If you’re checking out apartments in the Derby City, you’ll want to check out some of the sights, too. Our number one suggestion? Step back in time by immersing yourself in the rich history of Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel. There’s almost always someone on hand to share the hotel’s magnificent story. If you’re lucky, they might just even show you the bar Fitzgerald loved to frequent — or Al Capone’s secret gambling room.

Text by Amy Haupt

History in the Making

Louisville’s always been a busy city. Much of this has to do with the city’s placement along the Ohio River. In the early 20th century, many still traveled from city to city by way of the river. With Cincinnati so close upstream, Louisville continued to grow in business. It also drew in visitors due to its accessibility and charm — and its parties.

Louisville Kentucky bridge.

In the 1920s, Louisville became a hub for booze-filled parties, gambling and gangsters. Mobsters, celebrities, presidents, writers and more visited Louisville to indulge in bourbon and cigars. Bootleggers used the river to smuggle alcohol in and out of the city. When this rowdy yet highly esteemed crew found themselves in town, they chose to stay at the most decadent hotel Louisville had to offer – The Seelbach.

Seelbach Hilton's grand lobby.
Image from The Seelbach Hilton website: http://www.seelbachhilton.com/

F. Scott Fitzgerald in Kentucky

In 1917, a 21-year-old Frances Scott Fitzgerald trained for the US Army at Camp Zachary Taylor in Kentucky. On his off nights, Fitzgerald traveled to Louisville, donning his military uniform, to frequent his favorite bar at the Seelbach Hotel.

History can’t deny how much Fitzgerald loved the bottle. However, he also loved the company at the Seelbach. He found himself surrounded by grand and exciting people living grand and exciting lives. What better place for a young writer to be?

Silhouette image gangster lighting cigarette.

The Seelbach and The Great Gatsby

Soon, Fitzgerald himself became an important part of the history of Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel. While visiting, Fitzgerald became acquainted with George Remus, an infamous bootlegger from Cincinnati. The wealthy and charismatic Remus took an immediate liking to Fitzgerald. Because of this, Fitzgerald witnessed some of the more secret activities at the Seelbach. These encounters inspired much of Fitzgerald’s most popular novel, The Great Gatsby. George Remus himself served as part of Fitzgerald’s inspiration for Jay Gatsby.

Al Capone, a Chicago gangster, often held card games in secret rooms in the hotel during Fitzgerald’s time. This, of course, became the inspiration for Gatsby’s Wolfsheim, a gangster and friend of Gatsby, and his secret room below the barber’s shop.

1920s garden party.

The hotel in downtown Louisville still offers some of the grandest ballrooms, ornate lobbies and well-stocked bars in the city. It’s no surprise that Fitzgerald’s favorite hangout — as well as the great city of Louisville –inspired Daisy’s hometown. In fact, The Mulbach, the hotel in which Daisy and Tom get married in the novel, is based directly off of The Seelbach’s grand ballroom.

The Seelbach Today

Louisville’s charm has been evident to many across generations. F. Scott Fitzgerald is just one example of a man entranced by the magic of Louisville and the American Dream during the twenties.