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Everyone Wants a Hurricane: Fat Tuesday at Pat O'Brien's with Scott Touchton

Photo: Josh Brasted

As the Operations Manager at Pat O'Brien's, Carnival's French Quarter nexus for local and visiting revelers, Scout Touchton has logged some serious Mardi Gras hours over the years. Touchton's team of seasoned bartenders has helped irrigate the parched tongues of costumed locals and beguiled tourists alike, and Touchton himself has played the unenviable role of Carnival ambassador for out-of-towners wondering about the how/when/what/where of Mardi Gras, and why it seems like so many people are dressed up like muppets. How does one even begin such a tutorial? With a drink, for starters, probably something tall, cloying, and fire-engine red...

How does Mardi Gras weekend compare to a regular night/weekend for one of your bartenders?

Of course it's busier, the shifts are longer, etc. From a bartender's perspective, the average weekend is slower-paced. After you get here, you've got your set-up time and you make sure you've got all your stock. Then, you're basically waiting for the crowd to arrive. O an average, typical weekend, our busiest time might be from 9 pm to about 1 am.

The thing with Mardi Gras is, when you walk in the door, you're busy from the moment you clock in to the moment you walk out the door. It's just non-stop.

Does a sense of fatigue ever set in with the staff?

We're a very tenured place. We've got two bartenders who are in our 40-year club, who've worked here for over 40 years, consecutively. We have Glenn, the guy who works daytime in the locals' bar, and then there's Patricia, who works daytime in the piano bar. Both of them have been here 40 years or more. We've got 7 total employees that have been here 40 years. For someone like Patricia, this is going to be her 42nd Mardi Gras.

So they're all seasoned Carnival vets.

Yes, pretty much everybody has lots of experience, and especially coming off the heels of Super Bowl, we're just in a groove right now. We've already got the rhythm down, everyone knows what to expect, everyone knows his or her role in this machine that is Mardi Gras.

Did Super Bowl prove to be just as busy as it was hyped? Was there and added challenge of catering to so many out-of-towners all at once, or did it just seem like Mardi Gras, Part One?

Super Bowl was definitely busy for us. We had a really good Super Bowl, however, the business of Mardi Gras lasts a little bit longer. The busiest time of Mardi Gras is about five days for us. Basically Friday through Tuesday is the busy time of Mardi Gras. Super Bowl was basically just Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I would compare Super Bowl Saturday to Mardi Gras Saturday?those are our two busiest days of the year.

What is the most challenging aspect of managing all this activity?

I think in every business, your biggest hurdle and greatest asset is making sure your employees know what to expect. I think that's the same with every business. On full-time staff, we have over 200 employees, so, for something like Mardi Gras, our challenges really center around making sure people get to work on time. I joke around with people all the time that you might not necessarily know when a parade is going to pop up, so you have to allow yourself that extra time to get to work. You might get stuck behind a second line, but you still have to deal with that and you still have to get work on time. Definitely some unique challenges.

The stress of working those high-volume shifts can be really draining. It's not for everybody. It can also be very rewarding. I've ridden on floats, I've been on the sidewalk side?I've also worked at Pat O'Brien's during Mardi Gras, and I think we've got the better end of it. Basically, where we're at, we get to see it all. Fat Tuesday's just a blast, it's so much fun because you're over the hump. 99 percent of the work has been done already, and then, on Fat Tuesday, we open an hour earlier than normal. Usually we open at 9 am on Fat Tuesday, and we usually have a hundred people already waiting outside, banging on the door, wanting a Bloody Mary. That's their tradition?they can't get anything to drink before they get that Pat O'Brien's Bloody Mary.

You see all the costumes, and we've got certain people who come through every year on Mardi Gras day. It's my favorite day of the year, by far.

What's the craziest thing you've seen come through the gate on Tuesday

One of my favorite groups, I think they're the Divas. They walk through, I think on the Friday of Mardi Gras, and they have a second line with them, and every year they make new dresses, which are all made entirely out of beads. They're not just thrown together?it's all very elaborate. They're just so much fun.

What I really love is seeing Joe Tourist look at local groups like that and try to figure out what's going on. A lot of my weekend is explaining Mardi Gras to tourists.

Do you sometimes find yourself hard-pressed to explain what's going on?

You have to take an outsider's perspective, step back and ask, "What is Mardi Gras?" Then you field questions like, "Where is the Mardi Gras?" It's here. It's all over the place. A lot of our time is explaining where to catch parades, where to see a second line, where to see music, etc. We spend a lot of time acting like ambassadors, if you will, and directing people, trying to figure out what it is that they want to see and sending them to the right place.

What's the mood like on Wednesday after you get through the five really hectic Carnival days?

With every major holiday, if you look back, there's always a calm before and after the storm. On Ash Wednesday, the city seems hungover. Everyone's moving at half-speed. It's not just us?it's city-wide. It usually rains on Ash Wednesday, which seems like Mother Nature's way of cleaning the city. We do a decent amount of business, what with people who have later flights. It was like that the Monday after Super Bowl. The flight schedule was all spread out. We had a decent amount of people stay through Tuesday. The day after big events are usually pretty decent. The whole city kind of has a hangover.

During Mardi Gras, what drink are you guys pouring most?

Year-round, we sell more Hurricanes than anything. On Fat Tuesday in the morning, we go through cases and cases of Blood Mary mix. Overall, definitely the Hurricane, no question.

? Pat O'Brien's [Official Site]

Pat O'Brien's

624 Bourbon Street New Orleans, LA 70130