Drunk patron at a Bourbon St. bar: “What’s the cheapest thing in here?”
Bartender: “You are, honey.”
Nighttime on Bourbon Street. (Photo: Lars Plougmann/Flickr)
So begins another night on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where it’s like Mardi Gras seven days of the week, all year long. Many tourists can’t remember much from their visit to this legendary party spot beyond a haze of beads, booze and boobs. But there are some people on Bourbon Street who do remember — the bartenders. I surveyed a number of them early one afternoon, before the debauchery began, to get their confessions on what it’s like working behind the counter in this party zone where almost anything goes.
How tough is it to tend bar on Bourbon Street?
“It’s not so bad, I mean people are generally here to just to have a good time, they’re happy. I like happy people. But then there’s the overnight shift…”
So people are less happy late at night?
“Here’s the thing: In New Orleans, we let the bars stay open late. We let people walk on the streets with their drink, as long as it’s not in a glass. The assumption is that everyone can act like an adult.”
Not so much, huh?
“It’s weird. Perfectly normal people come to town and act abnormal. They come here and try to be the person they wanted to be before, but never were. Like the class clown combined with a party animal and the leader of the pack.”
Big party, Big Easy. (Photo: Joel Carillet/iStock)
And then things get crazy?
“In New Orleans, you have to take it to another level to get called ‘crazy.’ I’ve seen countless, I mean countless (body part that rhymes with ‘cities’). It just doesn’t phase me anymore. I’m like ‘oh, you’re top’s off, great, you want to order another Coors Light?’”
But things sometimes really do get extra weird, right?
“Oh yes… A couple months ago we had two couples in the corner, probably in their 60’s, just getting hammered. Well, I guess one of the ladies’ favorite songs came on, and the two gals hopped up on the bar to start dancing. They dropped their skirts, dropped their panties, and kept on going. I mean that’s somebody’s grandmother! Stuff like that you just can’t un-see.”
Mixing drinks on Bourbon Street. (Photo: StockstudioX/iStock)
“And then there was the olive guy. Would come into my bar once a week, order stuffed olives for his drinks, but he had to see me stuff them. Would kind of moan when I did it. That’s Grade A creepy right there.”
“One thing I’d say was out-of-the-normal weird was the huge man in drag, wearing a rainbow tutu who was walking down Bourbon Street laying golden eggs. You don’t see that every night.”
How do you keep a handle on the craziness?
“Dealing with a Bourbon Street customer is sometimes like dealing with an infant. You have to pay them a lot of attention, try to figure out their unarticulated needs, and make sure they don’t pee on the floor. Give them a bottle to suck on, and they usually stay happy.”
A rowdy view from behind the bar. (Photo: John Rensten/The Image Bank/Getty Images)
“I just try to keep as peaceful a bar as possible. One way to get thrown out quickly is to be rude to the bartender. That’s usually a sign they’re going to be picking fights with other people in the bar, so we get them out pronto.”
Do you have to call the cops much?
“The cops?! Ha. We have a saying here that the New Orleans Police Department, ‘N.O.P.D.’, that stands for ‘Not Our Problem, Dude.’ We have bouncers and hire private firms for big nights. During Mardi Gras, they bring in the Corrections Officers, the prison guards from Angola. You do NOT want to f- around with those guys.”
Party on. (Photo: Richard Ricciardi/Flickr)
What’s your advice for a Bourbon Street visitor?
“Don’t get wasted. Those fruity drinks will catch up with you. And you really don’t want to know what we put in these flavored-alcohol slurpee dispensers.”
“Stay with your buddies. Don’t be one of those middle-aged drunk conventioneers I see wandering off alone with a sketchy woman. That guy usually wakes up a few hours later in an alley with no wallet and no phone. I see it happen all the time.”
“For all you crazy shouting people coming into the bar, look at me, I’m here. I’m a person, not some beer vending machine. Talk to me, treat me like an actual human being.”
“If you want to experience the real New Orleans, get off Bourbon Street, man.”
And one final tip?
“Tips for the visitor? Tip your bartender!”
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