“In June she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Muhlbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The inviolable “she” is Daisy Fay, that famous southern belle who won, then promptly broke, Jay Gatz’s heart. Rich girls don’t marry poor boys, remember?
But our focus here is that hotel, whose actual name is the Seelbach (now the Seelbach Hilton). It sits at the corner of 6th and Main in downtown Louisville, and it’s connected to Cincinnati in more ways than one.
THE RATHSKELLER ROOM
In the basement of the Seelbach Hotel sits the Rathskeller Room, a pink Bavarian cellar with low vaulted ceilings that, in its heyday, was the best place to get drunk in Louisville. (Seriously.) Of note for us, the Rathskeller is said to be the only room in the United States made entirely of Cincinnati’s Rookwood Tile.
But that detail is rarely more than a footnote in the hotel's history. Because it’s also said to be where Fitzgerald met Cincinnati’s George Remus and (poetic license alert) The Great Gatsby was born. For those unfamiliar with Remus, he was an infamous lawyer-turned-Prohibition-bootlegger who amassed an enormous fortune dealing whiskey.
THE BOOZE TRAIN
A naive college dropout, Fitzgerald escaped to the Rathskeller as often as he could in the month he spent at a nearby army camp. When he wasn’t being thrown out for drunkenness, he could be seen scribbling on cocktail napkins, perhaps about “the wearing-down power of important people” that would become the hallmark of his early career. Well, there were certainly enough important people to captivate him at the Rathskeller — pretty girls, surely, but also people like Lucky Luciano and Al Capone and, yes, George Remus.
Remus’s infamous Cincinnati parties served as partial inspiration for Fitzgerald’s most enigmatic character. I say “partial” because the link between Fitzgerald and Remus is largely guess work, and because Gatsby was always too despising of his own parties to reflect the bootlegger in full. They were only an instrument to him after all, a contrivance to beguile the southern belle and win her over.
Obviously things didn’t work out so hot for Jay. In the novel's great irony, Daisy turns out to be the only character not thoroughly fooled by the appearance of things. (Slow clap.)
In any event, the Rathskeller still stands, and it remains impressive. So if you’re looking for a slice of romance to brighten your weekend getaway, Louisville’s Seelbach Hilton might be a good place to start.
Who knows? You may come back with the next Great American Novel.
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For more information about the Seelbach Hilton, visit its website.