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A Beloved Landmark Gets a New Life

The Columns Hotel in New Orleans keeps its old soul in a spectacular unveiling.

The facade of the Columns.
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THERE IS A level of expectation that comes with any landmark, and in New Orleans, where everyone has an opinion and feels just fine sharing it with you, that expectation hits ever higher. It’s why, when hotelier Jayson Seidman made the decision to buy and renovate the Columns Hotel, it was hard to ignore how easily everything could go wrong.

And it’s exactly why the success of its rebirth was met with such celebration.

The Columns, an 1883 property so storied it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places not once but twice, sits in the heart of New Orleans’ Uptown neighborhood. Outside its doors is St. Charles Avenue, a wide oak-tree-lined ribbon that meanders through the city along an outline set by the Mississippi River, just blocks away. During Carnival, parades travel this stretch of roadway so regularly it’s not uncommon to find beads tangled in the tree branches here year-round. The roots of those trees seem to puddle into the boundaries of the centuries-old cracked and broken sidewalks below. Streetcars regularly rumble past on a route that stretches from the Mississippi’s river bend down to the edge of the French Quarter.

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It is an unexpected choice to stay Uptown in New Orleans, a place where so many travelers instead immediately head to the Quarter to be as close as possible to the action this city is known for. It is a mistake, however, to think of Bourbon Street as the reason to visit New Orleans as much as it is a mistake to think of the Red Light District as the source of Amsterdam’s appeal.

And under Seidman’s care, the Columns is reason enough to stretch beyond what you think you know about New Orleans.

After spending time here to film “True Detective,” Matthew McConaughey once called New Orleans “the home of the front porch.” That’s perhaps truest at the Columns. The wide space between its front doors and St. Charles Avenue has been known locally for decades as a gathering place for pre- and post-dinner drinks, a place to while away the hours running into friends and meeting new ones. Pick anyone at random in the crowd at the bar, and they’re more likely to be a local than a guest of one of the 20 rooms on the second and third floors.

When Seidman bought the Columns, he inherited more than expectation; he also found himself deep in decades’ worth of cleaning, updating, and rearranging. Over the years, while the historic property hadn’t necessarily lost its shine, it had gotten disguised by heavy draperies, furniture ill-suited to the space, and, frankly, a need for a really good scrub.

“This was kind of one of the fanciest dive bars in America,” says Seidman, who would visit as a college student when he attended Tulane University, just blocks away. “We would drink cheap wine out of plastic cups, and ... we felt fancy, because we were at the Columns.”

Seidman’s goal then was never to get inside the Columns and gut it to the studs. He wanted to create a place not to be looked at, but to be lived in. He saw his role as preserver. In the end, the work wasn’t so much a renovation as it was a rediscovery.


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I step into a guest room at dusk on a beautiful and unusually cool New Orleans spring evening, the light that perfect shade of gold as it streams inside, hitting the sage-green toile wallpaper and bathing the mauve ceiling overhead. Laughter rises from the first-floor patio as happy hours turn into dinners — the sound mingling with the local listener-supported radio station, WWOZ, playing softly from a radio near my door.

Seidman estimates less than a third of the furniture in the Columns today is new; the rest was already here, though little is in the same place it was when he bought it. Even chandeliers and light fixtures found themselves relocated — including the one overhead in my room — as Seidman sought to correct proportionality and highlight the building’s original plasterwork, stone fireplaces, and wood floors. “We kept moving things around until it felt good,” he says.

Over the building’s nearly 140-year history, the only thing constant is change, and the details here reflect that: art nouveau mingles with art deco, linen lies next to velvet, the colors in new paint highlight decades’ old wallpaper, and opulent florals play off the modern works of an artist in residence. In it all, there is a sense of playfulness, and an idea that you can celebrate imperfection.

My bed boasts no less than eight pillows, and the pink velvet sofa nearby could easily also accommodate a sleepy friend who’d enjoyed themselves too much at the bar downstairs. It’s a large king-sized bed — they all are here except for two suites — but I still think of that moment in the Biltmore Estate tour when they tell you the beds only seem small because everything else is so big in comparison.

I peel back the linen curtains that face St. Charles Avenue and draw open the window, the counterweight inside creaking along its track. It reminds me of something Seidman says when he finds a doorknob a touch too jiggly: “I don’t want to mess with it. It barely works, but it’s great. ... When you start falling in love with a property, you really start learning to live with it. And that’s the part that makes me excited.”

That evening, I stir myself a Pinhook Sazerac, the fixings having been left on a side table before my arrival. I spritz my glass with an atomizer, gently stir the bourbon, and take the crystal glass to the porch. I watch the traffic heading up and down the avenue, enjoying, for the moment, that the only stillness here is my own.

