STREETCAROn the Thursday before Katrina, the Sazerac Bar at the Fairmont hotel was so packed that it was easy to bump into someone and cause a drink to splash on a white suit.

Classic white suits were proper that evening – because of the season and because of the event – the bar’s annual tribute to Huey Long. Huey’s birthday was Aug. 30, 1893 so he would have been a ripe 112. Fortunately, the Fairmont chose to celebrate the event a few days earlier, on the 25th, for had they waited for his actual birthday there would have been no party; indeed there would have been no Fairmont as we had known it.

Long was just one of the characters associated with the most historic of New Orleans’ hotels. Back when it was known as the Roosevelt, Long, who reigned as governor and then as a U.S. Senator from 1928-’36, was a regular. Seymour Weiss, the hotel’s manager, was a Long crony and was rumored to be the keeper of the “deduct box”: Long’s campaign war chest. The box was filled with cash collected by deducting from the checks of state employees, many of whom owed their jobs to the Kingfish. Lore has long suggested that the box, like a pirate’s treasure chest, was hidden somewhere in the hotel.

Long was such a fan of the hotel’s Blue Room nightclub, that when he was looking for someone to direct LSU’s marching band, he turned to Castro Carozo, the Blue Room’s orchestra leader. Carozo, along with the Senator, co-wrote “Every Man a King,” the anthem of Long’s Share the Wealth movement. Had Huey ever become President, as the wanted to, Carozo’s orchestra might have replaced the Marine Band at White House functions; the Roosevelt might have been the Western White House and, of course the name would have had to be changed to The Long.

There was an urban sophistication to the place. In the early days of radio, WWL – which was originally housed in the hotel – would originate a weekly broadcast of dance music over the CBS network, “live from the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.” Big name celebrities performed from the Blue Room’s stage to a crowd of tourists and local special-occassioners being served by tuxedoed waiters. A roving photographer would take snapshots of the guests, which could be purchased affixed to the inside of a matchbox cover. Now that was class.

What became the Fairmont was really the combination of two hotels that stood side by side; the Grunewald and the Roosevelt. When the buildings were connected, the hotel gained a magnificent block-long lobby stretching between its entrances at Baronne Street and University Place.

At Christmas, the lobby would be decorated with a canopy of fluffy cotton snow assuring a white Christmas to all the locals whose holiday ritual included walking through the decorated lobby.

There were two ballrooms upstairs that were large enough that the Rex and Comus balls were once held there simultaneously. Because the hotel was unionized, it was a favored place of Democrats and was the site of many election night victory parties – though victories were not always assured.

My favorite place in the hotel, and one of my favorite places in the world, was the Sazerac Bar. Art Deco murals decorated the walls. One mural behind the bar depicted a crowd scene in Jackson square with a conspicuous character in a white suit looking a lot like Huey.

Bartenders knew how to properly toss and twirl the Sazerac glasses to spread the sugar water within as they prepared the namesake cocktail.

I consider it fortuitous that my last evening before Katrina would begin to change our lives was spent at the Sazerac Bar. All New Orleans that night was like Pompeii before Vesuvius went mad. Mayor Nagin stopped by; that day Donald Trump had announced that he was hoping to build a high-rise in New Orleans; earlier that week the federal government had agreed to Federal City, a military base complex. Things are looking good the mayor exuded. Through the decades, political optimism reverberated through the hotel’s halls as aspiring politicians set out to change the world.

All the glory that was the Fairmont seems locked away now. There is uncertainty when or if the hotel will return. That seems so wrong. There was too much life in the building for it all to end so suddenly. We never got to say goodbye, nor do we want to.

Legend has it that when Airline Highway was built, Huey Long designed it to connect the state capitol in Baton Rouge with the Roosevelt Hotel. The old building could use such clout now, Please someone save the Fairmont! As a reward, you might even find the deduct box.