CINCINNATI: Lush Life

4 Feb

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We had a pleasant drive from Madison Indiana to Cincinnati Ohio; we are spending the next couple of nights at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. This modern-day palace is so extraordinary, Kris and I have decided to devote an entire post to the building. The Netherland Plaza Hotel and Carew Tower were designed to be a “city within a city”; financed by the Emery family and completed in January 1931, the complex predated Rockefeller Center’s opening by four years. When the hotel opened it featured 800 guest rooms, high-speed automatic elevators, 11 kitchens, 7 restaurants, a ballroom and a nightclub. Winston Churchill, Elvis, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bing Crosby are just a few of the famous guests who have stayed at the Netherland Plaza. C’mon, let us show you around…..

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We pass through the handsome porte-cochere on Fifth Street to enter the building, decorative floral metalwork reaches horizontally above the entrance, brass torcheres guard the staircase, a mural covers the vaulted ceiling, the French caption “Bienvenu aux Voyageurs (Welcome Travelers) greets all who pass under. A compass-rose points true north and is surrounded by 24 gazelles which represent each hour of the day. The lobby is well appointed with Brazilian Rosewood, Italian marble and pierced nickel-silver fixtures in a foliage design, making the area feel rich and luxurious. French Art Deco saturates the building; pillars, openings and moldings are angular, geometric shapes; herons, lotus leaves and sunbursts are found throughout. On the mezzanine level we get an excellent view of the Welcome Traveler piece, there are 18 Louis Grell murals in all, each one a masterpiece; the original cost to build the hotel was $7 million (1930) dollars! Now let’s have a look at the Continental Room.

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This lavish room was originally the main dining room of the hotel, the room is still adorned with the extravagant 1930 wall sconces and chandeliers, amazing. Murals represent the four seasons, nickel-silver doors have French mirror backing, now here’s the really cool part: When the hotel opened, there was a small ice rink built into the floor in the center of the room, diners were entertained by an ice-skating show—can you imagine that? At this level we have a lovely overview of the Palm Court, once the main lobby, now home to Orchids at Palm Court, a fine dining restaurant, The Grille and The Bar at Palm Court; more on these later. And we’re walking, third floor is next. I have to dig deep into my adjectives bag for this next part, there are no words to do it full justice but I’ll give it a shot.

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The Hall of Mirrors (sigh). Opulent, decadent, palatial, ornate, grandiose (sigh). This splendid  ballroom was designed by George Unger, interior designer of the Roxy and Beacon Theatres in New York City. The soaring ceiling, unique lighting, impressive stairway and enormous mirror create a dramatic effect. It’s stunning. Taken in as a whole it’s gorgeous, looking at individual features, it’s incredible— like stepping into an Art Deco fantasy. The lighting in the room is fabulous; frosted glass deco chandeliers remind me of upside-down umbrellas shining their soft light upwards, combined with French peach-colored marble, gold-plate mirrors, lavender, rose and jade colored accents, the ballroom is bathed in a pastel-tinted glow. The hotel suffered a fire in 1942, the original chandelier was damaged, it has been replicated with a ceiling mural taking its place. My eyes travel downward to the horizontal band near the ceiling (frieze), garlands of flowers fill the plaster band, mirrors fill the space behind what appears to be window frames, swagged pilasters imitate drapes. Surrounding the balcony is a series of German silver balustrades and balusters, the grill-work is outstanding, the epitome of French Art Deco, take a minute and study the pictures. Workers arrive and begin setting up for an event, time to move along.

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And we’re walking, this time to the fourth floor. As we leave the Hall of Mirrors I am fascinated (again) by the metalwork on the railings and posts, a swan medallion is perched above the doors. Here, a group of newer murals cover the walls, Cincinnati artist Tom Bacher created these pieces in 1984; they say the paints are luminescent, they retain light and glow when the lights are dimmed, we’ll have to check that out later. We arrive at the Pavillion Caprice, this was originally the hotel’s nightclub, It’s claim to fame is Doris Day made her first professional appearance here when she was 16 years old, a picture of her and the band hangs on the wall. Kris and I both really like this room, it’s not as fancy as some of the others, but it’s super cool. The space is designed to look like the nightclub of the ocean liner the SS Leviathan, seriously. The room is long, metal railings curve, the ceiling has unique indirect lighting, to me, the most unusual feature are the funky, bronze sunburst lights on pedestals along the walls.

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Back down the stairs, through the Apollo Gallery, to The Grille at Palm Court for lunch. The decor in this room is a bit different, while it still screams Art Deco, it’s mixed with classic Louis XV overtones. Murals are high up and wrap from ceiling to wall, the theme here is recreation; look closely and discover the distinct outline of Carew Tower in the background of each mural. We are seated at the far end of the Palm Court, the ziggurat-shaped fountain is nearby, it was made right here in Cincinnati at the Rookwood Pottery studio on Mt Adams. It’s hard to concentrate in such beautiful surroundings, we pick a few items from the bar menu, before we know it lunch arrives. The beef sliders are smothered with red onion marmalade, Portobello mushrooms and red wine mayo, delicious. The potato croquettes are golden and crispy, the herbed sour cream makes them extra tasty. The Asian pork buns are flavorful, they make a nice contrast to the other dishes. We take our time eating, soaking up the ambiance, this is truly an incredible place.

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Lunch is finished, we take a little more time poking around the building; around every curve, down every stairway we are fascinated by another ornamental grate, embellished elevator doors, letter box and showy hallways. Crossing the threshold into Carew Tower, Rookwood Pottery tiles add color and beauty to the shopping arcade. As astounding and impressive as the hotel and Tower are today, imagine what it was like to wander into the Netherlands Plaza in 1931. Deep in the throes of the Great Depression, anybody could walk in, get caught up in the remarkable surroundings, and for just a short time forget their troubles. Funny, it still has that same effect 84 years later.

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3 Responses to “CINCINNATI: Lush Life”

  1. Victoria Edwards February 4, 2015 at 11:13 pm #

    Absolutely mesmerizing. Thank you for the post and delicious photos!

  2. The Detroit Foodie February 5, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    Soooo cool!!! : )

  3. Barbara Dorda February 5, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    Wow! Thank you for the adventure!!

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