Morphy Under Glass


Although the building still stands, the old Cosmopolitan Hotel of New Orleans doesn't exist anymore. I first came across mention of it when I was looking at a 1931 book called Old Families of Louisiana by Stanley Clisby Arthur (who is introduced at the above link).  Arthur, you see, wrote another book called, Old New Orleans: A History of the Vieux Carre, it's Ancient and Historical Buildings in 1936.
Page 28 caught my eye:

     OLD COSMOPOLITAN HOTEL    121 Royal St.
The building now occupied by the St. Regis restaurant, once housed the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a favorite rendezvous in the gay  '90's for gourmets and smart society folk.  The place was noted for its bar as well as its cuisine and over meals washed down by  suitable liquids, many a Central American revolution was hatched by the Spanish-speaking guests.
   In the stained-glass front of the present restaurant are three memorial windows honoring a trio of men who helped make the  name of Louisiana know to the world. Two were native sons, Paul Morphy and Ferdinand Gottschalk.  For Morphy, peer of  chess players, one window shows chessmen on a checkerboard.  A second window, depicting "The Last Hope" on a sheet of  music, is a tribute to Gottschalk, famed pianist and composer.  The third window, picturing a singing mockingbird near a  magnolia bloom, honors John James Audubon who, though not born in Louisiana, made in this state most of the bird drawings  that bought him imperishable fame.  Many of Audubon's pictures were done while he lived in New Orleans.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to uncover any representation of this St. Regis restaurant window.
The 1938 City Guide echoed Arthur's commentaries:

Old Cosmopolitan Hotel, 121 Royal Street. A few steps farther, on the opposite side of the street, stands a building now occupied by the St. Regis Restaurant, but which once housed the old Cosmopolitan Hotel.
Half a century ago this was a favorite meeting-place for Latin-Americans. In a building on this site, Dr. Francisco Antommarchi, the physician of Napoleon, had his home and office during the 1830's. Here the famous death mask of The Little Corporal was exhibited, a bronze copy of which may be seen in the Cabildo. In the front of the present structure are three memorial windows commemorating the champion chessplayer, Paul Morphy; the musician, Louis Moreau Gottschalk; and the famous ornithologist, John James Audubon.

Now, I can only assume that the restaurant occupied several addresses since it is interchangeably referred to as being at 121 and 123 Royal St. I'm not sure of the origin of this ad:
St. Regis, 121 Royal St.; proprietor, Gaston Bertoniere.  Open 6 a.m. to 12 midnight for a la carte orders;  Table d'hôte lunch, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 45¢;  Table d'hôte dinner; 5 p.m. to midnight, 65¢
but the prices look circa 1940.

Another ad (1938-39) claimed:
St. Regis Restaurant...123 Royal Street; sea foods and steaks a specialty; serving more meals daily than any other restaurant in New Orleans.

[this photo and the one below are low-res, tightly-cropped facsimiles of two photos from the Charles Franck Collection]

The Cosmopolitan was later renamed the Hotel Astor, and the 1950 photo on the left displays the "or" in the name.

The blurb claims that the hotel, reminiscent of a townhouse in Brooklyn or Manhattan, was designed by Thomas Sully and built in 1892 as the Cosmopolitan Hotel. The hotel occupied two buildings, tis one on Royal and the other at 122-128 Bourbon, which has a very different stone facade. (The connection was not straight across the block but offset by a parcel.) Note the treacherously long ladders serving as fire escapes. 

To add to the confusion, a contemporary City Guide tells us: Cosmopolitan Hotel and Café Restaurant 121 Royal St.
Designed by William Fitzner in 1891, this early hostelry at one time extended through the block to Bourbon St. It was a meeting place for both politicians and social observers such as Mark Twain. Music figured prominently here for dining and entertainment.

The high rise to the left is the Beaux-Arts style Hotel Monteleone (1908), with its pearl white terra-cotta ornaments; directly below it is the Bourbon Street entrance of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, built upon the ashes of the 1892 fire.

An unusual source gives us one use for the dual entrances:

"The Last Madam: a life in the New Orleans Underground"
The Cosmopolitan Hotel, a half block off Canal Street, had addresses on both Bourbon and Royal Streets - its lobby ran straight through the entire block.  The Cosmopolitan catered to the affluent - for a time it was called the Hotel Astor.  It had a reputation as a family hotel.  The ladies' entrance was on Royal Street, but, as Norma observer, not all the women who used it were ladies
- except of the night. [this was in the year 1916]


The first example below describes the Cosmopolitan Hotel:

"Winter in New Orleans, season 1912-1913"
General Passenger Department
Southerm Pacific-Sunset Route
New Orleans, La.

Having skirted the southern boundary line of the "Vieux Carre" the stranger enters the real historic part of the famous section, and taking Royal Street from Canal he first encounters a cow of old-style brick buildings built by Touro. Just on the spot now taken up by the Royal Street entrance of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, stood in former years a four-story brick dwelling house of
French appearance. This was the residence of Dr. Antommarchi, the physician to Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French.
Antommarchi was a practising physician in New Orleans for many years after the tragedy of Waterloo. Adjoining this site is Old 127 Royal Street, where insurgents of the Radical State Legislature held a spirited session in reconstruction times. The Radicals were expelled by the governor's police and a sensational riot followed.

