#114 The Columns Hotel
We've driven by this impressive hotel with the festive porch on St. Charles, many a time!
At last, we stopped... and stayed!
It used to look quite a bit different when it was a private residence.
The grand home was built in 1883, by a wealthy tobacco merchant.
We arrived around 4:30 on a lovely Monday afternoon, last October.
The porch was crowded with tables and afternoon "cocktail-sippers", but we managed to get past them to the grand old doors!
It was easy to imagine we were in someone's home. The hallway was lined with chairs and planters and doorways, leading into other rooms. But the focus went straight down the hall to the mahogany stairwell. When we reached the stairs, we found the lobby desk, tucked neatly to the left.
A very gracious woman checked us in. I had a feeling she'd worked many years and might have good stories. But sadly, I didn't see her again.
A Scary Ride
Don and I were making yet another trip to New Orleans to see family. Our son Scott was eager to join us at check-in and explore a bit. He was also brave enough to take the elevator up with us.
It may not look that ancient in the photo, but I have never in my life, had such a sluggish ride. You could feel the elevator pause and sigh every few moments, as if deciding whether it could make it to the 3rd floor. It did.
We didn't want to press our luck, so we took the stairs the rest of our stay. They were probably just as dangerous as the elevator, though.
There was so much distraction in that extraordinary stairwell! There was the domed skylight to stare up at and the hypnotizing, patterns on wall and floors.
The dim, eerie lighting added to the dreamlike setting. Then there was a blast of bright color in the wall mural!
Reaching the Top
Then when we reached the top, the ceiling became so low that "some of us" almost had to duck.
I wasn't one of those tall people, but I suddenly felt tall when I leaned over the low railing to peer down. That felt oddly, disorienting... like I might tumble over.
Scott's girlfriend Chali, was able to join us after she got off work.
Suddenly we were part of the cocktail-sippers club, seated on the porch. At least one of us had a Sazerak, which is always a must when visiting New Orleans.
The Victorian Lounge
It was too nice outside to be in the dark bar, but what a place! It was hard to believe this room was not aways a cozy lounge.
Before the residence became a hotel in 1915, this was the family dining room, with dark carved mahogany walls and gilded bronze chandeliers.
Above the chandelier we could see the paneled mahogany ceiling that was imported from Honduras.
The Greek design wrapping around the upper room, was evident in some old photographs.
Chali and I had some fun posing in the adjoining room, which got a little more crowded later.
The velvety Victorian seat, looked like something right out of a movie. In fact we were in the midst of an old movie set.
"Pretty Baby" and "Twelve Years a Slave"
At least 2 films have been shot at The Columns. I love being in a place where a movie was filmed and imagining the interaction between actors and crew.
However, Chali and I were having a hard time thinking too much about the filming of Pretty Baby, starring 12 year old Brooke Shields playing the part of a prostitute. The movie was controversial enough in 1978. I'm not even sure they could make that movie today.
This Italianate, or is it pre-Queen Anne style room, was just dripping with rich gold and crystal. My Great Aunt Mary would know the answer. She would have adored this formal room.
It's funny how staying in old hotels often makes my mind wander to past places and even relatives. Seeing the same room in the later evening made me think of my grandmother, Aunt Mary's older sister.
I'm not sure "Daw" would have been a total fan of the the informal acoustic guitar that was performed that night.
But whenever I'm in New Orleans I always recall my sweet and proper Daw raving about visiting the French Quarter and hearing the jazz performance at Preservation Hall. I have always regretted missing that trip in 1978, with my mom, brother and Daw. I wish Daw could have been right there with us, sitting in one of the formal chairs, barely swinging her crossed ankles... feet never reaching the floor.
And More Details!
I couldn't stop snooping around. I loved this cozy little seating nook and the 12-foot door, nearby.
I was busy being impressed by the size of the door, when Don pointed out the massive, brass hinges. It took 8 screws to attach that ornate piece of hardware to the door.
The Upper Porch!
After dinner we wandered out to the porch on the second floor and had it to ourselves.
At least two guest rooms actually have giant windows that open to the porch, so we didn't exactly pull out our ukuleles!
Morning was a treat on the porch, as well. We grabbed a cup of coffee from the little table just outside our door and headed down to the second floor.
The porch was a great place to start the day. We watched the wind blow the flags and listened to the streetcars rattle and clank on the street below.
I should mention that we did sleep before that morning coffee! Our 3rd floor room was comfy and spacious. It was also reasonably priced. Under $150. in NOLA is good.
We could have taken the Pretty Baby Room on the 3rd floor, where scenes were filmed. But that was just too weird. We took this room which faced St. Charles, but really only had a view of the porch roof. The king bed was built high, with shelves below and a set of steps... for short people.
Just getting into the bathroom was entertaining. You got to hoist open the door with a glass knob and climb up a step to get inside. Luckily there were no mishaps in the night.
And if we'd had wrinkled clothes that needed tending, not only did our room provide an iron and board, but we had a handy antique iron holder... or at least a silver radiator that did the job!
The halls sort of cracked me up with their decor. The brownish hall shows the view from our guest room door. The pillars were almost modern. The oil paintings, knight's armor and taxidermy gave the space a... unique vibe.
And the boldly-blue hall that took us to the porch on the second floor was lined with couches, lamps and racks of tourist pamphlets. In other words, there was no snobby perfection here. I felt comfortable in our homey surroundings.
It seems like every place we've stayed in the last few years has had a resident ghost or a few tales of eerie interest. I don't even think about it anymore.
But our "home for the night" did look very creepy as we headed back after dinner. Luckily (or sadly) we had no encounters!
Breakfast in Albertine's Tea Room
A Tea Room makes me think of prim and proper nibbling, but this bright yellow room was the perfect atmosphere to sit and sip coffee or feast. The round part of the room, with its stained glass, made me wish we had a bigger group so we could make use of the round table.
Our full, southern breakfast was complimentary with our stay. Scott was on fall break from Tulane, so he came over and joined us for fruit and omelets. I actually gave him mine, but you can pay for additional non-guests.
By ten, Don and I were ready to hit the road and Scott was ready to hit the books... I'm guessing!
We headed to our car, parked right on the curb. It was as if this was just any neighborhood home. What a fun overnight in the big old white house!
Our Monday night stay was ideal at this historic, cozy hotel. If it had been any quieter, it would have felt awkward. If it had been more bustling we would have had to share the upper porch or wait for tables. I loved feeling relaxed in an atmosphere that could have been snooty or overly grand.
And what fun, to stay in a place that conjures up memories of your grandmother and aunt. Oh they would have loved the place!
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My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!