For more than 150 years, Lazarus Department Store anchored downtown Columbus. Women came to shop, and starting in 1914, to dine at the 5th floor tea pavilion. In 1953, the name was changed to the Chintz Room. It closed in 1998. The department store followed in 2004.
The building is being restored, and so when restaurateur Elizabeth Lessner was asked if she would like to put a restaurant on the ground floor in the old Lazarus building, she agreed. She said she knew it had to be an updated version of the iconic Chintz Room.
"It would be so cool to bring back some of that history and some of that nostalgia a lot of people in Columbus really miss," she said. "We just thought it would be the perfect fit here."
She put in a revolving door, and scoured the city for items from the old place.
"We have been so fortunate to have so much support from our friends and partners in the neighborhood...Columbus Historical Society, Jewish Historical Society, the Lazarus family, as well as Cap South, who's lending us so many of these beautiful artifacts," she said.
The old dining room lights now hang above what will be the bar. Ornate mirrors lean against the wall, waiting for placement. A diorama divides the bar from the dining room. It had languished in an attic, the sole survivor of 20 crafted in 1951 for the department store's centennial anniversary.
Lessner and partner Mike Hermick purchased antique chandeliers. The Columbus Historical Society volunteered old menus and cookbooks. And Lessner said as the word got out, they heard from people all over the world.
"We are getting hundreds and hundreds of emails asking about everyone's favorite dish," she laughed.
She promised to choose some of the old favorites, including celery dressing, chicken salad, the hidden sandwich, and bourbon bread pudding, but update them for a modern palate. Once this space is filled with tables and chairs, she and Hermick also plan to offer breakfast, high tea, and occasional fashion shows narrated by women who once modeled in the fashion shows at the old Chintz Room.
It won't be a white tablecloth restaurant, she promised, but a more casual one, with an occasional "funky attitude."
For instance, she said, "We're going to have drag queens host our high tea just to make it a little bit more fun."
She paused to recall taking an etiquette class at Lazarus as a teenager, where the final test was a meal at the Chintz Room.
"What's most exciting about this project is just being able to bring back my own memories," she said.
The downtown restaurant is expected to open by mid-September.