Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Between St. Roch and a Hard Place

Please hit the "like" button on our Friends of St. Roch Tavern Facebook page and write a comment of support. We'd be much obliged.

Neighbors. Seems I've been writing about neighbors one way or another for a little while now. I've always told people that I've never met friendlier people than reside here in New Orleans. Lately though I've found some anomalies in the tapestry of friendliness and neighborliness.

I remember someone telling me a story about a person who had moved into the French Quarter, a lifelong dream. It wasn't Bourbon Street, I can't remember exactly where, Dauphine or Burgundy Street perhaps, at any rate off the tourist path for the most part. After a little while they started complaining about the bar across the street, a bar that had been there for decades catering mostly to locals. I couldn't help but wonder upon hearing that story, if somewhere between the “hey this place has good closet space” and “I'll sign the lease” they really hadn't noticed that they were moving in across from a bar. Just didn't see it? I guess it's possible, unlikely, but possible. Now having moved there they wanted the bar to change its ways, quiet down, stop people from talking outside just by virtue of their entitled ass having moved in there. I was incensed when I heard that story.

When we moved into a house near a 24 hour market, we knew it was there and signed the lease anyway. The market has been here longer than we've been in the house, not decades, but longer than we have. We knew it was there when we moved in. We knew it was open 24 hours. We don't now get to get pissy and ask that they close at ten. We made the choice, as did the French Quarter resident. There seems to be a spate of whininess on the part of people in neighborhoods that they chose to move into, probably making that choice BECAUSE of the very things they now complain about. These neighbors seem to be multiplying. But that's a story for another day.

The neighbors in this story are different. They seem to be pursuing some sort of vendetta.

On the corner of St. Roch and Marais you will find the St. Roch Tavern. For those of you familiar with Buffa's on Esplanade, I've always been sure that the St. Roch was designed and/or built by the same bunch as they both sport unique windows that remind me of submarine ports, not that I've actually seen a submarine port. Long ovals, atypical design for windows in the areas surrounding both places. One day I'll verify my theory. But this isn't about architecture interesting though that may be. That too is a story for another day. This is about neighbors and livelihoods and gathering places.

Opening in the 1930's, Caranek's (which can still be found in a browser search, sometimes called Caranek's Ale House) was a neighborhood tavern. Operated by the family for nearly 70 years, it has always been a tavern. A local watering hole. A gathering place. Nine years ago the Caranek family sold it (I heard that one of the last of the Caranek owners recently passed away at the age of 84 meaning that that particular Caranek traipsed through those doors at about 4 years old. Remarkable.) About nine years ago the Caranek's sold it, but their name is still embedded in the tiles on the step and in the back of the place near the pool table.

Having worked in casinos and eventually construction, John Victorson decided after spending a few days working underneath a house trying to avoid a large population of spiders that there had to be a better way to make a living. He bought the business, which by then had been renamed the St. Roch Tavern. While he might find a spider here or there behind the bar, most of the spiders he'd see now would be people in costumes with eight limbs. That sounded good to him and he happily threw himself into running the St. Roch. He also felt strong ties to the past and prided himself on keeping the neighborhood character of the place intact.

At the St. Roch on any given night, there is an interesting population of patrons: maybe some young black men playing pool being watched by young white Goth'd out kids sharing a pitcher and a hot dog, while an elderly lady plays the poker machines. Performers, musicians, little old ladies on a pension, skinny 21st century punks with puppets or puppies (used to be able to take your dog in there—no more, and that's too bad), a tall black man who suddenly turns around and belts out a song with pipes reminiscent of Sam Cooke, filmmakers, a large lady who hollers Who Dat and hugs you for every touch down the Saints make, poets and artists, sometimes one and the same person, will give impromptu readings of poems just now scribbled down on a napkin.

Along with that diverse group, occasionally the likes of Dr. John, Deacon John, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, and others will show up, maybe do a set, maybe be there in support of a friend. That old piano in there has been played by many hands. Hands filled with talent, hands with no talent at all, drunken hands, awkward hands, and I-can-still-play-chopsticks hands. I'll have to ask if it's original to the place. It might well be.

