Bartender Chat: Susan of The Big Easy

It's Mardi Gras weekend, y'all, and I can't think of a better place to kick off the party than The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club, a little slice of NOLA in the Bayou City. I stopped in earlier this week to get a jump start on my bon temps since this Thibodaux native will be celebrating Mardi Gras in...umm...St. Paul, Minnesota this year. I know, wrong direction, but don't worry. I was sure to have a Gambino's king cake shipped up there.

While sipping on an Abita, I got to know a little about Susan, the lady behind the bar, and about The Big Easy, Houston's homage to the soul and sounds of the Crescent City.

Where are you from? I'm from Houston. I was born in Puerto Rico, but I was raised here.

How long have you been bartending at The Big Easy? Probably about five years.

How would you describe the bar's aesthetic? I'd say it really is a lot like the Big Easy; a lot like New Orleans... it's sort of an "anything goes" kinda place.

Is The Big Easy the product of a homesick New Orleanian? The owner, Tom, is actually from Georgia, but he's got a strong love for zydeco and jazz. As you can see from all the posters on the walls, he's been to tons of Jazz Fests and he's a real music lover.

Could you tell us a little about the bar's history? Is it haunted? Haunted? Yes. When I'm opening, the lights will turn on and off and the jukebox has a mind of its own. Nine times out of ten, if there's a musician that's playing that night that's in the box, the first song I hear when I get here will be the first track on the album. I mean, before it was The Big Easy, it was The Rocking Horse and then The Crown and Serpent so it's been a bar for's got history.

How would you describe the crowd? It's an eclectic crowd. We get people in here from West U, and people drive in from Clear Lake, Pasadena, Baytown...We've even had people come from Germany and England because they've heard about us. We have live webcasts of the shows sometimes, and we've had people watching from all over the world. So yeah, we get everyone from college students to 70-year-olds. You might see someone in shorts or in a sequin gown, but it's all about the music.

Fill in the blank: To bartend at The Big Easy, you have to be able to ______. You really have to love the music.

You get three songs on your haunted jukebox. What do you play? There's no way to narrow it down; everything on there is good. It's old blues, Mardi Gras, jazz...but I'm gonna go with Janis Joplin- Turtle Blues, Clifton Chenier- I'm a Hog for You, Baby -- he's the king of zydeco and we have zydeco in here every Sunday, so definitely that -- and something from John Cleary, who used to play piano with Bonnie Raitt. He's a musician out of New Orleans and has played here twice, so we have his album.

Do you have a house specialty or a drink you pride yourself on? Tom has a Tito's shot, which is just straight Tito's and muddled lime. It's like a lemon drop without the sweet. But we also have a house shot that we give away for birthdays called a Fruity. It's Absolut Mandarin and Apple Pucker with cranberry and orange juice. It's like punch.

Fill in the blank: At the end of my shift, I pour a ______. I pour what I call Kitten Whiskers...just something I made up. It's a tequila-Fresca concoction, sort of my twist on a Paloma.

The Big Easy, located at 731 Kirby Drive, is open daily from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. and early for happy hour at 5 p.m. on Fridays. Stop in, say hi to Susan and try one of her Kitten Whiskers. If you can't make it to New Orleans this year for Mardi Gras, be sure to swing by and check out some of the best blues Houston has to offer. Visit The Big Easy's website for the live music calendar and more info.

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Ginny Braud
Contact: Ginny Braud