September 09, 2005

The Rings of Saturn

Amy Evans, acevans@olemiss.edu
Oral Historian, Southern Foodways Alliance
Oxford, Mississippi

The Ninth Ward neighborhood in New Orleans has been on the tip of many tongues over the course of the past two weeks. This area, also known as the Bywater, is the part of the city that has been under the most water since Katrina hit and the levee broke.† Just down-river from the French Quarter, this is an historical neighborhood that many famous residents have called home: trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, the musical Lastie family, poet and author Kalamu ya Salaam, and rock-and-roll legend Fats Domino, who was rescued from his house in the Ninth Ward just last week. But on the corner of Saint Claude Avenue and Clouet Street, there is another star in this neighborhoodís galaxy.

The Saturn Bar is a humble little building with a small sign and a few bits of neon lighting the way to the corner door.† Inside, the light from the neon soon reveals an array of treasures from wall to wall and ceiling to floor. OíNeil Broyard is the caretaker of its contents; he is a native of the city and has been at the helm of this neighborhood joint for more than forty years. When his regulars come calling, youíll find him behind the bar, popping the cap off of an Abita or pouring a little Wild Turkey. But if itís slow, heíll be busying himself somewhere among his vast collection of baseball caps and garage sale paintings, tending to his flock of animals, or fiddling with his urban garden. With the time Broyard spends cultivating seeds, he could garnish more cocktails than he cares to even sell. He has a collection of fruit trees, a few vegetables and dozens of tomato plants. There have actually been times that Broyard has reaped such a harvest that he would share the bounty with his customers, regulars and tourists alike. He even grows mirlitons, a squash thatís used regularly in Creole cooking and a vegetable that is celebrated each year with the community-wide Mirliton Festival.

What constitutes the fabric of a community? The streets? The buildings? The businesses? The people? These things are certainly part of the warp and woof of any neighborhood. But what about the corner bar? Clouet Street is under water, but The Saturn Bar beckons to all of us as a reminder of the small treasures tucked in and around a city like New Orleans and the role that they can play in a neighborhood like the Ninth Ward. Itís not Galatoireís or Commanderís Palace. Itís a little brown building with a door that opens to a community. Itís the thing that connects that community to the rest of usóand to the rings of Saturn.

While there have been so very many losses to mourn these last two weeks, we can now allow ourselves a hint of celebration: OíNeil Broyard and his beloved Saturn Bar have survived the storm. Now, he and his flock wait for the streets to dry up and for their neighbors to return.

Link courtesy C. Taggart & S. Hochman!

10 thoughts on “

  1. As you might have gotten word, O Neil died of a heart attack on 12/22. I first met him in 1984, I was visiting NOLA for the first time and was taken there by a friend. I asked if I could take a few photos. O’Neil said ok, but not with a lot of enthusiasm. I returned a few months later and brought with me some prints of the photos I made. He was thrilled and told me something I have never forgotten as a photographer. He said “A lot of people take photos here, but few bring any back”.

    Over the years more than a dozen of my framed photographs were hung on the walls of the Saturn and although my work has shown across the US and Europe, I’ve never felt prouder than when I would visit the Saturn and see my work on the walls there.

  2. Stan, where may I access your photographs of Saturn Bar? Did you take any others in that neighborhood? I grew up in the Bywater area and would love to see anything that you photographed there.

    Henry Harmison
    New Orleans, LA
    hsharmison(at)cox.net

  3. We were displaced by Katrina. After moving four times in five months we have just located in Baton Rouge and learned that O’Neil has died. We passed by his bar several times when we made trips to New Orleans after the storm to look for him.
    He was a friend for many years. We are so sad.
    Where did he die? Was he at home; in hospital? Where is he buried?
    Our condolences to family and friends.
    sincerely, Harold Kelt

  4. We were displaced by Katrina. After moving four times in five months we have just located in Baton Rouge and learned that O’Neil has died. We passed by his bar several times when we made trips to New Orleans after the storm to look for him.
    He was a friend for many years. We are so sad.
    Where did he die? Was he at home; in hospital? Where is he buried?
    Our condolences to family and friends.
    sincerely, Harold Kelt

  5. We were displaced by Katrina. After moving four times in five months we have just located in Baton Rouge and learned that O’Neil has died. We passed by his bar several times when we made trips to New Orleans after the storm to look for him.
    He was a friend for many years. We are so sad.
    Where did he die? Was he at home; in hospital? Where is he buried?
    Our condolences to family and friends.
    sincerely, Harold Kelt

  6. We were displaced by Katrina. After moving four times in five months we have just located in Baton Rouge and learned that O’Neil has died. We passed by his bar several times when we made trips to New Orleans after the storm to look for him.
    He was a friend for many years. We are so sad.
    Where did he die? Was he at home; in hospital? Where is he buried?
    Our condolences to family and friends.
    sincerely, Harold Kelt

  7. We were displaced by Katrina. After moving four times in five months we have just located in Baton Rouge and learned that O’Neil has died. We passed by his bar several times when we made trips to New Orleans after the storm to look for him.
    He was a friend for many years. We are so sad.
    Where did he die? Was he at home; in hospital? Where is he buried?
    Our condolences to family and friends.
    sincerely, Harold Kelt

  8. just a short mention to all o’neil’s friends. i am sorry to report the sad passing of my very good friend, forgive my lack of detail since i found out about it while awy from the area.. i am grateful to have had a visit with him shortly after my initial return to the city.. when i think of good people, i must think of o’neil. heis greatly missed….

  9. Hey everyone…my Dad, Eric Broyard, is the new owner of the Saturn Bar. I just wanted you all to know that we should be opening really soon; hopefully in about two weeks. E-mail me with any questions or comments you may have. Also, check out our myspace site. Thanks for all of the support-Bailee Broyard

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