Four historical hotels
In a world of cookie cutter accommodations where uniformity is the norm, a historical hotel can transport guests to another time and an experience like no other. Whether you enjoy walking in the footsteps of celebrities and presidents or simply admire the architectural elements of a bygone era, booking a stay at a historical property guarantees unique surroundings.
Pamper yourself at one these alluring Southern properties.
New Orleans’ Pontchartrain Hotel
New Orleans’ playful, quirky style pervades the Pontchartrain Hotel (2031 St. Charles Ave.). Vintage green streetcars rumble up and down the tracks past the recently (June 2016) restored AAA Three Diamond hotel. Originally opened in 1927 as a luxury apartment and transformed into a hotel in the 1940s, its celebrity guestbook includes Rita Hayworth, presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, and Frank Sinatra.
Each of the 106 guest rooms is configured differently. Mint green walls and peony-pink bedding are the stars of this décor. A small picture of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tennessee Williams, who wrote A Streetcar Named Desire while living in the building, hangs above each bed. Floral curtains, high ceilings, and a mini bar stocked with Louisiana-themed delicacies such as Swamp Pop, create a nostalgic vibe.
The task of reviving the Louisiana hotel’s dining and drinking establishments was given to culinary superstar, chef John Besh. The hotel boasts two bars and two restaurants. Formerly a haven for the power players of the day, The Silver Whistle Café serves coffee and breakfast from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Bayou Bar, where the New Orleans Saints franchise was signed in 1966, offers an extensive whiskey and beer list. There’s reclaimed wood, rustic finishes, and the original impressionist murals depicting the bayou. Live piano music plays every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
When dining at the legendary Caribbean Room, which has chef Chris Lusk as its executive chef, remember to finish with the Mile High Ice Cream Pie — homemade chocolate, vanilla, and peppermint ice cream topped with a gooey meringue and doused in thick chocolate sauce. Before entering the restaurant, guests congregate in the eclectic living room with more than 50 floral paintings surrounding a portrait of hip-hop artist Lil Wayne with the iconic dessert.
The newcomer to the hotel is the Hot Tin Roof, a rooftop bar with dramatic views of the city skyline. The interior’s kitschy style incorporates the requisite tin ceiling, and the bar serves elevated cocktails and champagne.
Memphis’ Peabody Hotel
Steps from Beale Street in the heart of downtown Memphis, Tenn., The Peabody Hotel (AAA Four Diamonds) is located at 149 Union Ave., and encompasses an entire city block. Built in 1925, the massive lobby features live piano music every evening and one of the city’s most popular attractions — The Peabody duck march — is presented twice daily. Five North American mallards perform a red carpet procession to an imported Italian marble fountain where they splash and play. In the evening, the crowd-pleasing ducks retire to their $200,000 rooftop palace in another regal parade.
While you won’t find duck served on the hotel restaurant menus, there are other delectable entrées. The elegant French restaurant, Chez Philippe, is open for dinner and afternoon tea. Reservations are definitely recommended at this AAA Four Diamond restaurant. Enjoy a more casual atmosphere at the Capriccio Grill, an Italian steakhouse open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For guests needing a quick bite, there’s The Peabody Deli & Desserts. Classic and contemporary cocktails are found in the Lobby Bar where the signature drink is the Jack Daniel’s Peach Sour.
The first floor of The Peabody contains a variety of shops. Bring home a pink toy Cadillac, vintage clothing, or a duck-handle umbrella. Or relax at the hotel’s full service Feathers Spa, The Peabody Athletic Club, or the Grecian-style indoor heated pool.
The refurbished 464 guest rooms and suites maintain a historical feel while providing modern amenities, such as in-room safes. For an added splurge, book a Peabody Club Floor room where guests receive private concierge service, complimentary continental breakfast, evening hors d’oeuvres, and late evening pastries.
Mobile’s Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa
The Battle House (26 N. Royal) opened in Mobile, Ala., in 1852 and served as the backdrop to weddings, Mardi Gras balls, and debutant presentations for decades. Locals affectionately call it “Mobile’s living room.”
