Thursday, August 26, 2010

Remembering Those Abbey Days

I used to spend what now seems like days on end sitting in The Abbey, just drinking and talking. Sometimes discussing politics or the philosophy of the drunk, but most often we would sit around talking shit and forging lifelong bonds of friendship. This piece is dedicated to all those life long friendships that were forged sitting at The Abbey, especially to those dear souls who are no longer with us.

The Abbey will always remain one of my most favorite places in the world. I often think back to what it felt like to sit at that bar. I can still smell that distinct smell of The Abbey sometimes just lingering in my dreams. The smell of old, stale alcohol mixed with cigarettes and sometimes a little three day old funk. It smelled of wood, and wine, and why not. Characters floated in and out of the bar, leaving their impressions on the place sometimes as if they were fossils carved into the ancient wood.
The Abbey was always dark inside and often times night would pass to day, or day would pass to night, without notice from inside...and the door was always open with the refrigerator flaps hanging down in the heat to keep the cold air in. From the bar inside, the sun would shine brightly through the doors in the middle of the day, yet its radiance would not make a dent in the pervasive dark of the interior.
The dark wood all around stood old and ancient. The curved edge of the bar was smooth with the grease from a million fingers, and the wood had become soft to the touch from years of potent liquid and humidity. A stark contrast from the smooth and slick fake wood that created the center of the bar. I sometimes wonder how many Jamesons' sat in front of me, resting on that wood. I would not venture to count all the Jamesons' that were slammed back in that place.
Behind the bar, rested those ancient mirrors that were no longer clear and shiny, but they had faded to smokey and somewhat grey...perfect to see yourself not looking too bad at four in the morning. Bottles and bottles of liquor piled up on the ancient wooden shelves that reminded me more of an alter. Resting in its nooks and crannies were the ashes of those who had passed in our company. When you toast, just spill a tiny bit on the floor for them.
The stained glass windows hung from the ceiling dripping with dust and cobwebs, hauntingly reflecting the image of a church...a monastery, a monk, or something holy. The Abbey was something holy to all of us back in those days. Random little trinkets hid throughout the place that had once been important to a patron or bartender, images of life past and days gone by. Memories of Smitty and Hilda and Razz and Frankie, still peek out to say hello from time to time. They will never be forgotten.
The booths, smooth sanded, appear to be hand crafted with each line of the wood making its presence known. I remember exactly how the wood felt in my hands, organic and a little soft...oops I spilled another beer. A million drinks wiped up from those tables, but not before the potent liquid dripped onto the upholstered benches. What were those dirty old benches covered with anyway? It was so scratchy that it could feel like wool against your leg, especially in the heat, caked with years of dirt and grime and alcohol. Unless you were sitting on the wood in the back, in which case your ass would get hard and stiff after a length of time.
Speaking of a stiff ass, I remember the coveted bar stool with the back on it that would swivel around. A perfect round loop to rest your feet on as you could sway easily back and forth as it would rotate on a loose axis from years of drunks spinning just as I used to do. I am still unsure of how I could sit on that bar stool for hours because now as I get older, my back seems to hurt a few hours into the gig. It must have been the company that made me so comfortable I never noticed.
"Give me a tall blond and a short redhead, please."

Saturdays and Sundays we waited for the hot dogs and hamburgers to finish cooking, hoping to get a piece of chicken as we nursed our hangovers with a little hair of the dog. And holidays were like gathering times with family, as we all would show up to partake in the food and festivities. I even sometimes think I can still smell that crock pot steaming with cheap beer and water laden hot dogs.
The Abbey could claim the best juke box in the French Quarter, as far as I was concerned...but don't you dare play that damn Grateful Dead anytime other than on Saturday mornings when that prick Richard was there. God, I hated that fucking guy. I cannot remember how many times I wanted to kick his ass, but it was a lot. Play some Social Distortion, Johnny Cash, or Nancy Sinatra...but, please don't play the fucking Dead! (We all know if you did, the bartender would just eject the song, anyway...)
Who could mention The Abbey without mentioning Gracie and Genevieve...who will forever be renowned as her queens.... And that is all I need to say about that.
The bathrooms in The Abbey painted crazy to keep the graffiti to a pink and black random sponge designs on the ladies until it was repainted with murals. I spent a lot of time in those bathrooms at various times, and it seemed at night the line was always a mile long as everyone went in two by two. Sniff, sniff, snort, snort...don't forget to pee and wash your hands because you do not want to wait in that line again for those mundane things. Be careful in there in the daytime, though...Michael would kick you out for sharing the bathroom. He was a good man, though...a very good man.
I miss it all sometimes, as I grow up and get older. I miss those who have passed on from this world and those who have moved on from that one. We are all scattered all over the country now, but I still think of you all often. Those truly were some of the best days of my life.


  1. As a Parent of a 19 y.o. who has struggled with drugs and at this time may be sober may not, I certainly think he is trying....At any rate, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your posts. Sharing your thoughts help me, a lot. I am sure they help many other Parents as well.
    Thanks again,

  2. Having spent days of my life in southern bars; your description hits home quite well. I've been away from those same bars for 20 years or so now and they seem like dreams and mirages and the people like ghosts. I have been married for 20 plus year now to the woman I wowed in one of those bars and have four sons. It is all we can do to keep up with them now.

    Your writing is very strong. Keep it up!

  3. One question and I know this is a very strange one. A cousin of mine was living in NO before and after Katrina. He left for a short period to attend school elsewhere during the cleanup and then returned. Perhaps a year or two later he died alone in his apartment and wasn't found for a day or two. The circumstances were never revealed and his parents were real secretive. His name was Patrick Walthall. Any chance you knew him?

  4. @ Scott, I do not think that I knew your cousin. Although, I did not know the last names of many people, and I did know a few Patricks. I am sorry for your loss. I know it is even tougher when the circumstances are in question. Unfortunatly, you hear stories like this very often in New Orleans. I miss that city so much, but at the same time, I am so thankful to be in a situation now that is more stable and secure.

  5. Thanks for your note! I felt like it was a really bizarre question coming out of nowhere; so I understand any possible hesitation to answer. Actually, Patrick was my wife's cousin but I have known him since he was a snotty little kid. Pat was more than 6 1/2 feet tall, big as a bear, with the sweetest baby face and he liked to party. He went down to NOLA to get away from some trouble in VA and found a life good for him there. His girlfriend had moved to Pensacola to go to school and soon after that they found him alone with his dog, Tank. I know we'll never know what happened.
    As to NOLA, I've visited there a couple of times before marriage and after. It is a great town with an intoxicating feel like no other american city. I live in Germany now so for a similar feel, we go to France; specifically Paris to get our "fix". Savannah had it too, sort of, but nothing like the real thing. Understand your situation very well. I don't regret a thing about my partying days but wouldn't go back to the chaos and dishonesty of those days for a million bucks.
    Once again, you have a really great talent for capturing the feel of a moment and experience and projecting that through your writing to the reader. I couldn't find the blog to re-read but the one where you keep repeating "come inside and sit a while" and then go on to describe the interior of this bar/club with such luxurius appointments. Your writing in that piece alludes to, in the most subtle way, the decay and wear, that exists in this luxurious surrounding on the periphery, under the surface, that you don't quite notice because you are so taken in by the grandness of every thing else - but yet it is ready to wrap itself around you and strangle you at a moments notice. Really great allusion to how heroin is/can be. Stable and secure may not be glamorous and exciting but it has a durability and shine that only grows stronger and better as time moves on; far longer than any luxurious facade could ever hope to sustain.