Don and I spent a few days over Christmas, in New Orleans! We decided Nola would be a festive place to celebrate, since our kids were on the west coast. We couldn't decide between the historic Hotel Monteleone, or the classic Roosevelt. So we booked both.
On Christmas day, we left the Monteleone in the French Quarter and lugged our bags down Canal Street to the Roosevelt. It was not actually dark (like photo) when we arrived. But this is the tall Roosevelt sign we headed towards, when we turned down Baronne Street.
The entrance beneath the glowing tree, didn't match my memory.
I remembered flags and a bold marquee, from 9 years ago. I was a little confused, until I realized there were entrances, at opposite ends of the building.
Years ago we stopped in with our kids, to see the spectacular Christmas decor. Of course, I had to snap a couple photos.
This photo makes me smile and miss the kids. This photo also made me wonder. Where were the crowds that evening, in late November?
Golden Revolving Door
This is the ornate entrance, that took us into the crowded lobby on Christmas Day.
We fumbled and rumbled our bags through the crowds. I didn't pull out a camera until much later!
Hidden Desk Counter
I didn't get any photos of the all the people swarming the lobby, although I wish I had. I've never seen so many decorated trees or so many families posing for pictures.
We must have looked lost. One kind man pointed us in the direction of the desk. It was hidden behind decorations and crowds.
Across from the desk, I spotted a brass mailbox.
In 1950, my grandmother stayed at the Roosevelt with her mother. My mom was in college when she received this letter, written on hotel stationary. It's funny to read my grandmother's description of New Orleans, "America's Most Interesting City! Those are actually the hotel's words on the envelope, not my grandmother's.
We lucked out. Our room (one of 504) was ready early! We headed up to the 9th floor.
The room wasn't huge, but it was a clean and comfy, corner room! I love extra windows!
Just like 1950, there was no fridge or coffee maker in the room. However, recent renovations meant there were plenty of outlets for technology. And there were comfy robes and good lighting in the bathroom. Simple pleasures. When did they start providing robes in nice hotels?
I liked the framed photographs, that took me back in time.
The photo on the left shows the hotel in its earlier days. The Grunewald opened in 1893, then expanded to 14 stories in 1908. It became The Roosevelt in the 1920's.
The view from the 9th floor, was entertaining! We could see the Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church, from one window. From another window we could look down on Canal Street, lined with palms.
And far to the right, we could spot the roof sign, for Hotel Monteleone. We could also see a sign for, "Oriental Sauna Spa Body Rubs". Hmmm. Interesting area!
I've never gone to a bar on Christmas... except when the car broke down in 1981 But, this was a New Orleans Christmas and were staying at the Roosevelt. It's an absolute must to visit the Sazerac Bar, if you're staying at the hotel.
It's highly possible my grandmother and great-grandmother did not enter the bar in 1950. However, they could have. In 1949, the bar opened its doors to women for the first time. Each year they replay this event, with a celebration called, "Storming the Sazerac".
It was 2 p.m. when we entered the crowded Art Deco bar. My eyes were drawn right away to the WPA murals, painted on the curved walls. When Paul Nina created them in 1939, they were meant to focus on the working people of the area.
No one in the crowded bar seemed to be paying any attention to the art, or the plaque that addressed concerns about the stereotyped images.
Celebrating at the Bar
Someday, I would like to come back and study the murals longer and learn more. But on Christmas afternoon, the Sazerac Bar vibe was not about contemplating anything.
We were lucky we got a standing spot, near the rounded, bar. Oddly there seemed to be more locals than tourists enjoying the iconic lounge. We had a fun time getting to know a few... while we nursed a Sazerac and a frothy,
Ramos Gin Fizz.
Eventually, Don and I each got a foot on the foot railing. We were able to admire the impressive 1878 Ascot Cup!
But that was not nearly as awesome as watching the skilled bartenders, juggling, shaking, stirring... and remembering orders! These guys were sharp!
Don and I suddenly realized we needed food. The hotel's Fountain Lounge Restaurant, was packed at 3:00, unlike my 6 am photos.