Later (date unknown), the Railroad made so minor changes in it's pamplet:

"New Orleans, city of old romance and new oportunity. Southern railway system"
   And for another trip, begin at Canal, and elbow through the opening of Royal Street, the Rue Royal. Above the now blaringly crowded sidewalks, aged buildings, old jutting balconies, given over to garish fruit stands or restaurants, are the old homes wherein plots that swung the fate of New Orleans were hatched.
   Upon the site of the Hotel Astor, on the first block, formerly stood the brick home of Dr. Antommarchi, Napoleon's physician, who practiced for a number of years in New Orleans after the Battle of Waterloo, and adjoining, at 127 Royal, is the spot where the insurgents of the Radical State Legislature were expelled by the governor's police.
   Yellowing in the mellowed light that slips down through the lacy-shade of magnolia branches, is the old Merchants Exchange, once used as a court in the days when William Whitaker, filibuster, was tried and acquitted of violating the neutrality laws.
   In the block, at 417, where now the bright awnings of a patio tea shop jut out across the sidewalk, is the famous old Spanish bank company, later the home of Paul Morphy, famed all over the world as a master chess player.

John Kendall, in his well-known history of New Orleans connects the Cosmopolitan Hotel with the N.O. Chess, Checker and Whist Club:

History of New Orleans
John Kendall

p. 694

The Chess, Checkers and Whist Club came into existence in 1880, as a result of the enthusiasm of C. A. Maurian, C. F. Buck,  and J. D. Seguin, all devotees of the "king of games." They founded a small club for the study and cultivation of the game. At first  a single room accommodated the members. This was at No. 128 Gravier Street. The membership, however, increased rapidly,  and by January, 1881, numbered 150. In the meantime larger quarters had been secured at No. 168 Common Street, and then  at No. 170; but in the following year it was found necessary to lease a whole floor of the building at the corner of Common and  Varieties Alley. In 1883 it was removed to handsome quarters at the corner of Canal and Baronne, where it remained till 1920,  when the present quarters — formerly the Cosmopolitan Hotel — on Bourbon Street were occupied. Fire destroyed the club  building in 1890, but it was immediately rebuilt. In 1881 Capt. George H. Mackenzie, the famous chess-player, visited the club,  and gave a series of exhibitions. This was the beginning of a delightful custom. Thereafter the celebrated chess-players of all  lands have been at various times guests of the club, and have played with its members. Among those who have matched their  skill against the membership were Zukertort, Lee, Steinitz, Pillsbury, and Lasker. The greatest of all chess-players, Paul Morphy,  who was a native of New Orleans, was a member. Down to his death he frequented the rooms. A fine marble bust of this  master, which is one of the treasured possessions of the club, occupies a prominent position in its rooms.

        proposed Royal Cosmopolitan


The original Cosmopolitan Hotel was five and a half stories. In 2005, it sold for $3.2 million. Unless something has changed, developer of the new Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel plan to spend an addition $100 million or so building a 26 story high-rise with 122 condos. Part of the pan is to renovate the original Cosmopolitan  and re-open it as a 24 room Hotel.

It will certainly change the skyline of the Vieux Carre.



Back to the ever-busy Stanley Clisby Arthur for one final item:

In his 1937 book "New Orleans DRINKS and how to mix 'em,"  Arthur wrote:

But this history is dry stuff, so let's sample a genuine Sazerac. We will ask Leon Dupont, now vice-president of the St. Regis  Restaurant but for years one of the expert cocktail mixers behind Tom Handy's original Sazerac bar, to make one for us.
Here's how --- and how!
      1 lump sugar
      3 drops Peychaud's bitters
      1 dash Angostura bitters
      1 jigger rye whiskey
      1 dash absinthe substitute (Herbsaint)
      1 slice lemon peel

To mix a Sazerac requires two heavy-bottomed, 3 1/2-ounce bar glasses. One is filled with cracked ice and allowed to chill. In  the other a lump of sugar is placed with just enough water to moisten it. The saturated loaf of sugar is then crushed with a  barspoon. Add a few drops of Peychaud's bitters, a dash of Angostura, a jigger of rye whiskey, for while bourbon may do for a  julep it just won't do for a real Sazerac. To the glass containing sugar, bitters, and rye add several lumps of ice and stir. Never  use a shaker! Empty the first glass of its ice, dash in several drops of absinthe, twirl the glass and shake out the absinthe ...  enough will cling to the glass to give the needed flavor. Strain into this glass the whiskey mixture, twist a piece of lemon peel  over it for the needed zest of that small drop of oil thus extracted from the peel, but do not commit the sacrilege of of dropping  the peel into the drink. Some bartenders put a cherry into the Sazerac; very pretty but not necessary.

[Oddly, Antoine Amedee Peychaud, the famous dispenser of the distinctive Sazerac ran his apothecary/pharmacy, when  Morphy was a child, at 437 Royal St. (the current address)- which was, before the re-numeration of streets, 123 Royal St.]