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BEER HEAVEN

Some well-known people are permanent patrons at Cooter Brown's

Q. - What do Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Mickey Mantle, W.C. Fields, John Wayne, Jerry Garcia, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers and Larry Berestitzky have in common?

A. - You can always find them in Cooter Brown's bar on South Carrollton Avenue with a beer in their hands. No kidding.

Berestitzky, however, is still among the living, and as the owner of Cooter Brown's, has commissioned artist Scott Conary to create clever caricatures of famous celebrities with a beer in their hands. Upwards of 30 of the oversized heads and undersized bodies are now complete.

Here are the ground rules for making the hallowed walls of Cooter Brown's: 1) The celebrity must be deceased. 2) He or she should be recognizable to the majority of patrons who come in. 3) Each must have quaffed a beer in his or her lifetime.

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Welcome to Cooter Brown's zany and slightly demented "Obeertuary and Barsoleum." OK, the tour begins: Over on one wall we see big John Wayne with a 10-gallon hat and a Lone Star beer. Ah, the
cowboy motif. There's Richard Nixon with a Tsing Tao, obviously because of his China diplomacy. Then there's Judy Garland drinking a Hexen Brau, which translates as "Witch's Brew," conjuring images of "The Wizard of Oz." Mickey Mantle in his Yankees uniform has a Michelob, as he and the beer are both commonly known as "Mick." A wonderful Alfred Hitchcock with a bird on his shoulder is downing a bottle of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, and not far away, the unmistakable top-hatted W.C. Fields with his bulbous nose, and a bottle of Pennsylvania-brewed Rolling Rock in his possession. ("All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.")

Cooter Brown's features 400 different kinds of beer, 350 of which are imports and 42 of which are on draft. Nationwide, these kinds of bars are very trendy, but Larry B., as most people call him because of obvious pronunciation difficulties, started his imported beer gig 19 years ago, long before it was popular. "You gotta have a gimmick," the native of the Bronx, N.Y., said. "You just don't open a bar and make money."

For years, locals and tourists who ventured into this Uptown beer-taster's oasis frequently made the comment after seeing the enormousness of the stock: "I'm in heaven."

Larry B. and his artist simply took the comment to heart and created some heavenly residents. Conary, a 1993 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, had left New York a couple of years ago because it was too expensive and too hectic. As many artists do to supplement their incomes, he wound up flipping burgers-at Cooter Brown's, where he and Larry B. connected.

Soon after Berestitzky found out he had an artist on his hands, they got their heads together and started talking about heads. "I was trying to get back on my feet after a motorcycle accident and make some headway," said Conary, "so making heads made sense." Armed with self drying clay, acrylic paint and coats of sealer, the twosome went about the selection
process in this highly scientific way: "We just sat down and made up a list of dead people who are recognizable to most people, and were hopefully a little fun," said Conary. "Einstein's not gonna make it up there."

"Einstein, Einstein, I never thought about Einstein," said Berestitzky.

"You want Einstein? I can do Einstein," said Conary.

"Yeah, but what would he drink?" asked Larry B.

"Is there a Smart Guy Ale?" asked Conary.

And that's about as scientific as it gets.

Peter Sellers, famed for his roles as Inspector Clouseau, drinks a French Fischer LaBelle. Telly Savalas, bald pate, lollipop and memories of Kojak, holds Keo, a Greek beer. Jimmy Dean, an unfulfilled acting career cut short by tragedy, grips a bottle of Golden Promise. Jimmy Cagney, possibly Conary's best work, holds an upside-down Harp's, a dead soldier, much befitting his Irishness.

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Berestitzky, like many others, drifted down to New Orleans from parts north-in his case, Illinois, where he was attending school at Southern Illinois, and never left. He is half of the answer to a local trivia question. Southern Illinois' nickname is the Salukis, which is a breed of tall slender dog. Here's the question:

Name two people who are both Salukis, both moved to New Orleans and both have operated successful bars for years. Obviously, Berestitzky is one. The other is Bud Whalen, co-owner of The Rivershack on River Road.

"I guess I gotta claim him," said Berestitzky. "Buddy and I went to school together."

The toughest caricature for Conary, he says, is "anyone whose presence is their voice and the way they carry themselves. A lot of people aren't that distinctive, like Cary Grant. Everybody's not Nixon, with two fingers up." And beady eyes.

Conary met his wife, Erin, a Loyola University graduate, in Cooter Brown's and they very shortly will be moving to Atlanta, where she will teach music. A landscape painter, Conary will continue to provide Larry B. with caricatures. The newest, Edward G. Robinson, just went up last week. Dressed like the Mafioso gangster in "Little Ceasar," he is drinking a Moretti, an Italian beer.

Already on the drawing board, and somebody who should have graced the walls a long time ago, is sportscaster Howard Cosell.

And what will he be drinking?

"A Mickey's Big Mouth," said Berestitzky. "What else?"

And with all these exotic ales, pilsners, lagers and stouts surrounding him every day, what does Berestitzky drink, what's his beer of choice?

Coors Light.

Go Figure.

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Cooter Brown's Tavern
& Oyster Bar

509 S. Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans, LA
phone: 504-866-9104
fax:504-865-7579

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