A window seat at Markey’s, the one that looks through the old wooden doors onto the corner of Louisa and Royal streets. It’s as good a place as any to start an anthology of the bars of New Orleans. Markey’s is a timeless Bywater bar, one of the oldest still in existence. There’s nothing flashy about the inside and never really gets decorated. It’s all old, darkly stained wood, comfortable wooden seats, too many televisions, two video poker machines, shuffleboard, pool and darts, all in a space not much bigger than a two-bedroom apartment.
There’s a framed black and white photo of Michael Markey above the bar. Old yats like Jimmy Jones who runs a ninth ward machine shop will tell you about how the handsome Irishman used to serve blacks liquor and food through the side window. Pete Smith, the old hippie carpenter I used to work with says that both Markey’s and Parasol’s in the Irish Channel started serving women and blacks in the mid 80’s (“what would I want to go to a bar for if it didn’t have women and black people in it?” He would ask me).
These days the only thing Irish about Markey’s is the Pogues on the jukebox. Generations change but it’s still the same working-class white demographic. Today it’s a mix of young hip service industry workers from the neighborhood and carpenters in sleeveless t-shirts, their girlfriends in feathered hair and sweat pants with their brastraps showing. It’s not as flashy as Mimi’s, not as underground cool as the Saturn, not as definitively ninth ward, or as depressing, as BJ’s or Vaughns.
There’s still no black people, but El Markey’s is the first newly Hispanic bar that I have encountered in post-Katrina New Orleans. I don’t know how it happened but one day I came in and three Hispanic construction workers were sitting there drinking beer and bartenders and waiters were chatting in simple Spanish. So I go in and order an Abitita, the half-pint, and the short girl with the dark brown hair asks me if I want a little boy drink or a man-sized drink.
The jukebox is much of the reason that many of us go to Markey’s, and when it was down I never spent more than twenty minutes there. The music reflects the clientele- defiantly not as hip as Pal’s or the Saint uptown. Dylan, the Stones, David Bowie, even a Jimmy Buffet CD (incidentally, locals who work in the service industry do not play Jimmy Buffet. Not only is it shitty music, but Buffet’s French Quarter restaurant, Margaritaville, is well known. Buffet pretends to be an old, simple sailor when in fact he is a abusive, neurotic capitalist pig.) There’s Flogging Mollys in there as well, and Old 97’s, as well as some New Orleans stuff- Professor Longhair, a mix CD with some Irma Thomas. Track 47-12 is Guitar Slim doing “Things that I used to Do” which was redone in the late 90’s by G-Love, and not nearly as well. And of course Louis Prima, our homegrown Sinatra, who said in an interview about a decade ago that David Lee Roth never paid him for his remake of “Just a Gigolo”. Typical New Orleans music story.
The bartenders at Markey’s have one unifying feature- they don’t talk much. They manage a pleasantness without being obtrusive. Every bar has its particular culture of bartenders, and Markey’s is marked by both a terseness but also a longevity. Many bartenders have been there since I first started coming in 2003, which for the turnover of service industry workers in this town is remarkable.
Linnzi Zaorski is still my favorite, though she has been gone for years. Now that I know her from outside the bar, I can’t say that I like her as well. She’s beautiful, young, and ambitious, and that can ruin just about anyone. But as a bartender she was magnificent. She had this quizzical smile, this way of taking nothing and nobody seriously, this gentle contempt for the world that was strangely endearing. She always had somewhere better to be and knew it, and handled that with grace. Linnzi is on the jukebox as well, though I’ve never heard anyone play her but me and that was out of nostalgia more than anything.
Nick Moon is still around, smiling with his model good looks. My friend Leenie says that isn’t his real name, that Nick Moon is the name of a famous Baltimore bartender. He’s the quietest one of all. I knew him for about a year before I ever exchanged more than two words with him. There’s something utterly opaque about him. He wipes down the glasses, turns and smiles, a clean polished surface that leaves no room for any inquiry. He looks like a TV star, and I used to wonder what his game was. I don’t anymore. There’s a beautiful kind on interaction that you can have with someone who you don’t have to talk to, but can just be present for.
Perhaps now he is the Nick Moon, perhaps Nick Moon is the immortal bartender, the Long John Silver of the bar world.
There are others- Lisa now works at Mimi’s, but the new girl with the dark hair and sweetly sarcastic comments will be here for a while. I can just tell.
The truth is that Markey’s is a fairly dry and boring place, but so many of our adult pleasures are. Let’s face it- for flavor most of us prefer something sweeter than beer, and cigarettes don’t really taste good at all. So how did we end up here?
I can’t answer that. I’m not sure that I know. What I do know is that night after night we come here. The other day I was talking telling a friend I was headed home and I realized that what I really meant was Markey’s. It’s an anchor- I’ve had three apartments now in the neighborhood, and I can’t really imagine being able to keep one permanently. I don’t think I’m the only one these days without a sense of much permanence in living arrangements. But good, bad, indifferent, and even boring and regressive, Markey’s will still be here.