Bars I’ve loved

batey
El Batey these days.

I WENT ON the wagon in 1996, but I once was a drinking man. Not a falling-down drunk, but a constant imbiber.

Every day. Without fail. For 25 years.

Not recommended. It affects relationships.

No matter. Some bars I have loved. In a recent post, I mentioned that a bartender who served me in the 1970s in New Orleans is a part-time resident here on my mountaintop.

It was one of the bars I loved. The Abbey.

My most beloved bar of all — El Batey — was in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Recently I did an internet search, wondering if El Batey still existed, and it surely does.

It’s now the oldest bar in Old San Juan, and it has its own Facebook page. But what business doesn’t?

El Batey has changed a lot over the years, but outside more than inside where the only alternations seem to be more wall graffiti. Here is a current exterior shot, just below, and a photo from when I drank there, farther below.

batey-outside-now
Today.

Note the street surface in the photo to the left. It’s blue stone that Spaniards brought to the New World as ballast in sailing ships.

So it’s said.

It was recycled into cobblestones in what is now Old San Juan, which is San Juan’s version of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

You don’t encounter blue streets very often, and they take on a particularly lovely cast when slicked with raindrops.

When I moved to San Juan the first time in the early 1970s — I was there twice, once for five months and a second stint of 11 months — I had a black BSA motorcycle shipped down from New Orleans in the hold of a Sealand freighter.

old-days
When I drank there.

A decade ago I wrote El Morro Sunrise about a late night in El Batey while the black BSA leaned on the cobblestones.

My two spells in San Juan were separated only by a year or so. When I returned for the final time I brought a record from New Orleans. It was one of Jimmy Buffett’s lesser-known ditties, titled Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?

The owner put it on the jukebox.

El Batey was owned by Davey Jones. In the early years, while I was there, he had a business partner named Norman, a spectacularly delightful man.

My second ex-wife and I visited Puerto Rico in the early 1990s, about 20 years after I lived there, and the only time I’ve returned. We went to El Batey, and Jones told me that Norman had died. Far too young.

norman
Norman
jones
Davey

If memory serves, Davey was one of those mail-order ministers with the legal right to perform marriages.

I was smitten at the time with an Argentine floozy who’d overstayed her visa. I decided to marry her so she could stay in San Juan, and Davey agreed to perform the ceremony. But it never happened, thank God.

Which is why you shouldn’t drink, boys and girls.

During that 1990s visit, I checked the jukebox for my Jimmy Buffett record, but it was not there.

One of Davey’s daughters, Maria, told me on Facebook that he died last year. He was in his early 80s. R.I.P.

* * * *

The Abbey

abbey

Both fore and aft of my times in San Juan, I favored a bar on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, a city where I lived off and on — mostly on — for 18 years.

For a time after my first divorce, my ex-wife tended bar there, and it’s where she met her second husband, the guy who jumped bond on a marijuana charge and hightailed it to Canada with my ex-wife and my daughter.

The Mounties nabbed them three years later, and they were returned to New Orleans where everything eventually got straightened out, and both ex-wife, second husband and daughter are now upstanding citizens.

The Abbey is one of a handful of New Orleans bars that never close, a characteristic that suited me wonderfully.

On Sundays, back when I was a patron, the owner laid out a spectacular free spread of snacks that negated your having to buy your own main meal that day.

Between the two, I favored El Batey, but I’ve spent far more nights in The Abbey.

If you stumble out of The Abbey at dawn, lurch right a couple of blocks to Jackson Square, look left and you’ll see the levee that holds back the Mighty Mississippi.

You’ll spot freighters passing above the levee’s crest because the river is higher than the city.

It’s like watching ships sailing in the sky.

* * * *

(Note: El Batey is a plaza for community events, a word that comes from the Caribbean Taino people.)

 

16 thoughts on “Bars I’ve loved”

  1. I enjoyed reading that a lot, Felipe. I haven’t been to San Juan or to New Orleans but I’d love to visit both and, being a drinker, I will visit the bars you mention if and when I make it. Thanks also for the links to El Morro Sunrise and the Jimmy Buffett song, enjoyed them as well as I sit icing my swollen ankle and drinking a can of Tecate this Sunday afternoon. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind feedback, Señor Davies. Both San Juan and New Orleans are boozers’ paradises, so I was very happy during the years I spent in them. New Orleans is unlike any other major city in the United States.

      My sympathy for the swollen ankle. I wish you a speedy recovery. The Tecate should help for sure. Bottoms up!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. P.S.: You may have noticed a line in the Buffett song that goes something like this: “They say you’re a stump queen, but I don’t think that’s true.” For a long time I didn’t know what that means. Turns out that stump queen refers to a woman in a bar who just sits on the stool (stump), and you can’t make any headway with.

