Julia Street With Poydras the Parrot
The Pursuit to Answer Eternal Questions
An illustration depicting the New Orleans Row Boat Club, circa 1885.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION
Is it true that at one time New Orleans had a rowing club?
Not only is it true, but New Orleans once had many rowing clubs – but perhaps that’s to be expected with a sport that has a local history stretching back about 175 years. The early rowing clubs were established here only a generation after the Battle of New Orleans and just after New Orleans suffered though the devastating cholera pandemic of 1832-1833.
The first of the clubs was the Wave Boat Club. Headquartered on the New Basin Canal near the Magnolia Bridge, the Wave Boat Club was the brainchild of Joseph Walton who had brought from New York the gunwale-rigged racing gig Wave.
In 1836, the Lady of Lyons Club, which named its boats for characters in the popular Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel of the same name, made its appearance in the Mississippi River near Algiers Point and was soon followed by another club, the Algerine. Soon, rowing clubs proliferated with the establishment of clubs bearing such names as the Knickerbocker, the Locofoco, the Edwin Forrest and the Washington Club. In early April 1839, the New Orleans riverfront was the site of the city’s earliest known professional rowing race in which the Thomas M. Hamblin of New Orleans defeated the Celeste of Mobile and took home the $1,000 purse – a substantial sum by the standards of the day.
In the interest of full disclosure, the accompanying illustration shows a local rowing competition in the early 1870s. The boats in the sketch are of a more modern design than the racing “gigs” of the 1830s.
This question isn’t about Kate Chopin, but Frédéric Chopin, the classical composer. His “Mazurkas, Opus 7” (around 1832) are dedicated as follows: “Monsieur Johns de la Nouvelle-Orléans.” Who was this Mr. Johns? Did he originate Mr. John’s Steakhouse (just kidding)?
No, Peter, he wasn’t related to that “Mr. John,” but he was the great-grandfather of two prominent New Orleans musicians, Deacon John and Dr. John. (Just kidding.)
Chopin’s friend was Paul Emile Johns (c. 1800-1860), a native of Poland who arrived in New Orleans in the early 1820s and was soon working as a piano teacher and concert pianist. During that time, he performed with the opera orchestra at the Théâtre d’Orléans, playing his own compositions as well as popular works by others. In 1830, Johns established E. Johns & Company, a stationery company specializing in imported sheet music. While in Paris on a buying trip for his new store, Johns is believed to have been introduced to Chopin. Between 1831 and 1834, Emile Johns and the J. Pleyel company of Paris published Album Louisianaise, containing eight Emile Johns compositions, each of which is dedicated to a different New Orleans woman. Only two copies of this exceptionally rare published compilation of local musical compositions are known to exist; both are among the holdings of The Historic New Orleans Collection.
A man of many careers, Johns sold his music business to W. T. Mayo in 1846, who sold the firm to Philip Werlein only six years later. Johns then worked as a cotton merchant and dealer and served as Russian Consul from 1848 until his unexpected death, in 1860, during a trip to Paris. He was laid to rest in the famous Père Lachaise cemetery.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
Nick’s Bar on Tulane Avenue has been quite an icon over time. It was full of character and definitely an “only in New Orleans” type of place. It serviced many generations. The specialty drinks were very exotic, with secret recipes. Mr. Nick was quite a character himself. The rumor was that he put several of his children through medical school with the help of that old bar. My question is about the history of the bar and also Mr. Nick, the owner and famous mixologist.
Ginger King Battle
When it came to mixing drinks, Mr. Nick was the best in the world. With an encyclopedic knowledge of relative weights of brightly colored intoxicating substances, Nicholas Giacomo Castrogiovanni was a master mixologist able to pour a pousse-café containing 32 distinct layers of colorful liquors. (It is said he once poured a 34-layer drink for a visiting journalist.)
One of the drinks popularized at Nick’s Bar on Tulane Avenue was the banana banshee. Also, the bar was located across the street from the Dixie brewery. According to legend, it was Nick who told the brewery owner that his beer had “a kick like a .45.” The owner took that as a compliment and called his beer Dixie 45.
The father of two daughters and one son, Nick was fond of calling his brood “two queens and a jack.” Jack, a physician, wasn’t the only doctor to benefit from his father’s quiet philanthropy. When Nick died at age 86, Dr. Jack Castrogiovanni recalled that his father personally put more than 150 doctors and an unknown number of lawyers through school.
The son of grocer Giacomo Castrogiovanni and Josephine Grisaffi, Nick was working in a grocery store by age 7.
When still a teenager, the hard-working young man was a highly paid shipping clerk for the new National Brewing Company, which Charles Wagner of the Consumers’ Brewing Company established in March 1911. In ’36, National’s brewery was bought by Falstaff of St. Louis, and National faded from popular memory.
Mr. Nick served his country during World War I, seeing military service in France. According to a biographical profile that appeared in the Nov. 1933 issue of the trade publication The Louisiana Grocer, the well-traveled young businessman also saw the world, having visited every state in the union as well as 57 foreign cities.
Around 1921, Nick went into business for himself and set up shop as a grocer at 2400 Tulane Ave. in what was then a thriving 3rd Ward neighborhood. Soon after Prohibition ended, he established the Original Big Train Bar and a wine store in a building behind the grocery.
When implementation of New Orleans’ 1948 Master Plan called for Nick’s neighborhood on the south side of Tulane Avenue to be razed and redeveloped, Mr. Nick was among the hundreds of residents and businessmen who stood with Judge James Comiskey and the Owners and Tenants Association of the 3rd Ward in their unsuccessful fight for neighborhood survival. While Nick’s grocery and bar weathered the storm of urban renewal, Hurricane Betsy took the corner grocery in ’65. The Original Big Train Bar survived, albeit with a somewhat crooked stance.
Still in family hands when Hurricane Katrina hit, the bar never re-opened.
I would like some info on the Sands Night Club. I recall it being located on Jefferson Highway. I watched a WYES documentary on establishments that held teenage dances but the Sands was never mentioned. Many local artists performed there during the 1960s, and it was a popular club.
What happened to it? Because, “It ain’t there no more.”
The building at 801 Jefferson Highway, which once housed the Sands Club, burned to the ground in a four-alarm fire on the night of Oct. 16, 1983. At the time, the building was leased to the Loyal Order of Moose Metairie Lodge No. 2195. For the past few years, Sands Auto and Truck Sales has operated at the site.
Once known as the Belvedere Club, the building at 801 Jefferson Highway became, in 1960, Kent’s Golden Parrot, a restaurant and lounge that offered $ .90 businessmen’s lunches. The owners may have named their venture for a long-lived creature but Kent’s Golden Parrot was gone within two years. The Sobu Club was there by ’62 but, in September of that year, so were the cops. Following a raid that netted seven underage patrons as well as barbiturates and amphetamines, the Sobu Club closed.
The Sands was the next business to inhabit the address and Sid Holiday and his Blue Notes were among the first artists to play there. James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, of “Jackamo” fame, was another early headliner. Later in the ’60s, Tommy Dawn and the Sunsets and the British Invasion-inspired group the Palace Guards also played the Sands.