_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

My thoughts drift southward this week, down from the hills and across the flats to the steamy funk of New Orleans and a bar I once knew as intimately as I’ve ever known anything.

Igor’s, the 24-hour bar, game room, Laundromat and grill at the corner of St. Charles and Jackson turns 40 this week — just a few years younger than I am, if truth be told.

But I was young when I first started at Igor’s, just 24 years old on my first night working the graveyard shift. I remember it well: As the morning sun broke through the oaken boughs along the avenue, I watched a woman spontaneously perform a filthy parlor trick with a beer bottle. Indeed, I will quite likely never be able to forget my baptism into the pre-dawn world of the greatest dive bar on the planet.

I gave five years of service there on the corner, slinging drinks with the likes of Big Tiny, Goldie, and the Mad Aussie to an indelible cast of barflies: Old Rick, Gay Ray, One-Eyed Joe and others with less colorful names. I was there for every Mardi Gras, every Jazz Fest, every Super Bowl and week-long Halloween, stitched together by moments both incredible and mundane.

Most of the stories I tell from that time in my life sound made up.

I was there to see Big Tiny shave everyone’s head, the night Augie took the box-cutter to Jerry’s face, when it started to rain on the pool tables in the back room.

I learned half of what I know at that ridiculous, beautiful place, and it forever changed my life.

I was working at Igor’s when my journalism career started to get traction. And I met my wife there, by the grill, over a cup of homemade tartar sauce.

Crazy, right? Don’t tell the kids.

At that time, Igor’s had never closed. Not once. There weren’t even locks on the doors. Only Katrina managed to bring the place to a halt, and then only for a few days.

It’s a tough little bastard of a bar, not unlike Igor himself — yes, there really is an Igor. And I owe him much.

I won’t be there on Monday night in New Orleans. Probably not. But the pull of that place, very close to my own center of gravity, remains strong.

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