The Seelbach Hilton is both a historic landmark and a fine example of the Beaux Arts architectural design that was popular at the turn-of-the-century.
The Seelbach's Bavarian-style Rathskeller (a German word for a subterranean barroom) is decorated with rare Rookwood Pottery.
This historic photo was taken shortly after the hotel opened in 1905.
Backstory and Context
During the era of Prohibition, the continued production of bourbon in this region attracted wealthy travelers who appreciated the Seelbach's capacity to serve alcoholic beverages with discretion. Prominent bootleggers from around the country were even more intrigued, with men such as George Remus and possibly even Al Capone becoming frequent visitors at the Seelbach.
F. Scott Fitzgerald also became a regular visitor of the Seelbach. While in the army, Fitzgerald trained at Camp Taylor, a former training base about six miles southeast of the city. Fitzgerald's love of good whiskey and expensive cigars brought him to the Seelbach, where his observation of characters of wealth and privilege spurred his imagination. It was at this time that Fitzgerald began planning his most famous novel, the Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald based the character Jay Gatsby upon his encounters with bootlegger George Remus. He also chose the Grand Ballroom as the most appropriate setting for two other characters, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, to be married.
The Seelbach closed during the 1970s-a result of both a recession and the decline of downtown areas as centers of recreation and hospitality. The Seelbach was renovated and reopened in 1982. The hotel is presently operated by the Hilton chain. Like the Seelbach, the surrounding area has also enjoyed the return of tourism and hospitality in downtown Louisville.