Feb 23, 2024 - Food and Drink

Manolito to triple seating capacity

A bartender shakes a cocktail inside the Manolito bar. Above the bar, two rows of liquor bottles sit on shelves with their labels turned neatly outward.

The Manolito bar will keep its original five seats as the rest of the restaurant expands capacity. Photo: Randy Schmidt

A popular Cuban restaurant in the French Quarter will just about triple its seating capacity once renovations are complete this spring.

Why it matters: Manolito will be closed for a few weeks as contractors wrap up the expansion.

  • But the goal is to get doors back open in time for French Quarter Fest.

"The building has a life of its own. I feel like Manolito is supposed to be there," says co-owner Konrad Kantor. "It feels like it's right. When you walk into Manolito, it always felt special."

  • "I always wanted to keep that magic."

Flashback: It didn't take long after Manolito opened in March 2018 for its operators to know an expansion would be worthwhile.

  • The bar and restaurant opened just after Kantor's fellow co-owner Chris Hannah was credited with helping Arnaud's French 75 win a James Beard Award in 2017, and that helped draw some early buzz and business.
  • But Manolito proved itself on its own merits, too, serving well-crafted cocktails and Cuban sandwiches that earned rave reviews and a Bar of the Year nod from Eater New Orleans.
A row of four Cuban cocktails are lined up on a table with a bar out of focus in the background.
Cocktails are a calling card at Manolito. Photo: Randy Schmidt

Between the lines: But "in the first year-and-a-half, we knew we couldn't do better," Kantor tells Axios New Orleans. "There's nothing we can do to make more money [unless] we expand."

  • At just 500 square feet and with a lunch business that didn't quite draw enough profit to make it worthwhile, the clear path forward was actually outward.
  • But then, the pandemic waylaid any expansion chatter as Kantor dropped Manolito's staff down to three, including himself, even as the restaurant never truly closed up shop.

The latest: Business picked up in the months and years since, and it finally felt right to renegotiate the restaurant's lease and bring in architects to make those early visions come to life.

  • "I get people asking me for reservations for 120 people for corporate [events]," Kantor says. "I knew that business was there."
  • Meanwhile, Manolito has quietly been under construction for about a year. The restaurant closure will allow contractors to finish the final pieces.
The back of Manolito is seen under construction. A stairway leads to a lofted seating area above, and wooden beams are visible in the ceiling. Scaffolding and temporary hand railings are visible.
The view from the courtyard into the back of Manolito while it's under construction. Photo: Courtesy of Konrad Kantor

What's changing: The restaurant is getting longer, not wider, and expanding into the French Quarter building's courtyard.

  • That means more indoor and outdoor seating, and Manolito will finally take reservations to manage all of it.
  • If you want to sit at the bar, you'll do so at the same five bar seats Manolito has always had, but they are adding a service bar to accommodate the additional demand for drinks.
  • The kitchen will also shift toward the back so customers won't have to worry about leaving and still smelling croquetas, Kantor says laughingly.
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