By Evans Powell
It has been said that during the 1950s New Orleans had more bars per capita than any city in America. They were needed to support the four local breweries — Jax, Regal, Falstaff and Dixie.
My local “Cheers” was called Fees. It was located two blocks off St. Charles Avenue on Garfield and Joseph. Our house was next door. Bob Fee had died before I arrived in town, but Mrs. Fee still ran the bar and lived upstairs with her mother. She made sandwiches for the noon trade but never came down at night. The building was old, and the floor was wooden, with a few tables, a jukebox and bar stools.
The bartender was a red- haired Irish man, appropriately called “Red.” He worked for $20 per week, plus food and drinks. A probably alcoholic, he died of cirrhosis at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in the early 1960s.
The patrons of the bar were a mixed bunch. We had college students, lonely, socially inhibited bachelors, morose drunks playing the same tune over and over on the juke box and strangers, who occasionally popped in out of nowhere, frequently to never return. Mr. Manson, who owned the TV shop across the street, was a regular, as was I.
Because Fees was only two blocks off St. Charles Avenue, we also had frequent visits from some of New Orleans’ more prominent citizens. The doorman of the Louisiana Senate was a frequent visitor, as was a prominent surgeon who I worked with at Touro. He came often, especially when his wife was out of town.
There was no indoor men’s restroom. Men went out the back door, down a short walkway to a urinal outdoors, which was covered by a tin roof. This area was not 12 feet from my grandmother’s bedroom. It got quite noisy when two or three men were standing out there talking loudly, as drinkers do. They never knew that people were listening to them.
As a medical student, I used to study until 10:30 or 11 p.m. and then run next door for a beer before closing at midnight.
I remember one night a prominent New Orleanian, slightly inebriated, came into the bar while I was there. We got to talking and, since he was buying my beer for 25 cents each, I was a willing listener. It seems as though he had been In the Quarter and spotted “quail,” the nickname given to ladies of the evening. He had taken off his wedding ring and now couldn’t find it and was afraid to go home without it. I thought for a minute and suggested he look in his back left pocket. Lo and behold, there it was. Nothing would do but he took me out to a late dinner at a fancy restaurant.
Fees has probably been closed for close to 50 years and, with it, a way of life. Most of the breweries have also closed . Many of the neighborhood bars have faded into memory also.
I, for one, will always miss them.
Evans Powell is a physician who attended Tulane University and Medical School in the 1950s. He now lives in California, but recalls his days in New Orleans with fondness. “I Remember New Orleans” is an occasional series about memories of people, places and events in the Big Easy.