Bartender Will Chilton built a following at French Quarter watering hole The Chart Room, and those customers followed him to B Mac's (819 St. Louis St., 504-252-2026; www.bmacs.weebly.com) a year and a half ago. Chilton spoke with Gambit about bartending in the French Quarter and about the changes in the bar scene over the past 20 years.
How did you get into bartending?
Chilton: From watching Cheers! No. It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I like not punching a time clock, not sitting at a desk all day — getting to interact with people. I've been working behind the bar or in restaurant management for 22 years now. I was at the Chart Room for seven and a half years. I worked in the (French) Quarter back when I was 21 and it almost killed me. I made too much money on Bourbon Street as a 21-year-old kid. So I took a break and came back about 10 years ago.
How has the bar scene in the French Quarter changed?
C: I've seen Bourbon Street get worse. There's too many T-shirt shops, too many crappy strip clubs, and you don't have as many French Quarter locals as you used to, because the Quarter has gotten so gentrified. There are also way too many Airbnbs now.
There are so many people from all over who come to New Orleans because they love the city but then, when they get here, they want to change it to be like where they came from. I say, if you come to New Orleans because you love New Orleans, then leave New Orleans the way it is.
The good thing is that it's busier now. This used to be the slow time of year, but now, with all the festivals, it's not so bad. We're a neighborhood bar, so the people here are all locals. That's the important thing about having a bar in the Quarter — the locals, the service industry.
You've got a steady stream of regulars, what's your secret?
C: Just being yourself and knowing what you're doing behind the bar. And sarcasm — sarcasm goes a long way in this business. I guess there are people who have been following me for about 10 years. I have a lot of what I call "long-distance locals" — people who come from out of town but come to New Orleans once or twice a year and always come hang out. They've all become good friends.