QUARTER STORIES 4—BARTENDER DEBUT

Mardi Gras, 1979: Clyde, Al and I began walking up to Lafitte’s. Clyde started talking about Louie Hartfield and his lover Steve, “Now Louie will be staying at the house with us cause he’s been having some trouble with Steve. Steve now manages Lafitte’s, both the Café downstairs bar, and the Corral upstairs bar. The Corral had always been Louie’s bar, but then Louie suddenly departed for another venue.”

I leaned into Al and said “What does that mean?” Clyde heard me and replied, “It means HE QUIT! Just left! And Jewels grabbled him to come work on Decatur.” I thought to myself, I really need to learn how these guys talk down here. Clyde continued “you’ll meet Steve tonight, he’ll be your boss. He and Louie kinda look alike,” Clyde said “except for one big difference. Louie’s got a big ol’ horse cock on him, and Steve still wants it and Louie knows it.” Al busted out laughing.

Lafitte’s in Exile

We had arrived at Lafitte’s. It was old and dark inside with a big fireplace towards the back wall and near the side of an oblong bar, made of cypress planks, with a burlap skirt around it. Clyde said the bar top was polished by the arms and hands of 40 years of queer men rubbin’ and cruising on it. Looked shiny to me. There were already a lot of guys around the bar. They looked hot and sexy, moustached, jeans-and-boots kinda guys and they were partying already. One of the managers, Jeff Beauregard came over and Clyde introduced him to me and Al.

Jeff was a Cajun, bearded, dark haired man with a handsome face, hairy chest and blue eyes. He was very polite and said “So this is who Clyde has sent down for an interview?” Interview I thought to myself? I thought I already had the job! I had to interview?!? “C’mon back with me,” Jeff said and I followed him, in past the fireplace through the back door. Once through that door, there was a small alleyway, then we entered another building. The bartenders’ count out room was here. The room had a long L-shaped counter. Jeff and I sat on barstools. He was hot.

“So Clyde says you’d like to work here over the Mardi Gras weekend? “ he said. “You ready to start working as soon as possible?” “I guess so,” I replied. “Good, we have some changes going on right now I don’t want to get into, but let’s have you come in tomorrow night, start you first at the Corral Bar upstairs. Come in about nine o’clock. Okay?” “Okay,” I replied. And that was it, and we went back out front. Jeff hung back by the fireplace and I went back to the bar with the guys.

Clyde and Al were all over each other laughing and carrying on and getting into the Mardi Gras groove. The music in the bar was great. Clyde said, “Well boy, you get the job?” “I guess so,” I said. Clyde bellowed “YOU GUESS SO?” What do you mean ‘you guess so’? You git it or not?!?”

“Well,” I replied, “he told me to come back tomorrow night at eight so I guess I did.” Clyde was all up on this now and off his barstool, standing up looking down at me. “Well, you get your California ass back over to Jeff right by the fireplace now, and you say to him thank you, Mr. Beauregard, for this job, I appreciate it very much! Now go on!” I was so stunned at him directing me like that and I felt like an ass, so I did what I was told.

I went over to the fireplace and said, “Umm Mr. Beauregard? I want to thank you for giving me this chance to work here. I really appreciate it!” I wondered if he’d go after me like Clyde had done. He smiled real warm. “Of course Bobby, I can tell, if you’re with those two over there, you’ll do fine and we’ll be glad to have you.” He smiled as he said it and looked me in the eyes with a twinkle. I smiled back. He was kinda flirting. No harm in that at all. I twinkled back.

I went back over to Clyde and Al who were kind of glaring at me and I puffed myself up and said loud, “Why, Mr. Webb and Mr. Vorse, I want to thank you from my Calfornia ass for bringing me here and I’ll thank whoever this bartender is, I’d greatly thank him for a fucking shot about now.” And I bowed. Clyde roared and grabbed me and he put me up on his lap on the bar stool and kissed my neck in a wrestling sorta way. And I was in. We all started to kick off my new job.

I was there at 8pm that Thursday night of Mardi Gras. You could feel something was in the air, but it hadn’t yet hit the bar. We weren’t that busy. Steve the manager was in the office. I was very early. He barely looked at me. Finally he realized I was there to work the upstairs bar and said “Dan is going to train you, Here, take this,” he said, handing me a big metal box. “Go up and put the cash in the register and work a bit with the other bartenders.” “Ok!” I replied and took it on up.

