Thursday, May 6, 2010
An "Old Fashioned" experience at the Victorian Lounge in the Columns Hotel
I never thought going out for a couple of drinks on a Wednesday afternoon could amount to a grand lesson in New Orleans history, but I suppose I should have known better, especially when my random-meter* selected the Victorian Lounge at the Columns Hotel.
Overlooking St. Charles Avenue, the Columns Hotel is a majestic structure the captures that Southern essence with its grand porch and large columns bringing to mind something out of Gone with the Wind. But it hasn't always looked that way, a hurricane in 1915 necessitated major reconstruction that drastically altered the front of the house which used to feature a tower and arcades. In 1883, a famed local architect by the name of Thomas Sully (his father was the famous painter) designed the house as an Italianette chateau commissioned by cigar tycoon, Simon Hernsheim.
New Orleans Bar Association. Ned Hemard wrote (or still writes?) a weekly column called "New Orleans Nostalgia: Remembering New Orleans History Culture & Traditions." Hemard's piece on the Hernsheim House proved highly educational, especially for someone like me who is a new student of New Orleans history.
For example, did you know that New Orleans was the nation's cigar capital from the 1880s to the 1930s? Did you also know that three of S. Hernsheim Brothers & Co.'s most popular cigar brands “La Belle Creole”, “Jackson Square” and “El Belmont” gained international renown for their quality? Or that Simon Hernsheim and his brothers erected the immense five-story La Belle Creole Cigar & Tobacco Factory on the corner of Magazine and Julia Streets which has been renovated and is now occupied by the firm of Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles? I found all of this endlessly intriguing...even the more morbid, yet scandalous account of Hernsheim's suicide by cyanide.
I ordered an Old Fashioned and John opted for a Mojito. Due to the blessedly heavy-handed pour of our bartender, we also decided to try a small appetizer from the hotel's restaurant. The nibbler served two purposes; enabling us to sample from the hotel's bistro and, more importantly, so we could order another drink. Although small, the BBQ Shrimp and Grits were delicious and John and I almost licked the plate before the bartender took it away.
Apparently, writing a weekly cocktail piece requires far more depth than I expected, resulting in a rather long (and not at all succinct) blog. Can you blame me?
*My bar and restaurant selections are decided by my "random-meter" which is based on the weather, cravings, suggestions from friends, the phases of the moon and my general mood that can change from day to day, hour to hour and even minute to minute.
Written by Kim Ranjbar