Those who need a break from the Riverbend crowds by Ross's Landing tonight can ferry across the river and have a drink on the Delta Queen, which officially opens today as a floating hotel and lounge.
Managers of the 1920s-era riverboat, docked by Coolidge Park, obtained a state liquor license Monday and a city beer permit Thursday. Though its restaurant isn't fully up and running, the boat will welcome guests to stay in some of its 88 cabins tonight and offer drinks and hors d'oeuvres at its Texas Lounge beginning at 4 p.m.
"We'll break in slowly," said Sydney Slome, co-owner and director of operations. "We're opening softly this weekend."
The boat will serve breakfast only this weekend, Mr. Slome said, but a full dinner service with a $35 several-course menu and entertainment will begin sometime after the Riverbend Festival comes to a close.
The 82-year-old Delta Queen arrived in Chattanooga in February, and managers originally hoped to begin serving patrons before now. But obtaining various inspections took longer than anticipated, according to Mr. Slome, so it wasn't until the Chattanooga Beer Board granted a permit Thursday morning that everything was in line for the hotel and bar opening.
Hotel co-owner Harry Phillips is leasing the National Historic Landmark conditionally, and it could be unmoored if a buyer were to come forward to operate it as an overnight passenger vessel again.
He said Thursday that he still was waiting for permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make Chattanooga the vessel's home port, but he had approval from the city to do business here at least until that agreement is reached.
Mr. Phillips said he is excited to be able to maintain the historic atmosphere of the boat for visitors - something that had concerned critics with a group called Save the Delta Queen.
"We've made no changes, and we'll never, ever make a change," he said. "We want to ensure the integrity of all components of the vessel. It's what she deserves."
In that spirit, guests will be offered various types of entertainment ranging from card tricks to period music, said Delta Queen Steamboat Co. spokesman Bill Wiemuth.
"There's going to be a lot going on on the Delta Queen, and we hope folks will come by and visit," Mr. Wiemuth said.
Visitors must pay a $5 cover charge to walk onto the boat, but they can redeem the money through a $5 discount on any purchase such as tour tickets, drinks or gift shop items, he said.
Room rates are $89 to $155 a night.
To accommodate Riverbend patrons, Harry Phillips - who runs both the Delta Queen and the Chattanooga Water Taxi - is going to offer $5 shuttle service to and from the boat on his Fat Cat Ferry this weekend and next.
The ferry, which features a full bar, will run between the north and south shores of the river starting at 5 p.m. It will run tonight, Saturday and Sunday as well as next Thursday through Saturday.