I’d heard about the Corral. So this is what had been Louie Hartfield’s bar. The bartender upstairs was surprised to see me and showed me how to get into the register and trained me how to use it, and how the soda gun and the buttons on it worked. I got some ice and he showed me the plastic cups and the beer and how we opened the beer tabs for our customers and placed them in front of them. I was impressed. He said, “Two handed, all the time! Second line…” “What’s that?” I asked. He looked at me, “the guys behind the first line—you always be making something” He was fast. It was getting to nine. “You ready?” he said. “I guess” I replied. Fuck, I thought. Is that all I can say? So I added “You bet!’ He showed me how to clear the register, zeroing it out, grabbed his cash drawer and was gone. I was on my own.

It was now way past nine. There was no Dan showing up to train me. It was just guys ready to party at the bar and they wanted the music turned up. I found the volume knob, turned it up, and turned the lights down for ‘em too. Then the next thing I knew i was getting swamped with customers reaching over the bar and grabbing me. By 10 o’clock it took all I could do just to keep my head down, and pour cocktails, open beer and ring up as fast as possible. I couldn’t move from the register and jockey box to even look around the bar—it was already packed.

I was so in the weeds, I was sweating and reaching and pouring and stuffing the cash all over in the drawer of the register. Guys were putting dollars in my pants, grabbing my crotch and ass. Then suddenly I saw Steve crawl under some guys and up to the bar. “Keep going, don’t even look at me! I don’t know what the fuck happened to Dan, but you’re handling this just fine! I’ll get some more ice, some vodka, and more cups and limes. I’ll get you a barback!” he yelled over the crowd at me and he was gone. I was alone. I was wearing jeans, no belt, black boots and black shirt. But by that time the shirt was gone. I was working hard, sweating, and drinks and shots got my pants wet and they started slipping down my butt. I’d tease the guys who were trying to grab my belt loops by standing back just outta their reach. They would sometimes be grabbing the air. I was losing that battle so I gave up and just let ‘em have at me as long as I could work. They were throwing money and beads and dubloons at me. When they did shots they threw the remains of the booze at me, getting me all sticky and then’d ask for a taste, telling me they were gonna do all sorts of things to me. I had no doubt they would have.

Dan showed up about eleven, thinking the crowd wouldn’t be in there but they sure were—and Steve was pissed. They put a barback with me and sent Dan home. He was fired the next day. I worked non-stop the rest of the night. My hands were raw from squeezing limes and cut from opening beer cans. This was the wildest bar I’d ever been in. Guys were shirtless and pantless and going at it and I just did my job—and handled it—loving it. No more fucking “I guess” for me. “Yes sir! I could do this!”

Our House at 1132 Bourbon Street

Around 4 am, it slowed down, so they let me off to come down to the back room and count out my money. It was late and I had an overflowing bucket of tips, I’d rung over $1250 in sales for my shift, which was high considering it was my first night. I didn’t know what the hell to expect. Beer was $1.10 and drinks were $1.50 and these were inflated Mardi Gras prices. I about collapsed on the bar stool. I’d been there eight hours. I had to balance the bank with my register tape before I could count out my tips. When I was done, by rough count, I’d made nearly $400 in tips! I couldn’t believe it! I stuffed my pants so full of coins and bills and I went out, no shirt and had a couple shots and chatted up a cute blonde. The downstairs bartenders did shots with me, hugging and grabbing me, and then started talking gossip about the Ayatollah and the Shah. “Who the hell are you talking about?” I asked. “You were just with the Ayatollah in the back, and you ought to meet the Shah over at Jewels.” they replied. I was starting to get some of this but could only get out a “See y’all tomorrow!” They gave me a shirt to walk down the street in and were yelling at me as I left.

I was out of the double doors and down to 1132 Bourbon Street It was around 5am by then., and I entered the gate and crawled up to my room, took off my boots and socks and jeans and crawled into bed next to Al. “Take a shower, you smell like the bar!” Al muttered at me. I stood under that hot water and it relaxed me so much. I was sore, but it hurt nothing like it would when I woke up cause I hadn’t used those muscles in a while. My boots had given me blisters on my feet and my hands had cuts and bruises but I felt alive. Strong. On Bourbon Street. Got back in bed and Al rubbed my shoulders and back. I was snoring before he finished.

This story is part of a multi-storied book I am writing about my life in New Orleans in the late ’70s and ’80s—BY

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