal and D-D Breaux depicted in heroic portraiture. (Don’t ask who the artist is, because there isn’t one. In a high-low genius move, X Design created them digitally.)

The kitchen is led by Chef Chris Motto, formerly of Mansurs on the Boulevard and a competitor on Gordon Ramsay’s reality show, Hell’s Kitchen, in 2019. Motto has worked to create a new Juban’s menu that reflects its classic-meets-contemporary vibe. The result is a tidy round-up of elegantly presented Creole fare.

Juban’s atrium bar combines soft colors with lots of brass and glass. Photo by Ariana Allison.

Juban’s seminal dishes, the Hallelujah Crab and Redfish Adrian, are still on the menu, albeit with subtle tweaks, joined by entrées like Ora King salmon with salmon skin cracklin’, chicken Clemenceau and a duo of duck and quail with cane syrup gastrique and others. Juban’s chicken, duck and andouille gumbo is also returning, but don’t miss Motto’s original cauliflower, crab and brie soup. Oyster Rockefeller, one of several appetizers, is reimagined with a fried oyster perched on a bed of Rockefeller-creamed spinach and topped with pickled fennel, hot sauce beurre blanc and local caviar.

Juban’s fried oysters Rockefeller. Photo courtesy Juban’s restaurant.

Renovated restrooms in dark blues with pops of millennial pink create a backdrop for perfect selfies, but these aren’t to be outdone by the photo booth outside the mens and ladies rooms where you and yours can take your very own Juban’s branded photo strips. Swipe a credit card to pay for the experience, but note that Juban’s is ensuring the profits go to a different charity each month.

The photo booth outside the restrooms is intended to help diners make memories, partners say. Photo by Ariana Allison.

For more information, jubans.com.