“I’ve always looked for music for the bars I’ve worked in. Stumbled across Nellie Lutcher and she was one of the first black crossover artists in the 1940s—on Capitol Records no less; a nationally recognized musician from Lake Charles, Louisiana. People described her as the female Louis Jordan. She was a pianist as well as a vocalist. Standard jive and jump tunes. Swing! Are you familiar with the song ‘Fine Brown Frame’? That’s the name of this drink. It’s built on a frame of bourbon.
I’m from Shreveport, originally. My family is from Natchitoches. I came to New Orleans in 1981 and moved here in ’84. I’m Scotch-Irish, French and Italian, a pretty classic Louisiana ethnic mix. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I might buy an apartment in Manhattan or Malibu, but I would still live here.
I became a bartender out of necessity. My wife was pregnant with our sixth child. My truck was broken so I couldn’t operate my landscaping business. That was at the beginning of the craft cocktail movement. I got interested and started doing drinks for banquets, weddings. Then I went to the Superdome and did special events. And then when you’re doing something you want to be good at it, so I started copying people who were good at it and got drawn into the story of it.
Alcohol is a central component of the human experience. I read a white paper by an MIT professor one time who suggested the reason human beings came together to live in communities was to produce alcohol. On the surface it sounds a bit silly; alcohol occurs randomly in nature, airborne yeast coming in contact with sugar, typically in the form of ripe fruit—we’ve all seen the videos of animals drunk in the wild—but in order to make alcohol you have to have more food than you can eat, and agriculture and water, right next to your waste. For centuries, West Europeans substituted low-grade alcohol for water [because it was safer to drink]. It’s only in the twentieth century that we’ve had water treatment. As former West Europeans, we were all drunk all the time.
Life in New Orleans was always uncertain. Given yellow fever, we could lose tens of thousands of people in giant waves. In our own lifetime—experiences with hurricanes and crime—we know life is precious and short. New Orleans has a long history of embracing today because tomorrow may not come. I love how I feel when I’m here. My wife and I opened Revel [on Carrollton Avenue by Canal Street] three months ago. Our son works here, and our son-in-law—who’s our son, too; he was my oldest son’s best friend and he and my oldest daughter are now husband and wife. We’re working from nine in the morning to one in the morning, and I don’t want to leave!”