I first met Anthony Bourdain at a shitty little bar in Jaques-Imos in New Orleans back in 2008.
Don’t get me wrong. The food is the best in the city there but the bar is a joke. Jaques-Imos was a converted residential double barrel shotgun home and the bar was in the tiny old living room right when you walked in.
We were early for our reservation so I walked over to the six seated bar and Bourdain was sitting by himself.
The rest of the bar was empty. The cranky asshole at the end had cleared it out. I was the only guy in the group that wanted a drink and I had walked over alone. I ordered a Pappy VanWinkle straight up room temp. Still didn’t notice who Bourdain was.
A Chance Encounter
“Excellent choice”, he said, without making eye contact.
“ll take one too.”
I still didn’t recognize him yet. The bartender whispers to me “Are you paying for Mr. Bourdain’s drink too?”
I looked back over at the sad man face down in his bourbon and realized it was, in fact, Anthony Bourdain. I said ‘sure’ and took a seat but he still didn’t look up.
He sat there waiting for me to say something stupid but I didn’t fall for it. I sipped my Pappy and ordered another round before he had even touched the first one.
This guy looked like he could use a friend. He didn’t look like he wanted one but I was going to force it on him.
Now we’re talking.
“I was waiting for you to say something retarded after the bartender told you who I was. I was literally sitting here counting to see if you’d make it 60 seconds,” Bourdain said, but still didn’t make eye contact. “Being from New England I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Counting to 60 Seconds
He was sober at this point. He was a miserable prick when he was sober. So we made him not sober. The rest of my group sat down and ate but I stayed at the bar with the sad man.
We killed the bottle of Pappy. I still have that bottle today.
He went from being a miserable bastard to manageable drunk after a few drinks. By the end of the bottle he was talking to everyone and everything. He was friends with Jaques, the owner. and Jaques kept coming over to check on him.
I had just moved to New Orleans, but I had been frequenting Jaques-Imos and Crabby Jacks, his other joint, a few times a weeks. Jaques was friendly, but consumed by keeping Anthony happy that night.
When the bottle was empty and the bar was closing we hit the streets. We were down to the staff and the destitutes. But Bourdain wouldn’t call it a night. His cries for ‘More Pappy’ turned into a hunt for cocaine. He wanted more. More of anything really.
A passerby recognized him and kept the party going. A fat rich Texan with money to blow was trying to drag Anthony to a casino all expenses paid, but a homeless guy had directed him to a place where he could find blow.
He said goodbye to the Texan and five of us started the long walk to Ms Maes 24 hour bar. It was on the other fucking side of town.
Of course, there were no cabs. There was no such thing as Uber back in 2008. A cab would have been the way to go, but he wanted to walk. My house was half the way to Ms. Maes, and like many New Orleans residents, I took a cab to Jaques-Imos that night. As we turned the corner onto St. Charles, I tried to make a French Exit (aka Irish goodbye…but we were in New Orleans…come on now) and he caught me.
Anthony grabbed my arm and asked where I was going. I said home. He said ‘No way. You’re one of the only people I can stomach right now and one of the only New Englanders I haven’t wanted to punch in the face five seconds after meeting them.’ I said I had responsibilities at home and work in the morning. He scoffed and kept walking.
A Walk of Comradery
I got about thirty feet away and he turned around and said “When you go home tell New England I said to suck my fucking cock”.
It was obvious even then. Bourdain was carrying the weight of his youth on his shoulders. So I said ‘Will do’ and that was the last I saw of him as he walked to one of the dirtiest dives with the kitchen staff to find coke at 2 in the morning.
Years passed and I kept the bottle. I was in New York in 2010 and I saw him sitting at a shitty hipster bar in Williamsburg. Again, he was alone. I took the spot next to him and said to the bartender ‘ A shot of Pappy for the miserable asshole at the end’.
He looked up and made eye contact. That was big. It was something he didn’t do once when I met him in New Orleans. He stared at me for a good ten seconds before saying anything.
I was waiting for the ‘hey I know you’ but it never came. He took the drink and got up to walk away. He looked back but still didn’t say anything.
A Second Meeting
I went about my business and when I was leaving I went to settle my tab. He paid it. He left me the option to leave a tip but he paid the tab and he wrote on the bill. “I’m still waiting for New England to suck my fucking cock.”
At that point in my life I was writing a lot. I had just finished my third novel and was trying to find a publisher. I never mentioned it to him.
I never asked him about the shows or his writing. All I did was keep the man company and talk about life. That was all he needed and it was more than obvious. I found out later that he was with his wife that night in New York. If he wasn’t then this story may have been a little longer if written at all.
In New Orleans he knew that I knew. It didn’t need to be said. He was an alcoholic selfish prick and he hated himself for it. He also knew that I wasn’t yet. Crass hard-hitting writers with nothing else in common that met and never talked about the writing. It didn’t need to be said. We could smell that connection.
I think deep down during those six hours we drank together in New Orleans he said to himself, “This guy isn’t me yet.”
Seflish or Selfless?
That’s the feeling I got. He was trying to save me from becoming him.
When we were outside Jaques-Imos that night and someone offered us a bump of coke he took his and then said “I’ll take his too’ as he stepped in front of me.”
Selfish prick? Or was he trying to knock me off the path he had taken?
Anthony, I am sorry that you took the selfish bastard’s way out but to be honest. I had the feeling that you would go out that way since the first five minutes I met him.
It’s really sad when this happens and people say ‘but we were so close and he was so happy.’ Yes you knew him well but you never saw him. You never saw him for who he had become.
All I can say is Thank you for your life Anthony. And New England’s not sucking shit you miserable bastard.