End of the Line: Another Round?
Learning about life—and literature—in a New Orleans landmark
The Carousel Bar, in the Hotel Monteleone, on Royal Street, in New Orleans, was created in 1949. At that time I was too young to hang out in bars, or even, unsupervised, on merry-go-rounds, but since then I have caught up, and some of my fuzziest memories are from evenings in the Carousel. Twenty-five seats with circus-animal motifs painted on the backs, overhung (flip side of the morning after) by circusy lights. It’s nice. And according to the Monteleone’s website, the Carousel “is the only bar in New Orleans that revolves around the room.” Whoa, no, get me out of here—but wait. The Carousel is not that terrifying in fact. The Carousel stays in the middle of the room and rotates slowly on its own axis: one full rotation every fifteen minutes, or per drink. So if you are standing beside the bar talking to someone who is seated at it, she seems at first to be edging closer and closer but then she gets beyond you and recedes, subtly but inexorably, clockwise, into the past, unless you keep nudging aside other standees to keep up with her, which is not a good idea; and by the time she comes back around, who do you think you are, Buster?
The Carousel Bar, then, is like life. Okay, not particularly, I guess, but I thought I would try that observation for literary effect, and here’s why: The gracious one-and-a-quarter-century-old Hotel Monteleone prides itself on its literary heritage. Truman Capote’s mother went into labor with him there, for starters. I myself once, oh never mind, that’s too personal, but all sorts of other luminaries who have stayed (and without question, drunk) there—William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams—are honored by suites named after them and by displays of their books in the lobby.
The Monteleone’s website misstates, however, when it says that the Carousel has been “immortalized in the writings of Ernest Hemingway among others.” A character in Hemingway’s story “Night Before Battle” does mention a bar in the Monteleone, but that story was published ten years before the birth of the Carousel. Eudora Welty did set a story, “The Purple Hat,” in a bar off Royal Street, but the two customers in that bar sit at either end of it, “with the length of the bar between them.” Does that say roundabout to you?