The magnificent lobby of this 238-room hotel reflects the Beaux Arts style popular in 1890. Tucked in each corner of the domed-shaped lobby displays is a trompe l’oeil painting of a head of state representing the four countries that once governed Mobile. The paintings appear to be stone sculptures. The stunning and original stained glass ceiling dates from 1908.
Mind your manners when exploring the second floor of this AAA Four Diamond hotel — the whispering arch is an architectural phenomenon. Whatever you whisper while standing at one end of the arch can be heard at the other side 35 feet away. Wood floors, ornate molding, and fireplaces are from the early 1900s.
The guest rooms and suites are decorated in classic Southern style and include all the modern conveniences. The vintage marble bathrooms have separate showers and bathtubs. Guests traveling Monday through Friday can splurge on a Club Level room. The Club Lounge serves a complimentary continental breakfast, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts.
Fine dining can be found in the Trellis Room (AAA Four Diamonds) serving breakfast and dinner under the glass ceiling of painted magnolias. Contemporary and casual fare is offered at Joe Cain Café.
Relax at the heated rooftop pool, or book an appointment for an aromatic warm stone massage at The Spa. For a more in-depth look at the hotel, schedule a private tour.
Little Rock’s Capital Hotel
Known as “the front porch of Little Rock,” this Arkansas hotel opened in 1877. President Ulysses S. Grant stayed at the hotel. President Bill Clinton used the hotel as a local media headquarters during his presidential terms.
Located in downtown Little Rock at 111 W. Markham St., the name of this AAA Four Diamond hotel is said to have come from a Little Rock matron, Mrs. Morehead Wright, who said that it was a “capital enterprise located in a capital building” in the “capital of the state,” which she hoped would be a “capital success.”
The 94 spacious guest rooms are available in three tiers of luxury. All feature 14-foot ceilings, luxurious Frette linens, and a complimentary newspaper delivered to the room. Rub elbows with Arkansas movers and shakers in the Capital Bar and Grill or make a reservation for the One Eleven (AAA Four Diamonds), serving French-inspired food prepared by Chef Joel Antunes, a James Beard award winner.
A trio performs in the hotel every Thursday through Sunday. The coveted spot for a cocktail is the balcony overlooking West Markham Street.
Plan an escape at a historical destination and discover its unique charm. Historical hotels offer more than a place to rest and relax; they reconnect us to the past.
Barbara and Jim Twardowski are contributors from Mandeville, La.
March/April 2017 Issue
Immerse yourself in the culture of these historical hotels by enjoying a signature cocktail or dish. Often tied to the hotel’s history or traditions, you’ll instantly feel right at home.
Kick off your stay at The Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa with dinner in its famous Trellis Room. With its Gulf Coast location, you know fresh seafood is a specialty. Try the Low County Bouillabaisse that features local Gulf shrimp, Louisiana crawfish, and lump crab tossed in with Conecuh sausage (an Alabama specialty), fingerling potatoes, and fresh corn. Pair this dish with a glass of Riesling and savor the moment.
A favorite Southern hotel tradition, the marching ducks at The Peabody in Memphis has been enjoyed for generations. Many guests and visitors show up in the lobby area more than an hour prior to each daily event, order a few drinks, and prepare for the photo opportunities. A new cocktail, the Rubber Ducky, was instantly a hit when recently introduced. It’s made with Malibu rum, crème de banana, pineapple juice, orange juice, and served with a floating keepsake mini Rubber Ducky.
One would expect great bars to be in the city that invented the cocktail (New Orleans). Fusing history with finely crafted cocktails, the Bayou Bar at the Ponchartrain Hotel was one of Truman Capote’s favorite establishments. Raise a screwdriver — his drink of choice — in a toast. Or pay homage to another past patron, Frank Sinatra, and order his favorite libation, which was four ice cubes, two fingers of fine whiskey, and a splash of water. Then tip the piano player and ask to hear “My Way.”
A fitting end to a fun weekend in Little Rock is having brunch at One Eleven at the Capital Hotel. Sure, you’ll find eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and pastries on the menu, but give a signature dish — Gulf shrimp with War Eagle Mill grits and andouille sausage — a try. Pair it with a Bloody Mary.
— Deborah Reinhardt
The new Rubber Ducky cocktail at The Peabody, Memphis. The Peabody Hotel
^ to top | previous page
Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.