Louisville's Historic Hotel
The Seelbach Hilton is equal parts historical landmark and architectural masterpiece. It began as the dream of two Bavarian brothers - Otto and Louis Seelbach - in 1869 when Louis came to Louisville to learn the hotel business. In 1903, after several years of running restaurants and gentleman's clubs, the brothers began construction of a new hotel at the corner of 4th and Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali), creating a lavish, turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts Baroque hotel. Sparing no expense, they imported marbles from all over the world, bronzes from France, hardwoods from the West Indies and Europe, linens from Ireland, and valuable Turkish and Persian Rugs.
Billed as "the only fireproof hotel in the city," the new Seelbach opened in May of 1905 by offering a 5-hour public inspection and drawing an incredible 25,000 visitors. The hotel was so popular, the Seelbach brothers began a 154-room addition in the fall of that same year.
In 1907, the expansion was completed and included the famous Bavarian-style Rathskeller, decorated with rare Rookwood Pottery. Today the Rathskeller remains the only surviving ensemble of its kind.
The Roaring '20s
In the 1920s, Prohibition contributed to the wealth of underworld kingpins who were drawn to the most glamorous spots for cards and leisure. The Seelbach, as the grandest hotel in Louisville and the center of Kentucky's bourbon and whiskey country, attracted some of the most famous gangsters. Notorious figures included Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz – known as the "Beer Baron of the Bronx."
The King of the Bootleggers - George Remus, a Cincinnati mobster, referred to as "King of the Bootleggers," got rich running whiskey northward during Prohibition. As a local gangster, he would spend time at The Seelbach, for business and pleasure. Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who also visited The Seelbach for bourbon and cigars, was taken with the charismatic Remus. In fact, Remus became the inspiration for the title character Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby."
Al Capone's Secret Passageways - Al Capone, probably the most legendary gangster of the 1920s, used to visit The Seelbach frequently for blackjack, poker and bootlegging. Today, you can dine in a small alcove in The Oakroom where Capone would play cards. The famous gangster even sent a large mirror from Chicago, still in the room today, so that he could watch his back. Capone's favorite room also has two hidden doors behind special panels, leading to secret passageways.
"The Great Gatsby" is Born - While in Army training at nearby Camp Taylor, famed author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, often visited The Seelbach on weekend passes to sip Kentucky bourbon and smoke expensive cigars. With a reputation for carousing, Fitzgerald was once banned from The Seelbach after he had one too many!
During his visits, Fitzgerald encountered gangster George Remus, who became the model for Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby." His experiences in The Seelbach's elegant rooms inspired him to use the hotel as a model during the writing of "The Great Gatsby." As the premier Louisville hotel, debutantes of upper-class society often "came out" on the top floor ballroom, throwing grand galas, similar to the parties in Fitzgerald's classic 1920s novel. Fitzgerald chose the Grand Ballroom at The Seelbach as the backdrop for Tom and Daisy Buchanan's wedding reception in his American masterpiece.
The Seelbach Today
Because of its lavish elegance, The Seelbach attracts celebrities of all kinds. The Hollywood classic, "The Hustler," starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason features scenes shot in the old Seelbach billiard room (now the Oakroom, the hotel's 5-diamond restaurant).
More recently, Miss America 2000, Heather French Henry, held her wedding reception here. And while on tour with Elton John, Billy Joel chose to stay at The Seelbach and played piano and sang his favorites in the Old Seelbach Bar to the delight of surprised guests.
Today, The Seelbach Hilton continues to be the choice for international celebrities and world politicians visiting the area.