The Roosevelt Hotel is a regular spot for locals to enjoy a drink, but, until recently, that meant drinking at the Sazerac Bar, one of the city’s iconic standards. Now, there is another setting that also provides the kind of elegant imbibing locals expect from one of our favorite hotels: the Fountain Lounge.
According to Russ Bergeron, sommelier and historian of the Roosevelt, patrons visiting the Roosevelt in the 1940s and 1950s had several dining/drinking options, including the Blue Room, the Fountain Lounge and the Sazerac.
“The Blue Room was a supper club, featured a big band and lots of dancing, while the Sazerac Bar was a true saloon for men only,” Bergeron said. “The Fountain Lounge was something in between these two; it also had live music and a dance floor but offered more casual fare.”
Despite its auspicious beginnings, regard for Fountain Lounge began to wane as the Sazerac Bar grew in popularity. But after five decades as a more traditional restaurant, the Roosevelt has returned it to its original function, combining good food and drink with live music.
Bergeron showed us mid-century photos of the Fountain Lounge, and its current polished décor echoes that older style without exactly replicating it.
Ornate lighting sconces adorn the walls, complementing sumptuous chandeliers. Cushy booths flank the walls, which are adorned with sketches by artist Paul Nino, who also painted the murals in the Sazerac Bar.
Tonight our attention was drawn to the stage featuring a solid jazz combo, but the focus of the room is the gorgeous bar. Lit in golden hues reflected in its mirrored surface, the bar features an impressive machine used to preserve and dispense wine.
The dispenser’s technology keeps an opened bottle of wine fresh for up to three weeks, which allows the restaurant to offer many wines by the glass.
“The Sazerac Bar is associated with cocktails, so we decided to have the Fountain Lounge focus on wine,” Bergeron said, adding with a chuckle: “The wine selection is a helluva lot better than what you could get 40 years ago.”
In fact, according to menus from the early 20th century, patrons could order “a pint of wine and steamed potatoes.” Apparently you didn’t even get to select red or white, but the pint was cheap.
But that wine focus doesn’t mean cocktails are verboten. In addition to serving the standards like the Sazerac and Manhattan, the Fountain Lounge also has revived two favorites from its heyday: the Jambalaya and the Bayou Swizzle.
Bergeron described the Jambalaya, featuring peach schnapps and Southern Comfort, as “a quintessential 1950s drink.” It was bright pink, fizzy and a bit sweet for my taste.
I preferred the Bayou Swizzle, made of rum, lime and falernum, a syrup of ginger, almond and cloves. One difference between this drink now and its 1950s iteration is that the falernum is house made.
Unlike the Sazerac Bar, which offers only nuts to snack on, the Fountain Lounge has a full menu, and patrons can nosh on some stellar appetizers or dive into a complete meal.
One favorite of the table was the Porchetta di Testa, one of the myriad charcuterie options that is served with an array of zesty pickled fruits and vegetables.
The other pick of the night was what my boyfriend described as “classy chicken wings.” Unlike many wings that devolve into two categories, blindingly hot or sticky sweet, these morsels had a complicated yet balanced flavor featuring allspice and coriander.
As we nibbled the chicken wings, sipped our vino and listened to the strains of “Somewhere Beyond the Sea,” I was aware of the delightful contrast afforded us by the Fountain Lounge.
They have not recreated the former venue, because, as Bergeron pointed out, “that would have been too Disney.”
Instead they took the flattering lighting, attentive staff and grand setting, and mixed it with the new flavors and tastes of the city.
Bergeron reminisced about preparing the hotel to reopen after Katrina. “Even when the place was dusty and empty, we got chills,” he said.
He affectionately refers to the Roosevelt as a “Grand Dame,” among the top hotels in the world, and during the renovation, the goal was to continue that legacy.
When you sit in one of those booths, (a great date spot) you cannot help but feel that this place has been around for a while and you are now a small part of its history.
And in a town where exciting new spots are opening every weekend, this venerable classic offers patrons an opportunity to soak in a bit of old New Orleans in a new way.