Inside the new Chintz Room
Elizabeth Lessner knows her Columbus Food League's newest restaurant-a revival of the long-loved Chintz Room set to open late October-inside the old Lazarus store can't be everything to everyone. "Our goal is just to present it as a reimagined and reinvented version," she says. "We can't bring back Lazarus or what it was, but maybe we can bring back happy memories for people." With no shortage of items from the shuttered department store at their disposal, Lessner and business partner Michael Hermick have created a 133-seater dedicated to the department store's memory.
For Lazarus' centennial in 1953, the department store commissioned 20 dioramas depicting the corner of Town and High streets. "Because they are so enormous, they were all lost, disassembled, broken down, except for this one," Lessner says. To blend it into the setting, it was built into the dividing wall between the bar and dining room.
Lessner and Hermick chose the historic Lazarus photographs decorating the far wall of the restaurant from an archive of about 500,000 pictures from the early '30s through '70s, Hermick says. The more they learned about the Lazarus family, he adds, the more they wanted to remember the people behind Lazarus. "We really started to fall in love with this family," Hermick says. "Instead of going straight Chintz Room restaurant, we knew we needed to evoke Lazarus."
There are a few elements Lessner and Hermick know are original to The Chintz Room, including domed lights now hanging above the bar and framed, Hollywood Regency-style mirrors that will hang across from chandeliers. Though the building was built in the 1850s, it was redone years later in an Art Deco style.
"When the city took over this space, there were a lot of pieces from Lazarus and all the restaurants that were upstairs," Lessner says. "We don't know what went to what. We have to look at old pictures." So there are pieces from the store and its restaurants, including the Buckeye Room, Colonial Room and French Room, throughout the new Chintz Room, such as chairs, tables, velvet ropes, paintings and even mannequins and costumes. "It's weird that we have a department store theme," Lessner says, adding, "But we've done weirder."
Installing a revolving door as the main entryway was intentional. "We want it to feel like you are walking into a department store," Lessner says. "The goal is, you walk in through this door, and hopefully you have this excited feeling you'd get when you walked into a department store."
French lead crystal chandeliers hanging in the dining room and behind the bar were salvaged from the Neil House hotel and shuttered theaters around Downtown. "When you see these in the light, the way that they sparkle, they just don't make things like this anymore," Lessner says. "Anybody can throw up a chandelier from Lowe's. The fact that we have these is a really big deal."
When Lessner announced she'd be reinventing The Chintz Room, historical societies and former diners flooded her with menus dating back decades. The new menu will feature roughly 10 of the most requested dishes-chicken salad, celery dressing, the hidden sandwich and the pecan ball with cinnamon ice cream, to name a few. "We'll do some dishes that are inspired by updates on old-time food and then also new food, too," Lessner says.
MAKING A COMEBACK
High tea will return on Sunday afternoons, but it will offer a twist in line with Columbus Food League's attitude-boozy high tea with a drag queen moderator. "Some of the old programing is going to be old stuff updated," Lessner says, adding tea service will come on tiered antique plates made by her mom. "We want to have fashion shows, but we would love to have the old Lazarus models who are in their 80s now. We're trying to come up with interesting and respectful [things to do]."