The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Capturing the Christmas Magic: Behind the Lens at The Roosevelt New Orleans in the Small Hours

To capture the enchanting Christmas decorations at The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, photographer Michelle Chaplow embarked on a journey that required meticulous logistical and creative planning. To ensure the perfect shot, Michelle and her assistant chose the tranquillity of the early morning hours, orchestrating a pre-dawn photoshoot at 4am to evade the hustle and bustle of daytime lobby activity.

The Roosevelt Hotel, which sits in the lively French Quarter of this vibrant Louisiana city, transforms into a winter wonderland during the festive season, adorned with spectacular Christmas decorations that captivate visitors and locals alike. The lobby, with its soaring ceilings transformed by the twinkling lights, becomes an unmissable stop for anyone visiting New Orleans during the holiday season.


The challenges of photographing hotel festive decorations

Christmas Holiday and festive decorations are one of the most technically complicated aspects of a hotel to photograph. The low light, reflections in the baubles, shiny sparkling surfaces, and highlights contrasted, in this case, with the low lights of the elegant dark wood furniture, the grand piano, reception desk, and tall columns. This combination of elements presents a myriad of practical challenges to the hotel photographer.

Michelle’s shift lens brought a unique architectural perspective to the timeless beauty of The Roosevelt’s Christmas decorations, ensuring that the hotel’s enchanting festive spirit was immortalised in captivating imagery.

“It is so easy to overexpose Christmas lights, making festive decor a very difficult subject. I even prepared a list of 12 tips for hoteliers, photographers and marketers of historic hotels, detailing pitfalls to avoid in Festive Hotel Photography.


The Mystery Lady timepiece at The Roosevelt New Orleans

This photo shoot included one of the most iconic features of The Roosevelt: the magnificent Mystery Lady timepiece, installed in 1937.

The unique conical clock stands proud in the lobby of the historic hotel. It is referred to as a conical clock because its pendulum – the lady’s gilded sceptre – moves in a circular motion, as opposed to a regular clock, whose pendulum swings from side to side.

Designed by French clockmaker Eugène Farcot and sculptured by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (who mentored sculptor Auguste Rodin), the three-metre-tall timepiece dates back to 1867, and was displayed at the 1867 and 1878 Paris Expositions. The bronze lady is robed in a long gown and holds a golden sceptre; her base is carved from Algerian onyx. According to Waldorf Astoria magazine, “Mystery Lady is the largest conical clock known in existence—half-statue, half-engineering marvel, with bells that chime on the hour and half hour.”

“The clock is so unique, it just had to have pride of place in my composition,” said Michelle.


The history of The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans

The hotel boasts a rich and fascinating history that mirrors the charm and resilience of the city where it is located. Originally opened in 1893 as The Grunewald Hotel, owned by a Bavarian businessman, the establishment quickly became synonymous with sophistication and top-class entertainment, hosting the USA’s first nightclub, The Cave.

In 1923, it underwent a transformative rebranding and was renamed The Roosevelt, in honour of President Theodore Roosevelt. This was to commemorate the 32nd President’s involvement in building the Panama Canal, which increased New Orleans’ strategic importance as a port, and therefore its trading activity.

Over the years, The Roosevelt has played a starring role in New Orleans’ social and cultural landscape. Its grandeur and luxurious accommodations have attracted illustrious guests, such as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Marilyn Monroe, as well as Presidents Eisenhower and Ford.

The Roosevelt has weathered many challenges, including closures and changes in ownership. Yet this majestic hotel has always reemerged triumphant, consistently showing a resilience that mirrors the spirit of New Orleans. In 2009, the hotel underwent a meticulous restoration, preserving its historic charm while incorporating modern amenities.


The Sazerac Bar

The Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt, which dates from the hotel’s Grunewald era, is famous for its signature Sazerac cocktail, crafted with rye whiskey, absinthe, a sugar cube, and Peychaud’s Bitters. The cocktail is named after the historic Sazerac drinks company, whose cognac was used in the original 19th-century recipe, and which also makes another key ingredient, the bitters. The legendary Sazerac bar, with its stunning Art Deco mural, beautiful woodwork, and timeless ambiance, is the perfect place to enjoy this quintessential New Orleans tipple – in fact, it has been named the city’s official cocktail.

When Michelle flew into New Orleans it was already dark, so after checking in she took the opportunity to view the famous bar that she was going to photograph in the early hours. The Sazerac was packed with people: a bride, guests holding flower arrangements, women wearing flapper dresses, complete with hairbands and feathers. The guests were four deep at the bar, and many were ordering the Sazerac cocktail – when in Rome….and, as always in this city known for its cultural diversity, and for being the birthplace of jazz, the music was fabulous.

Later that night, at 3am, the bar was an entirely different place – no guests, and everything prepared for the photoshoot. A credit to the hotel’s F&B and marketing departments, and to our hospitality photography team.

Michelle worked alongside The Roosevelt’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Cam Rinard, and Marketing Manager Heather Bowden, as a team everyone went that extra mile to ensure a smooth-running shoot, including being onsite in the early hours.

This photographic assignment also included Teddy´s Bar (named after Theodore Roosevelt himself) which serves the most delicious cakes, and the Fountain Lounge, where guests can enjoy the live entertainment for which the city is so renowned.


Must-sees and recommendations at the hotel

There are so many unique corners of this hotel to capture. For anyone visiting New Orleans at Christmas, don’t miss the fabulous decorations and amazing gift store to spread the joy. Outside the festive period, the Sezerac bar with its world-famous cocktail, and the cakes at Teddy’s Café are waiting for you.


The Roosevelt Hotel, which sits in the lively French Quarter of this vibrant Louisiana city, transforms into a winter wonderland during the festive season

Hotel Essence Photography