Chris Stall, Bell Captain

From the International Hotel School website:

A bell captain usually supervises the conduct of bellhops and porters. Generally working in a hotel, a person in this position is usually cross-trained to take on other hospitality tasks like concierge or desk clerk duties in addition to bell captain duties, depending on the size of the organization.

On the 600 block of Saint Ann, the seven-floor parking garage (yes 7 floors; you have to stand in front for a few minutes to see it) is the  “side porch” of the Place d’ Armes Hotel. The hotel which has around 80 rooms, caters to regulars and sophisticated visitors. That is indicated by the lack of all-night “whoo-hooing” balconies for rent here. The few rooms with balconies overlooking Saint Ann are told upon check-in to honor the neighborhood vibe and shut the outside party down at a decent hour.

The garage is not self-parking. You and your car enter (that is, if the valet guys have the sign turned around to the public parking allowed side of the metal stand or you’re a hotel guest or contract holder), and within seconds of you pulling in, the keys are in their hand and you are on your way out to the bright sunlight. Maybe you stop to watch them expertly pull your car into the car elevator, or maybe you don’t. Maybe it helps to hear that no one remembers any major garage accident or mishap from this system.

Chris Stall, the bell captain, has been on the bell/valet staff for 13 years. He is the senior member of that staff although outrank him in seniority in other jobs. Always agreeable, chatty, never flustered, he is extremely courteous about listening  and mildly commenting on a wide range of subjects.

His familiarity with hotels is long; his dad had a career in the food & beverage divisions of hotels at the Sheraton and the Intercontinental on Canal and also opened new hotels in Orlando, Las  Vegas, Nashville, among others. The four kids went along, but as soon as Stall was 18, he came back home for good, as did each of his siblings as they came of age. He lives with his rescue dogs in Chalmette where he was born and bred and where most of the family still resides. 

He started his own hotel career 15 years ago at the Hotel St. Marie, where his brother worked at the front desk, then to Place d’Armes 13 years ago. The Valentino family owns both hotels along with Prince Conti, the French Market Inn, and the Lafayette Hotel in the CBD. They also manage the City Sightseeing New Orleans Bus (the red, double decker Hop-On-Hop-Off) tours and the Basin Street Welcome Station.

That brother is long gone from hotel work and now a locksmith.  In turn, Chris has passed along the good fortune of a connection to other members of his family; until recently, his cousin spent five years as a valet at the hotel.

He works 40 hours but only on weekends, pulling two 16-hour shifts, and finishing with 8 hours on Sunday.  This allows for great flexibility for his off time, although as captain he is expected to handle any staff shortages. If you ask if he is in charge, you get a laugh and an acknowledgment shrug, befitting his self-effacing demeanor. He is, but the work is simple to understand for the staff. “It’s a great job for a young person going to school or getting started,” he says.

Along with spaces for hotel guests, the garage holds about 80 contractholders, with about 20 of those coming and going daily or weekly. If the regulars’ routines shift at all, he wonders what happened to them. Short chats with regulars, helping with unloading groceries, holding the dog leash, and passing along news of the area is all included.

Sometimes one of his sisters brings their family down for an event, but for his part, he doesn’t spend his off time in the Quarter. However, when someone talks about the Quarter, he mostly defends it. “After all, this is the bread and butter of the city.” 

The nuttiest thing he has seen while working in the Quarter? He says the list is too long.

I wrote this in 2020 for an online site where I had published similar stories but these were never finished by the editor; all of them will instead be published here.

Dreamie Weenies

Listen, I like poor boys and muffalettas. You’ll find me in line at Johnny’s and at Central Grocery often, patiently waiting behind visitors who are nervously practicing saying muffaletta or ordering it dressed without feeling foolish.
But every once in a while, you just want a quick American treat done in a New Orleans way. That’s when I head to North Rampart to get a hot dog at the place next door to Mary’s Hardware’s new location between Orleans and Saint Ann. The owners of Dreamie Weenies are cool guys who take the dog and its surrounding environment seriously. I almost always get a Genchili dog (which I think should be called a GentillyChili) with polish sausage and then only add mustard and ketchup (you get your choice of type of dog and added condiments) as needed. The Genchili comes with their own “creole mix” and homemade chili which add just enough spice and residual flavor to make you want to slow down after each bite to savor.
What works against these guys is that people think of the hot dog as the crappy thing you see in the roller at the gas station or the burnt thing to the side of the grill at your neighborhood bbq, but these are made as meals and should be treated that way. I ain’t no slip of a girl that gets filled up from a latte; I eat food like my Polish and Greek and Cajun peops did before me and even I cannot always finish my Genchili in one setting. So the 8 bucks spent there feeds tummies well, the lovely inside feeds the eye and ears (music is local and lively) and the caring and onsite owners with their homemade ingredients feed the New Orleans soul.
So don’t be a snob- go get a dog done right.

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