As the Seelbach shutters the Oak Room for remodeling, recalling the louche Rathskeller’s heyday

Mobster Al Capone reportedly hung out in the Rathskeller.
Members of the American Business Club met in the Seelbach Hotel’s Rathskeller in March 1928, in this photo from the University of Louisville Photographic Archives. Pelican sculptures created by Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati embellish the columns in what was a booming night club in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Seelbach has just announced the Rathskeller’s sister venue, the Oak Room, is closing for a summer-long renovation, according to The Courier-Journal.

Great GatsbyRathskeller (“council’s cellar” in German) is a name in German-speaking countries for a bar or restaurant in the basement of a city hall. At the Seelbach, the name reflected the background of the hotel’s Bavarian-born founders, brothers Louis and Otto Seelbach. They opened the hotel in 1905 as Louisville’s answer to the old-world grandeur of European hotels in Vienna and Paris.

Louis arrived in 1869 at 17 years old, and his brother followed in 1891, during a wave of German immigration that transformed Louisville’s economy. Already by 1850, Germans accounted for nearly 20% of the city’s 43,000 residents.

The Seelbach also played a cameo role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” as the setting for Louisville debutante Daisy Fay’s wedding to Tom Buchanan of Chicago.

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