During the early 1900s, the supperclub entered the American consciousness by combining dinner and entertainment for value-conscious patrons. Then in the 1940/50s, the supperclub concept took on a slightly steamy and more luxurious flavor, fully realized in Las Vegas, imported from the louche clubs of post-war Havana, Paris and the Far East.
In The South, few such night spots were as famous as The Blue Room at The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and countless A-list jazz troupes performed at the landmark hotel, originally built in 1893. But by the ’80s, the venue fell out of vogue until Hurricane Katrina shut the doors for good.
It took five full years but The Roosevelt New Orleans, Waldorf Astoria Collection is back, following a 5-year, $145 million renovation. You can’t imagine the anticipation this opening created for locals who haven’t had a grand marquee hotel for proper Southern socializing in too many decades.
When we showed up in August, young brides and attendant Southern belles sashayed and flounced through New Orlean’s most dramatic lobby on a nightly basis. The gilded Beaux-Arts scene with 20-ft ceilings extends an entire city block, with a decor that includes the hotel’s original grand piano and a 10-ft tall, 19th century antique clock imported from Paris at the hotel entrance.
The city’s smart set gathers in the Art-Deco Sazerac Bar, perhaps a little earlier than the norm, where older women with elaborate hats and men with bow ties and seersucker suits laze in faux alligator leather chesterfields with perfected nonchalance. Small WWI-era cigarette burns and dents in the original African walnut bar are still there. And behind the wood is the sterling silver trophy awarded to the horse Verneuil, who beat Lady Golightly in the 1878 running of Ascot. It was one of the first things hidden in the hotel the day before Katrina.
The 5,500-sf Blue Room, right off the front door, is one of the main attractions for planners. The six original chandeliers are in place above the tiered seating and dance floor, with the requisite royal blue carpet and stage curtains recreating the look from old photos. Max capacity is 400.
“We’ve gone to a lot of effort to restore The Roosevelt to its original glory because there’s such a commitment to history in New Orleans,” says Mark S. Wilson, director of sales/marketing, while we’re standing in the Blue Room. “I think Sunday Jazz Brunch was invented here.”
Just then, an elderly lady in a wheelchair and her husband walk in. She points to one of the tables near the stage and breaks into a smile. “Ooh, we were there….”
“We’ve seen a lot of that,” laughs Wilson. “So many of our guests are coming back to relive memories. It’s wonderful. This is a special hotel,” he pauses, “for many reasons.”
Wilson says he expects about 70 percent of his business to be group. The 504-room property features nearly 60,000 sf of function space including three ballrooms and 23 breakouts and boardrooms, and many of those spaces also retain the same Belle Epoque architecture, statuary and chandeliers. There’s also an elevated outdoor pool deck and grill that hosts group events up to 500, a rarity in The Crescent City.
By the time you read this, the 12,500-sf Guerlain Spa and fine-dining Domenica restaurant helmed by local wonderboy chef John Besh will be open for business. The hotel is one block from the Quarter, so the iconic Antoine’s, Arnaud’s and Galatoire restaurants are close enough to walk.
With the Roosevelt reopening—speaking strictly in tourism/convention terms—it’s no Bayou braggadocio to suggest New Orleans has now also officially reopened.