In the last 18 months or so, St. Roch Tavern has been the target of a concerted effort to harass the bar itself and its customers. Launched by a neighbor, who in fact used to work there, it has become a purposeful, obsessive attack which has spilled out on occasion to the neutral ground. While there hasn't been a ticket for anything written inside or outside the St. Roch in four years, according to one of the bartenders there, the police have been called over petty complaints repeatedly by this neighbor. The City Council person, Kristin Gisleson Palmer, has also gotten complaints. Formerly a partner in the food concern at St. Roch (not an employee, the food suppliers are separate business entities), this neighbor is on constant alert from reports I've heard. Evidently this guy and his domestic partner's sole purpose is to get the St. Roch Tavern shut down. (Who they'll harass if that happens I don't know, but it has become clear that these people are folks who need to have someone in the crosshairs in order to be happy.)

The constant harassment has taken some dark turns, reports of customers allegedly being physically attacked by these neighbors aren't rare. Verbal attacks are apparently standard fare. The staff is walking on eggshells in order to avoid drama. The livelihoods of St. Roch staff are being endangered by an obsession for vengeance. I wish I could ask the neighbors why, but I have no doubt that the answer would make no sense to me.

Bar on the corner for 80 years. Neighbors doing all this? Moved into the neighborhood barely 2 years ago. We can't let this neighbor and his partner close down a business out of vengeance. Police were called on New Year's Eve. Police were called Krewe du Vieux night. The Fifth District police want to see a show of support from those of us who care about this place. They've been very good at communicating what they need from us and I applaud that. Let's help them by contacting them, signing petitions, patronizing St. Roch Tavern.

Hell, let's light some candles to St. Roch, who has a long list of causes he's linked to, including: protection from storms, skin diseases, cholera, knee problems, dogs and those who love them, bachelors, invalids, surgeons, gravediggers, second hand dealers, apothecaries, those falsely accused and epidemics. Let's get him on this.

As John Victorson said, “I just want St. Roch Tavern to remain the hub of the neighborhood as it has been for 80 years. I want it to be all inclusive.”

Too bad these two neighbors don't see things the same way.
Special thanks to Marlena Asher for the use of her photo of Dr. John with JD Hill at St. Roch Tavern a couple months ago.


Anonymous said...

Hopefully the police will get sick of being called for nothing. I'm sure they don't like wasting there time on this crap anymore than we like them coming by.

Anonymous said...

That neighbor threatened me with machete after almost running me over with a car. No joke, no exageration.

Anonymous said...

After (an Admitedly ugly) verbal altercation, said neighbor brandished a machete in my face and threatened to use it if he ever encountered me in the St Roch or 8th ward (where I live) oh yeah, this altercation started after he almost ran me over with his car as I biked to work. Not a joke not an exaggeration.

Anonymous said...

I'm real tired of this. its basically harrassmnent and does nothing more than waste NOPD time. please everyone, start talking, start signing petition, and start going after these two. they harass you? YOU MAKE THE CALL, and tell NOPD that they are harassing YOU. a dog was shot because of a false report that they made. dog lived, but sooner or later? this is going to escalate. call NOPD and turn them in... do it everytime they say ANYTHING to you.

Anonymous said...

the machete incident? was it ever reported to the police? maybe you didn't want to, but this is the kind of stuff that they NEED to have reported. I had friends walk me home from work, and they were harassed. just walking. just like you were just riding your bike. something has to give. we have to respond. stop allowing this neighbor to run this hood.

Anonymous said...

I've had more than one run in with this "neighbor" on one occasion he threatened me with pepper spray as I was locking up my bike outside. This guy actually did spray someone a few days later.

Anonymous said...

Anytime I see that awful man, I make a concerted effort to glare him down. I just hope that he ends up alienated by all his neighbors and leaves NOLA and goes back to L.A., or whatever unneighborly shithole he's from.

Victor said...

God, they're both AWFUL. I live on the same block as them (and the tavern) and they make me absolutely sick. They are vile, hateful, and that b*tch threatened to SHOOT my 18 pound dog, bragging that she was a marksman in the military. (My dog's no little ankle-biter, either. He is good natured and loved by many and well known.)
These people are REVILED by all of the neighbors and NO ONE talks to them. Why would they live here? They need to get to the country if they want the pastoral life.

