Portraits from the Bar: The Vieux Carré

From on Dec 20, 2012

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Everyone he passed nodded to him in a certain way; you could tell this nattily dressed old man was someone of importance, a legend from the Quarter. I tried to catch a glimpse of his face as he walked briskly through Jackson Square but he was too far ahead of me, so I fell into step behind him, balancing my notebook in one hand and sketching him from the back. I followed him all the way up Chartres Street, and just as I approached the corner of St. Peters, a man leaned out of a bar, and said, ‘Hey, you're an artist– you must meet Rene!’ He summoned me into the workshop next door, where a young man was putting the final touches on a large painting. It was a beautiful collage of a horse and buggy in a wild storm of torn bits of burnt orange, yellow, and crimson tissue paper. I asked him whether he knew the old gentleman who had just passed his shop, “Sure, that's Lionel Batiste; he’s a famous drummer.”

I finally managed to catch up with Mr. Batiste at his favorite bar. His large drum case rested beside his bar stool. As we drank beer and looked out the window across Jackson Square, he told me he had lived in the French Quarter for over eighty years. I asked what it was like in the 1920's—how had it changed since he was a boy, guessing he would describe automobiles or pushcarts. Instead, Mr. Batiste replied: ‘Back then things were very different… people looked out for one another.’ He described how during the Depression their neighbors next door fell on hard times when the father lost his job. His mom made sure those kids got something to eat every day.

I spent a good part of the afternoon with “Uncle Lionel”, as he likes to be called. Just before taking leave, he asked me to hold his drum case while he gingerly stepped down from his bar stool. To my surprise it was light as a feather.

“What do you keep in your drum case?” I asked.

“It contains something of great importance!’ he replied with a mischievous grin.

And with that he tipped his hat and bid me farewell.

As I headed back along Chartres Street, raindrops began to hit my open sketch book, causing Mr. Batiste’s suit to bleed into a purple wash... gentle and faded, like life in the Vieux Carré.

(Sadly, Mr. Lionel Batiste, internationally renowned musician and singer from New Orleans, passed away this year at the age of 81. He will be sorely missed.)

Vieux Carré

3/4 oz. (25ml) Martel Cognac

3/4 oz. (25ml) Sazerac rye

3/4 oz. (25ml) Italian sweet vermouth

3 dashes Benedictine

Dash of Peychaud’s Bitters

Dash of Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters


Serve over ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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