A recent visit to The Hotel Modern (936 St. Charles Ave., 504-962-0900; www.thehotelmodern.com) turned up an unexpected roadblock: film production crews had restricted access to the cocktail bar, Bellocq. General manager Miguel Solorzano won't specify which major motion picture is filming, but he says it's a fun movie.
"The set designers were here multiple times and they really enjoyed the property," Solorzano says. "They chose to film at the hotel because of the look of Bellocq. It has a particular design: it's rich, it's stylish."
The upscale lounge is inspired by E.J. Bellocq's early 20th-century photographs, mostly portraits of New Orleans prostitutes and madams. The decor takes its cue from the Storyville brothels where the photos are set: plush seating, sultry lighting, deep colors, intimate alcoves, a grand piano, ornate textiles and lavish barware.
Craft cocktails with ingredients including local fruits and house-made infusions emerge from the bar. The specialty is the cobbler in its various forms — a base spirit, fruit and simple syrup over ice — which had its greatest popularity in the mid-1800s when ice and straws were novelties. Served in silver cups with wheat stalk straws, Bellocq's cobblers are strong and refreshing, with restrained sweetness. Other throwback drinks include milk punches, juleps and absinthe cocktails.
Separate from Bellocq is Tivoli & Lee, where chef Mike Nirenberg serves modern Southern cuisine with a focus on local ingredients. Its carousel horse decor harkens to the time before Lee Circle boasted the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee — when it was called Tivoli Circle and featured a carousel.
The rest of the hotel has an intimacy that belies its 135 rooms and two suites. With a variety of room shapes and sizes as well as furniture, artwork and books culled from antique shops, Hotel Modern looks like an elaborate guesthouse. It's pet-friendly, too: Miss Scarlett, a red and blue Eclectus parrot, greets guests from her lobby perch behind a glass dispenser filled with cold lemon water.
Deep bathtubs, luxe bedding and C.O. Bigelow toiletries give the hotel its boutique status, as does the 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. room service that offers dishes from Tivoli & Lee and Bellocq. Solorzano says the hotel staff has noticed a shift in its guests during the summer months: More locals are checking in for "staycations."
"You get a really unique experience," he says. "People like to come here and just not leave the property — they stay in the bar, the restaurant, the courtyard. They're comfortable here. We've been called a foodie hotel because of our passion for staying true to New Orleans' roots in hospitality, in fine food and drink. If you're into eating and drinking well, there really is no better."