I am personally willing to contribute $100 to a block party if they move out. Anyone else in?

Also, I'm not scared of these trolls AT ALL, so I'm signing my name to this.


Also, it seems J- had quite the addiction issue in the not so distant past and squandered a substantial sum, forcing him to move into the "slum". Too bad about that house on St. Claude, huh J? Doesn't mean that you and your "partner" can try to call shots.

Anonymous said...

I would like to believe this blog but any journalist worth his salt will tell you , that without actually using any names. This is hearsay, rumor and conjecture.
Get a Gambit or Times-Pic writer to look into this matter.
No real comments from the police (actual quotes) I don't see anyone talking to the city attorney's office about the matter.
Facts & documents,without these using names would be slander and libal, because thats all I read so far.

Anonymous said...

While unfortunate the dog was shot, the report made was warranted, a resident of that house threatened to stab two women, not cool. The perp got jail time so cannot be too false.

How about everyone be good neighbors? Don't urinate on people's stoops, don't scream obscenities at 2am (this is a residential neighborhood, school aged children do live here) and don't be a jackass.

Sounds like a lot of people got their panties in a wad because John cannot be a good bar owner. Nobody wants John to be shut down, but he has to obey the laws or he will. If John obeyed the rules there would be no complaints against him. Also, there are more than one or two neighbors who have had issues with noise complaints, vandalism, and public urination on private property.

If everyone acted like a grown up, then nobody would have any issues.

Anonymous said...

These aren't the only neighbors who have made noise complaints against the bar, but other people aren't as confrontational about it. Appeals to tradition and cultural continuity don't really apply here, as Karanek's (later Phil's Lounge, later St. Roch Tavern) was much quieter decades ago, when the place was a real dive and not a hipster faux-dive.

mardiclaw said...

I think that there are many issues here. I have lived on st roch for quite a while now, and can't believe that someone would go after someone just sitting on a bench. yes. I had friends sitting on a bench, and next thing they knew? they were having obscenities thrown at them. I've also had a few friends park cars on the other side of the street, and suddenly are being threatened as well. the st roch tavern wasn't even open during these instances. its a public neutral ground, not private, and the same goes for parking. there is a thing called communication, but it doesn't happen when someone is threatening you, or screaming at you. the saying "be nice or leave" comes to mind with this. Its ridiculous that this has become a extreme situation, where ALL of the issues are blamed on the st roch tavern. I don't see how instances when the tavern isn't open? are their responsibility.

G Bitch said...

What many of you who say you are neighbors have described is simple assault, worthy of a police report. I do understand that because of the odd ways of NOPD, the neighbors may find out who filed the report. I don't live there but I can understand people's fear, and the good-neighborly desire to not cause waves or escalate what sounds like an already tense situation. And these threats with machetes and pepper spray have not been upon people urinating or disturbing the neighborhood after leaving the bar. Just as those assaulted---and being threatened with a machete is assault---need to report the assaults and threats to police, the alleged problems with people leaving the bar should also be handled by police and not taken out on people who live nearby or are walking through at other times.

True, many have remained anonymous. When repercussions are feared and/or real, people are understandably afraid. I do not think, though, that that automatically makes their comments false, rumor-based, or intentionally misleading. Whistleblowers use and need anonymity, so anonymity is not an automatic sign of incorrectness or maliciousness.

I do hope that people will take Victor up on his proposals, and join together against what sounds like borderline criminally-insane behavior.

G Bitch said...

State of LA: §36. Assault defined: Assault is an attempt to commit a battery, or the intentional placing of another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery.

Acts 1978, No. 394, §1.

Anonymous said...

Looks like they got to read it! (But they COMPLETELY FAILED TO COMPREHEND IT.)

Anonymous said...