      And now you know.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I frequented and lived in New Orleans a lot of times. It was one of my favorite places, that and San Antonio. I think they both have their own style and atmosphere. I went to the Mardi Gras many times also, to work selling souvenirs. I noticed many bars didn’t have front doors. Why? Because they never closed, 24-7.

    I went to a lot of bars. You have to in order to do business in the Crescent City. Can’t recall too many names except one on St. Charles Street … Tommy’s Town Lounge. I heard Tommy passed away a few years ago. Just as well … he pulled a gun on me and a friend. We were working the King Tut Exhibit at the park and went to the bar for a beer one night. My buddy ordered a beer and went to shoot some pool. Two pansies came in and sat at the bar. They started French kissing each other. One of them reached over and got my friend’s beer and took a swig. He saw it and yelled get your hands off my beer, you faggot! An argument ensued. Pansy #2 lisped at me. My friend doesn’t like being called a faggot. I told him, I don’t know what else to call two guys French kissing. My friend had a length of chain in his back pocket and reached for it. Pansy #1 started yelling, He’s got a knife! That’s when Tommy pulled a .45 out from under the cash register and said get outta my bar. I told my friend, forget it. It’s not worth getting shot over, and we left.

    Man! I saw all kinds of weird things in that town. I lived out in Metairie and sold Mexican imports off of an empty lot out there.

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    1. Señor Mystic: About all I can say to your story is that you definitely don’t want to have a lisping pansy drinking your beer. Same goes for a straight-talking azalea or a palm of any stripe. How did those plants get in the bar anyway?

      It’s also not a good idea to hang out with guys who carry chains in their pockets.

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    2. More tall tales from N’awlins…
      making the Mardis Gras with my partner, had a hard time finding a hotel. Everything was packed and charging double the price. Finally found a beat-up motel in Metairie, checked in, the walls were plasterboard and someone had punched a couple of holes through them with their fist. My partner went to take a shower and came out cursing. Damn water’s ice cold. He stormed out to the front desk to complain. A few moments later he returned, visually shaken. He said, to hell with it, the guy at the front desk pulled a shotgun out and said, keep making trouble and i’ll blow your head off.

      Later we heard that the Mafia owned the joint.

      Mardi Gras ended, and we left town two months later. We were in a hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, and my partner was watching the news and said, Hey check this out. It was the motel we had stayed at in N.O. Jimmy Swaggart was filmed coming out of it with a hooker. Wow! We got to stay at the same motel where the famous religious leaders stayed. I bet if they shined one of those blue lights in the room like they use to search for body fluids on NCIS, the whole place would glow.

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      1. Señor Mystic: You’re a funny fellow. Were you into the tequila yesterday afternoon and the middle of the night when you wrote the comments?

        So, the same motel as the infamous Jimmy Swaggart. And if you were in New Orleans during the King Tut exhibit, we were there at the same time. Perhaps we passed in the street.

        Now go take a couple of aspirin, and drink lots of water. You’ll feel better by this afternoon.

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  3. During your last trip visiting the El Batey did you notice a signed picture Of Prez Ronald Reagan on the wall behind the bar?

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        1. Smokesilver: I think you saw Ronnie Reagan in some other watering hole.

          I looked through all the photos on El Batey’s Facebook page and was surprised to see that some of the framed caricatures that were hanging on the walls 40 years ago are still there. That of Norman and my friend Luis Muñoz Lee come to mind.

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  4. When I lived in Lafitte, La., in the ’70s I had a lot of work in New Orleans. I was on expense account. I particularly liked the brass bar in the Monteleone Hotel. The last drink I had at a bar in New Orleans was 1997 and it was on my own dime. It was a martini with house gin. It cost $7.00 which ruined my thirst. I still enjoy a tequila, but not in a bar.

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    1. Carlos: I’m quite familiar with that bar in the Monteleone Hotel. Not because I imbibed there because I never did. I worked at the hotel’s Front Desk for a spell during one of my many incarnations.

      Martinis are good. I love martinis.

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  5. Ah, Naw’lins. A beautiful city and a beautiful “food-booze landscape.” Did you ever wind up at the Dungeon? Where the evening/late shift bartenders and waitresses wound up for their happy hour?

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    1. Scott: Yes, the town is a perfect place for someone who is not on the wagon. I absolutely loved it.

      Never heard of the Dungeon. Might be after my time. I left there over 30 years ago.

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