Where to Eat, Play, and Explore in Historical New Orleans

A local’s guide to the city’s most storied properties.

  • Brennan’s

    In a salmon-pink building near the center of the French Quarter is Brennan’s, where you’ll find a storied establishment that’s been run by the same family since its 1946 inception. Head here for the Creole fine dining, hours-long brunches, and the celebratory happy hour when staff will saber a champagne bottle in the courtyard.

  • Preservation Hall

    Just steps away from Bourbon Street’s raucous karaoke bars and nightclubs is this landmark venue. Opened in 1961, it’s where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays traditional jazz nightly. You can get tickets ahead of time, but you’ll still find a line outside the door for each show as visitors vie for standing room inside.

  • Napoleon House

    During Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile, there was talk of an escape to New Orleans when the city’s first mayor, Nicholas Girod, offered this building — his own home — as refuge. Napoleon died before the plan was set in motion, and today the Napoleon House operates as a restaurant famous for its Pimm’s Cup and muffuletta, a sandwich filled with Italian meats and olive salad.

  • Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

    Soon after the Chase family opened Dooky Chase’s on Orleans Avenue in 1941, it became a meeting space for Black New Orleanians planning their roles within the civil rights movement, and one of the first gallery spaces here for Black visual artists. Today, it remains famous for the late chef Leah Chase’s recipes for fried chicken and gumbo z’herbes, a lush greens-filled Lenten dish.

  • Pharmacy Museum

    The often-overlooked Pharmacy Museum offers a self-guided tour for visitors to learn about this medical field’s history. Stand inside, and you’ll find the shelves jam-packed with bottles, boxes, and stories: Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., who opened his apothecary here in 1823, was the country’s first licensed pharmacist.

  • Le Musée de f.p.c.

    Although this museum only opened a few years ago, the stories it tells begin before the city’s founding. Le Musée de f.p.c is dedicated to the histories of the free people of color, whose presence is marked here as early as 1722 — and whose contributions are often overlooked. Tours are by appointment only.

  • Brennan’s

    In a salmon-pink building near the center of the French Quarter is Brennan’s, where you’ll find a storied establishment that’s been run by the same family since its 1946 inception. Head here for the Creole fine dining, hours-long brunches, and the celebratory happy hour when staff will saber a champagne bottle in the courtyard.

  • Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

    Soon after the Chase family opened Dooky Chase’s on Orleans Avenue in 1941, it became a meeting space for Black New Orleanians planning their roles within the civil rights movement, and one of the first gallery spaces here for Black visual artists. Today, it remains famous for the late chef Leah Chase’s recipes for fried chicken and gumbo z’herbes, a lush greens-filled Lenten dish.

  • Preservation Hall

    Just steps away from Bourbon Street’s raucous karaoke bars and nightclubs is this landmark venue. Opened in 1961, it’s where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays traditional jazz nightly. You can get tickets ahead of time, but you’ll still find a line outside the door for each show as visitors vie for standing room inside.

  • Pharmacy Museum

    The often-overlooked Pharmacy Museum offers a self-guided tour for visitors to learn about this medical field’s history. Stand inside, and you’ll find the shelves jam-packed with bottles, boxes, and stories: Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., who opened his apothecary here in 1823, was the country’s first licensed pharmacist.

  • Napoleon House

    During Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile, there was talk of an escape to New Orleans when the city’s first mayor, Nicholas Girod, offered this building — his own home — as refuge. Napoleon died before the plan was set in motion, and today the Napoleon House operates as a restaurant famous for its Pimm’s Cup and muffuletta, a sandwich filled with Italian meats and olive salad.

  • Le Musée de f.p.c.

    Although this museum only opened a few years ago, the stories it tells begin before the city’s founding. Le Musée de f.p.c is dedicated to the histories of the free people of color, whose presence is marked here as early as 1722 — and whose contributions are often overlooked. Tours are by appointment only.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Chelsea Brasted Writer

Chelsea Brasted is a freelance writer in her hometown of New Orleans, where she formerly worked for the Times-Picayune as an arts and entertainment reporter and breaking news editor. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic, and the Wall Street Journal. She prefers her drinks in go-cups, and there’s never been a cheeseburger she couldn’t find it in her heart to love.

Yoshihiro Makino Photographer

Yoshihiro Makino, born and raised in Tokyo, is an architectural and interior photographer based in Los Angeles. Makino is drawn to cultural co-influences in design seen between Japan and other countries. His work takes him around the world capturing spaces and portraits for a vast array of editorial, private, and commercial clients.

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