When you’re stringing lights on palm trees while swatting away mosquitoes in temperatures that barely qualify as sweater weather, it can be hard to fully grasp that Christmas is right around the corner.
But for me, one sign of the season that reliably conjures the holiday spirit is the tradition of grand lobby décor in our downtown hotels. The fact that these same hotels harbor upscale bars is not coincidental to the appeal. This is the time of year when we promise friends we will catch up—somehow, between those office parties and family gatherings and shopping trips—and these venues, dressed in their holiday finery, are custom-cut for a festive rendezvous.
One example is the Carousel Bar & Lounge inside the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street, 523-3341). This French Quarter landmark goes big on the Christmas décor, and its lounge, recently renovated with a second bar and a bank of large windows looking out onto Royal Street, glows with it. One thing that hasn’t changed is the steadily turning Carousel Bar itself, a regally revolving font for drinks and its own, self-contained conversation starter.
Then there’s the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (921 Canal Street, 524-1331), where the lobby is up on the third floor. The elevator opens to a succession of poinsettia-lined passageways leading up to and around an enclosed courtyard with a towering Christmas tree and on to the Davenport Lounge, where your group can claim a cluster of sofas and armchairs and get down to business. The Windsor Court Hotel (300 Gravier St., 523-6000) gets in on this holiday theme, too, and its new, elegant (if drably named) Cocktail Bar on the ground floor level is similarly set up for small group lounging.
For Christmas credentials, however, nothing local really compares to the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel (123 Baronne St., 648-1200), an ornate channel spanning the entire block that is transformed into the type of holiday scene New Orleanians usually see only in the movies.
Now called the Waldorf Wonderland Lobby, this annual display is part of a tradition going back to the 1930s when the original Roosevelt was first decorated with masses of palmetto leaves at Christmas time. The tradition evolved through the next several decades into what was dubbed the "Angel Hair Christmas Lobby," after the fleecy, snowy-white batting used to create a door-to-door tunnel through the lobby.
The display has been thoroughly reengineered, and today blooms of bone-white birch branches, all decked with lights and ornaments, give a more contemporary and design-savvy look than before, although part of me does miss the Christmas chintziness of the old angel hair days.
Smack in the middle of all this light and décor, there’s the entrance to the Sazerac Bar, a cove gleaming with classic Art Deco style, from the contours of the long African walnut bar to the etched glass and historic murals.
Most people order from the Sazerac Bar's specialty cocktail list, which of course leads off with the sazerac and includes the bar's other historic specialty, the frothy Ramos gin fizz. Outside, the idea of a Christmas winter wonderland may seem remote in this subtropical town, but when you get in the holiday spirit here, at least your drink can be white as snow.