When he was a Tulane undergraduate, Trent Robinson, owner of The Roosevelt Hotel Bar (116 University Place, 566-9444), experienced a defining New Orleans moment over a drink at The Alibi.
"I (was) sitting between Harry Connick Sr. and a homeless guy," Robinson says. "We talked about the Saints and food and music and all the things that make New Orleans great. I remember being 21 and thinking, 'Where else could you sit next to one of the most powerful people in the city and a homeless person and carry on a conversation for an hour and not judge each other?'"
That experience encapsulates the vibe Robinson seeks to project with The Roosevelt Hotel Bar, which he describes as an upscale dive — "a rock 'n' roll bar that's clean, but still a little gritty in attitude." Its elegant-meets-edgy aesthetic permeates everything from the decor to the menu. Worn brick walls meet sleek, black granite floors and vintage-inspired Edison light bulbs cast a yellowish glow onto fleur des lis-stenciled walls. Chef Chris Cody's classic bar fare gets swanky with premium ingredients and made-from-scratch treatment (think duck confit po-boys and burgers dressed with mozzarella and peppered bacon on brioche buns).
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The craft cocktails use syrups and mixers made in house. Atop the bar, jars filled with dried starfruit, cinnamon sticks, freshly-cut rosemary and lime wedges speak to the ingredients' authenticity. Its name a nod to Robinson's years working in the film and television industry as a producer, the Clint Eastwood cocktail includes Hendrick's gin, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper and a cucumber garnish.
"Most recently, I worked on The Real World, and that's what brought me back to New Orleans. After production wrapped, I was looking for a way to stay local, and the only other thing I know how to do is own and operate bars," says Robinson, who started working at age 12 as a dishwasher in his uncle's Atlanta restaurant. By age 17, he was general manager.
Although running the bar takes up most of his time, Robinson manages to pursue his own film projects, which include a documentary about the Campo family and how their Shell Beach marina weathered the BP oil disaster.
"Owning a bar gives me the freedom to tell stories that give back to the community that I want to live in, that shed light on the spirit and resiliency of the people who live in southern Louisiana," Robinson says. "They won't let anything knock them down."