I was at the fifth district meeting and asked many questions. one I asked was regarding the dog incident. the response was that there was no incident, and that the dog was a victim. no one threatened anyone.

there was no one in the yard, and no knife incident. I do pay attention. I do listen, and I do watch, and I have lived on this block for a good ten years. I'm real tired of this. you are fabricating incidents, and wasting officers time, and city money on your war. A dog was shot, and the dog lived. The complaints are mainly coming from one house, and most of them? are fabricated.

anyone reading this can go to fifth district and ask for the police reports. anyone.

Sam said...

Anonymous #8 and #9, why not post with your own names?

Let me be clear:

I do not work for St. Roch Tavern or any major news outlet. I purposely used no names in this piece other than John's, although I do know the names of the neighbors I'm talking about. How do I know?

I received large amounts of deep background emails regarding this situation and you two. You mentioned situations that were in those emails. I chose not to post the most incendiary information that was given to me.

As I see from the vast numbers of anonymous commenters (a real anamoly on this blog) there are people living in real fear of reprisal, bodily harm, or nuisance police calls because of these two neighbors, possibly you two.

A valid complaint is one thing. Threatening people (or their pets) with pepper spray, machetes and other weapons is another. Harassing someone locking a bike up outside the bar is just basic fear mongering.

As G Bitch and others have said, the rest of you need to call the cops and file complaints against these two. They do not own that neighborhood. I also know that it's a scary proposition given that these two apparently are given to vendetta behavior, intimidation and obsessive unstable behavior. What they're doing is assault or attempted assault. That needs to be reported.

As for Anon #8 and #9, if you feel yourselves to be so righteous in your behavior, at least stand behind the words you put in my comment section.

Anonymous said...

Here is "a story for another day"... Do you actually live near the st roch tavern? I live across the street and it is nothing like it was when I moved here . While most nights it is "a local watering hole", " a gathering place", Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday, Monday or Tuesday nights, it is not. The patrons , ( not the ones which you so romantically describe) are often in the street yelling, sometimes fighting, at 5:00 a.m. And beyond . They park bikes in the flower beds , piss wherever and tag anything in sight. Many of these customers to which the tavern caters on certain nights only live in new orleans seasonally. Maybe that is why they seem to not care about the neighborhood or the neighbors. I cannot help thinking that the bar has not been run like this over the 80 years and it has nothing to do with "keeping the neighborhood character of the place". I love the st roch tavern and John, but some management on these nights would be great. It is wonderful that you live by the 24 hour market, and if it costs you a night or two of sleep a week , that you can spare that on their behalf . I can't , nor should I have to. Most bars respect their neighbors due to decency, not to mention legality . I do wish the best for the st roch tavern, as it is truly a great place most days and nights , but some control on Saturday nights and other similar nights would be greatly appreciated by me and neighbors that live close by.
Ann Linn

Ps... I refrain from calling the police, although sometimes it is hard, but I do not wish for them to get shut down.

John does not "own" the bar.

The piano is not original.

Sam said...

Ann, here is the same comment I posted at B2L2 to you, with two additions:

Thanks for the info re: the piano.

John owns the business not the building.

Ann, as I stated I live nearby near a 24 hour grocery store, but I am a customer of St. Roch and have been for years. Since it sounds like you actually like St. Roch Tavern, I have no doubt that you could speak to John rationally. The neighbors I'm talking about are not rational from all reports. Check the comment section over at my blog. I am amazed and concerned at the sheer number of anonymous commenters, something that doesn't happen often on my blog, and that tells me that people are afraid. I have also received copious emails regarding these two neighbors.

A reasonable complaint is one thing, but intimidation and machete brandishing is another, don't you think? These two are dangerous in my opinion, especially having spoken with people who've been attacked by them. I don't imagine that you're out there with pepper spray. You sound like a reasonable neighbor. I'm not saying no complaints ever. I am saying that a continuous barrage of threats and repercussions of baseless complaints like a dog shot in someone's backyard is an untenable situation. Until these folks are stopped, I think reasonable people like you might be lumped in with them vis a vis your complaints.

And that is unfair and I hope that would bother you.

Lord David said...