We didn't attempt to dine there. Instead we searched the internet for nearby restaurants.
We only found a few places open on Christmas day and they looked pretty sketchy.
The wait for a table was long, but we were able to grab 2 stools at the bar. The young staff, in festive floral shirts, was friendly and attentive.
We were served the most delicious pizza, with "Happy Hour" prices! Our check for $13. came with a complimentary, mini chocolate dessert!
Dinner and Back
Later in the evening, Don and I headed back to the French Quarter for dinner.
We could have Ubered, if the streets had looked deserted or eerie. But, there were plenty of people out and about. Walking to dinner added to the fun. We dined at the iconic 162 year old restaurant and meandered back around 10.
The lobby was still lively and loud! A tipsy couple asked if we would use their phone and snap a photo. That meant we got our posed pic, out of the deal. We headed up the elevator after that and our room was a quiet oasis.
We only had one night at the hotel and I was determined to experience the lobby without crowds. On December 26th, I came down the elevator before 6 a.m.
I felt like a kid, sneaking downstairs on Christmas morning. The elevator doors opened and I stepped out and grinned. The tree lights glowed and Christmas music played softly.
Just like a hotel ghost, I floated towards one end of the lobby to the next. I could finally take it all in, without distraction!
From Floor to Ceiling
I stared down at the mosaic tile, which I hadn't noticed, when it was covered with feet. Evidently it had been covered by carpet, until renovations that took place after Hurricane Katrina.
The coffered ceiling above my head, was equally impressive.
Doors and Windows
Without throngs of people, I found doors and windows I had missed earlier. Sadly the doors to the Blue Room were locked. What was room like in the 30's and 40's when Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller played?
I took time to study the display window, of the hotel's gift shop. Did any of the famous guests ever get a chance to browse through the lovely store. I doubt Elvis or JFK ever got to shop anywhere.
Chairs and Stairs
Down one hall, I found a most theatrical looking throne. I later chatted with the gentleman who would have shined my shoes, if I'd worn something worth shining. He was delightful and shared such a genuine enthusiasm for the hotel's history.
I also found a lovely, but modest staircase. I wondered why a grand hotel wouldn't have something larger. Maybe I missed some others stairs. Even though I explored, I missed plenty of things, like 23 ballrooms and the rooftop pool!
Most of all, I just couldn't stop studying the amazing display of lights and trees!
There was a day when I rolled my eyes at flocked trees. But the tradition of decorating the block-long lobby, goes back to 1925. I now love the Royal-Retro look! Looking from one end to the next was like staring into an infinity mirror.
I read that the decorations include, 46 decorated trees, 135,572 lights, 2,200 glass ornaments and 698 hand tied bows.
The trees and branches were dazzling, but I was sort of curious how the lobby looked when the decor was gone. Maybe Mardi Gras colors invade the lobby in February? I'm guessing, the statue on the pedestal, (which is actually a pendulum clock) gets a lot more attention when the decorations are taken down.
Before heading back upstairs, I stepped outside, into a foggy, eerie morning.
This time I felt like the teenager, sneaking out the house. Was it wise to be out, where I'd seen some questionable characters, the night before? But it didn't seem at all daring. Everyone in all of New Orleans seemed to be off sleeping, somewhere far away.
Coffee with Don
By the time Don and I had showered, we could smell coffee from Teddy's Cafe, just off the lobby.
We grabbed two cups and wandered the lobby, in search of the perfect sitting area.
We sat along the wall, sipping and chatting... and peeking out through the lit trees as the lobby came to life.
We couldn't linger long, with a drive ahead. We grabbed our bags and checked out before 10.
Don took a picture of me with the holiday decor. I took a picture of him, just before we headed back to Texas.
We stayed at a hotel with 125 years of history. Our stay felt glamorous and festive. In fact, I don't think we've ever stayed in a hotel, with such spectacular holiday decor!
What will I remember most? The giddy crowds, the entertaining Sazerac Bar... and my quiet morning with the Christmas lobby!
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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!