Igor Margan, New Orleans nightlife impresario, passed away on Dec. 4.
He was known for a string of 24-hour bars, each with a laundromat in the back, a grill behind the bar and apartments upstairs that became the favored residences of musicians, bartenders and other nocturnal creatures from the French Quarter to the Lower Garden District.
And for a time, he was my boss.
I left a perfectly reasonable Uptown bar shift at Madigan’s — a decision made in haste, but which would become one of the most important of my life — to work the weekend graveyard: 2 a.m. until 10 a.m., hours in which, I soon learned, absolutely anything is possible.
The events that transpired on my first overnight at Igor’s became the stuff of New Orleans barroom legend. I won’t describe them here, because nobody outside that city would believe me, and also because they are largely unprintable. I was changed from that moment on, a bona fide member of the midnight underbelly in a city that never shuts down.
Sooner or later, everybody came through Igor’s: musicians, celebrities, tourists, line cooks and waiters, strippers, cab drivers, politicians, hustlers, criminals, cops…you name it. I met an admiral in the US Navy there, the musician Beck, and also my wife.
Igor opened the flagship bar on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Jackson Street in the 1970s, after returning from the Vietnam War where he served as an Army Ranger. He told me that when he bought the place, he removed the locks form the doors and crushed the key on the streetcar tracks. The only thing ever to shut the place down was Katrina; there was just no way to close the place so they just boarded it up.
I’ll remember Igor sitting at the bar with his wife, Halina, smoking cigars with his name on them and drinking cheap beer and schnapps, hopping off his barstool at least once in my presence to break up a fight. I remember him slipping into the bar early every Monday morning to lock himself in his upstairs office to count the week’s take. He was terse, gruff, kind of a grump, and once in a while he smiled.
We never really talked that much, but he changed my life forever.
RIP Igor. It’s finally last call.