It’s not edgy in the slightest, and it hasn’t been trendy since Huey Long was in office. Yet the Columns endures, and thank God for that. This 1883 Italianate mansion, rising among the moss-shrouded oaks on St. Charles Avenue, just happens to be a hotel. But really, it’s a bar: the Victorian Lounge, to be exact—all smoke-burnished mahogany and creaking floorboards under an ornate stained-glass chandelier. That a landmark so rife with atmosphere could also function as a workaday tavern is one of the Columns’s singular charms. (Is your local pub on the National Register?) Yet a neighborhood haunt is precisely what it’s become, drawing a cross section of New Orleans society, from parish pols and Loyola students to debutantes and their mothers. The crowd and the vibe evolve throughout the afternoon and into the night. Choosing the ideal hour is impossible, though it’s hard to argue with that last delicious gasp before twilight, when the band launches into Sidney Bechet’s “Preachin’ Blues,” the scent of honeysuckle and fresh-cut grass wafts across the porch, and all is just right in New Orleans.
At the Columns Hotel, the Victorian Lounge serves up mixed drinks (and company) in the Garden District.