I've held off on this because there are so many effected by it, and I always hope that by opening the channels of communication, wisdom will prevail. I understand, quite clearly, the difficulties in living adjacent to a bar, as Cafe Istanbul has made it's rocky opening.
We all met & talked through it, not to final resolution, but to an ongoing livable dialog. And that wasn't easy, either. It still isn't.
One of the problems addressed in this blog is having to deal with crazy people. And of being afraid of retribution. My response is simply "Fuck That'.
If one person can contain or control me by fear, I am soul dead, an automaton, a slave.

So, with that in mind, let me say this: I received emails from Jeffery Holmes, who lives next door to the St. Roch, telling me that his 'daughter' (she is Jane's Daughter, not his) had been out on their front porch (after midnight, but that became clear later) and saw some guys piss in the bushes. She told Jeff and he freaked out.It's certainly not something any of us would want any child to exposed to,. but at the same time, if you've moved in, right next to bar, and in fact WORKED THERE, I would think you'd prevent your 10 year old daughter from standing on the front steps, after midnight (Jeff told me the time, himself), watching bar patrons leave a neighborhood dive bar (my absolute favorites).
Anyway, he emailed me about this and told me he wanted me to come over "right away" that it was time to "crack some skulls." I demurred. That didn't sound like protecting children, defending the innocent, or standing watch. It sounded like a premeditated attack intended to commit dangerous harm. Unfortunately, I am unable to find that email at present. However, a bout a week or two later, I sent out a group email to announce a community meeting to discuss the opening of Cafe Istanbul, which actually turned out to very productive, thanks to the FMIA's involvement.

Jeffery Holmes was on that list. This, in it's entirety, is the unedited response I received. Please, read it, yourself. Then tell me if this is someone who can be reasoned with. I think the underlying issue here, is more than a bar & it's neighbors, although that issue must be dealt with. I think it runs much deeper, but read on, and decide for yourselves. It's here:

12:18 am

You did not give two shits when the gutter punk crowd of the St Roch

Tavern were
urinating in full view of a ten year old child!!
By this very act you are condoning this behavior , that's akin to

Now your concerned about a bar that may disturb your sleep......
Fuck you you FAT ASSHOLE !!
Look my child in the eye and explain yourself......
I don't think you have it in you......
get up off your ass and actually do something for our community
I Dare You!!
Master Jeffrey!"

Lord David said...

In retrospect, I certainly hope he wasn't paying by the exclamation point.

mardiclaw said...

I will say this.... my friends walked me home, it was four thirty in the morning. they then sat down on the bench with their dogs, and rolled a cigarette. next thing? Jeffrey? your out the door yelling at them... YELLING, you also started up with some other guy walking by who was drunk. Do you think YELLING at four thirty in the morning is helping the community? the tavern was closed. I have the right to have people walk me home. I am glad that there are people out there. you need to stop waking up the neighborhood with these outbursts. its outrageous! no one was doing anything, cept walking me home.

Papa Chango said...

I'll say this about J.H.


But far, far worse is HYPOCRISY.

Also, his "child" is running the streets, unsupervised, at all hours. Does she even go to school? Maybe the community should start asking questions about her welfare.

I mean, it's what he WANTS, isn't it?

andrew1860 said...

This is a very interesting and well written story. I lived on Esplanade Ave for 9 years on a block down from the Port of Call a very busy place, My bedroom was on the street and I could hear outsides all the time day and night, But I chose to live in the Quarter and the noise did not bother me. I bought a house on Marais street and could see the St. Roch Tavern from my front door. Again this place and it's noise did not bother me. Personally during the 3 years I lived in my home I did not step foot into the St. Roch Tavern as I could clearly see the class of people going there were not my class but this was the years 2000-2003. After the hurricane I have moved around and now I'm back in my home town of Mobile,Alabama but wondered with so many outsiders moving into New Orleans, "would they begin to change the culture and traditions of New Orleans". And now it looks like this is happening. Although I can trace my family back to 18th century Louisiana I was still considered a outsider. But if you move into the French Quarter or by a bar as I did, as a outsider you don't try to change the place. You embrace the culture or just go with the flow! If not you move on.

PJR said...

I once saw the fellow at issue get excused from jury duty by stamping and cursing around a court room. Kind of a loose cannon. If you don't want to live by a bar, don't move there (assuming it was there first).