Throughout our interview, Chambers made a point to emphasize the hotel as emblematic of the NOLA spirit, a nod to the city's rich history and, for tourists, an attraction in itself not just a hotel that happens to be a place to stay in New Orleans. "Most people come to New Orleans because of the city of New Orleans and the things that you do while you're in New Orleans," he says, "but our hotel is a destination itself. It happens to be in the city of New Orleans, but we are a destination hotel."
So what makes the place such an attraction? First and foremost, the property's history: the 115-year-old hotel originally opened as the Grunewald in 1893 and was renamed the Roosevelt (in honor of the prez) in 1923. It served as the backdrop for all kinds of historic events legend has it that Louisiana Governer Huey P. Long was such a devotee of the hotel that he built a 90-mile highway directly from Baton Rouge to the Roosevelt's front door. Also, for folks familiar with the novel Hotel by Arthur Haley: The Roosevelt is said to have been the inspiration for the book.
The people of New Orleans have long been flocking to the hotel to participate in some of the landmark's most time-honored traditions, like the Teddy Bear tea or bringing the family to the lobby in wintertime to gawk at the elaborate holiday decorations.
The clock's base.
Things to See
Also notable are the tangible artifacts of the hotel's grand history you'll find all over the property. Chandeliers have been meticulously restored in order to be sparkling when doors open, and the centerpiece of the hotel's lobby will be a massive antique clock that was featured at the 1867 and 1878 Paris Exhibitions. Made by sculptor Albert Ernest Carrier de Belleuse and clockmaker E. Farcot, the clock stands nearly 10 feet tall and must be hand-wound every eight days (fun fact: you'll notice that every Waldorf-Astoria Collection hotel has a grand clock of some sort). Some of the carpeting in the hotel will be ripped up to expose the mosaic floors underneath as well.
Food and Entertainment
Chambers seemed psyched about the reopening of the Blue Room, an old-school supper club that once played host to acts like Sonny and Cher and Tony Bennett, as well as the adjacent Art-Deco Sazerac Bar that Chambers said has historically just as popular among locals as it is with hotel guests. Adjacent to the bar will be the century-old Sazerac bar and a restaurant serving a pretty simple menu that is a throwback to the early days.
Chef John Besh will open up Domenica inside the hotel, an Italian joint serving homemade pastas, and according to NOLA.com, "his team has already made 1,500 pounds of salumi from locally raised pigs" to supply the restaurant.
Also, you heard it here first: Chambers let us know that the hotel is in talks to put in some sort of an "upscale coffee experience" in the Roosevelt that includes some combo of coffee, chocolate and gelato (and, presumably, bliss).
Up in the guestrooms, modern touches: two flatscreens per room (one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom) plus our fave rainforest showerheads. As far as the staff goes, they're looking to hire and train the best of the best: the GM told us that he will be interviewing every staffer before they undergo a rigorous training process to make sure service is top-notch.
The Grand Opening of the Roosevelt is going to be a huge event for New Orleans and will take place in October. They're looking to book a big celeb or two for the celebration, though we weren't given any names (we guessed Beyonce; we were told no) and proceeds from that weekend are going to be donated to charity. However, the soft opening is going to be kicking off in early June, and rates are going to be pretty low to start off.
And finally, one final comment from the GM on why the new and improved Roosevelt is going to be a truly special place: "The other luxury hotels in the area don't have the restored, regal qualities the other hotels don't quite have that magic and they certainly don't have the history."
[Black and White Photos: Historic New Orleans Collection]