Goldie gets married

by Brian Clarey

I’d never seen a groom so drunk before in my life — not in the scores of weddings I’ve seen live, not on TV, not on the internet, though if I poke around on there I might be able to find a guy more hammered than Goldie’s betrothed as he prepared to take his vows.

We in the audience sat in rows of chairs on Constance Street in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans, on a block that still has some street cred, facing a two-story shotgun double with a band set up on the front porch and a steady stream of people hustling past them to get inside and, um, use the bathroom. Most of us were with Goldie: a cast of barroom players back when we were young, some of whom I hadn’t laid eyes on since I used to work the graveyard shift at Igor’s with Goldie at my side.

The groom, a guy named Shane who I had not yet officially met, stumbled on the sidewalk in front of the house in an ill-fitting tuxedo and flip-flops while Irene Sage and Mike Darby performed on the porch. Back in the day they were about half of Irene & the Mikes, a staple on what used to be Frenchmen Street but is now something I barely recognize. Back then Darby was living off the royalties that spun off a song he wrote for the film The Pelican Brief. In between jaunts into the River Parishes to go squirrel hunting he would occupy a hotel room in the Fauborg Marigny and party until the money went dry, then survive the rest of the fiscal quarter, when the next check came, purely by his wits.

Together, he and Irene gave a rendition of “Question” by the Old 97’s that created a moment of pure beauty — Goldie making her entrance on the arm of Newcastle Dave, the crowd straining in their seats to get a look at the dress, the shoes, the veil, a perfect New Orleans evening settling on the Irish Channel — spoiled only somewhat when a stray dog settled underneath the cake table and took a dump.

That was a Goldie moment right there. I don’t remember when, exactly, I first met Goldie, but it must have been when she was throwing sweat equity into Goldie’s Bordello, the bar on Decatur Street in the French Quarter she owned with a couple of moneyed partners… who eventually pushed her out of the bar though they kept the name and the sign, which happened to have a portrait of Goldie on it.

When Big Tiny hurt his nose and moved to Atlanta, Goldie took over his shifts at Igor’s, which put us together every Friday and Saturday night for the next four years. And while I definitely learned a lot from Big Tiny — for one, he showed me how to make a chicken out of a bar rag — working alongside Goldie was like finishing school for a New Orleans bartender.

She had been in the business since she was about 14, according to the myth, and was the rare New Orleanian who traveled with ease between all of the city’s neighborhoods. Goldie either worked, drank or knew someone who worked or drank in every bar in the city. She was an early member of the Krewe of Mystic Orphans and Misfits, with all the rights and privileges that entails. And she knew every single cab driver in town.

When we worked together, she had regulars coming in from the restaurants, the strip clubs and the law offices, and more than a few out-of-towners who made a point to stop by when they could. She took great care of them all — Goldie was an amazing bartender right up until she retired from the trade a few years ago. She could handle a three-deep crowd by herself, and I’ve seen her bounce guys three times her size from the bar with authority.

Goldie was the architect of the single biggest bar tip I’ve ever gotten. It was during Mardi Gras, that period just before dawn when the barroom thins out. There was a guy in there from Uptown who had been drinking on a credit card all night, acting the big man with rounds of drinks and shots for everyone. When it came time to sign the tab, he announced to Goldie, “I’m gonna give you a $200 tip!” “Thanks,” she said, then nodded her head in my direction. “What about him?” We each got $200 tips that night. I have many, many unprintable Goldie stories; most of them end with either one or both of us in a similar state to her groom on her wedding day. I thought about that as I sat and waited for the bride to make her entrance. Then Newcastle led her across the porch, and as the people oohed and aahed and Irene and Mike made beautiful music, she looked up and I caught her eye.

She flashed me the kind of smile a bride reserves only for old friends on her wedding day. Goldie, the wild child with a heart bigger than anyone’s, made me feel glad to know her, lucky to have spent so much time with her, happy to be here today on the pockmarked streets of the Irish Channel. When her groom sobers up, which should be by the end of the week, I know he’s going to be very happy too.