We spend so much of our time talking to bartenders about a litany of subjects from the weather to problems at work or home. Sometimes, we spend more time with them than we do with some of our family. They not only serve us cocktails, but sometimes advice. They make us laugh, keep an eye out for us when we may have had a little too much to drink, and even act as a therapist. They are, in a succinct word, our “friend”. The saying “A stranger is a friend I haven’t met yet” is a perfect summation of my Bartender of the Month of December. David McElveen works at The Bourbon Pub & Parade, and is one of the most fascinating bartenders in town.
David was born in Bangkok, Thailand, to a Thai mother and an American military father during the Vietnam War. Moving to the United States shortly before the war ended, his family settled in North Louisiana where David spent most of his youth. He came to New Orleans for college at Tulane University after falling in love with the city during his mother’s U.S. citizenship naturalization process.
David started his bartending career initially by pouring beer for Mark Scovern upstairs at the Bourbon Pub on Sunday nights (at the station closest to the balcony corner) for Beer Bust Tea Dance in 1993. He was officially hired to bartend in January of 1994 almost just in time for Mardi Gras. The rest is history; he has been at The Bourbon Pub/Parade ever since, except for a short while when he moved to making craft cocktails for Feelings Restaurant a few years back.
David is a force behind the bar. Always professional, he can service a packed bar and still be social. And his ability to make all sorts of drinks and craft cocktails make him a wonderful asset. One of the things he likes doing is making shots and learning new ones. Cocktails are all about creativity and he loves getting crazy with drinks.
“It’s amazing how many of the basic liquors and liqueurs mix well together, and some of my favorite shots to make would have to be a Firedrop (a Fireball-based lemon drop), a White Gummy Bear shot, and the Duckie,” he says. He goes on to say that if you want the Duckie, you have to go in to find out about it. Well, that seems like a challenge to me.
He admits that when he goes out, he enjoys an adventurous craft cocktail (the crazier the ingredients the better), but his go-to libation is an Australian Sauvignon Blanc or a French rosé.
Bartending has been a great outlet for socialization for him. He quipped that, “It’s probably the best job where you can get paid legally for showing people a good time.” Customers that he has served over the years have become friends. He sees his customers as people, not just part of his job which is why he is so good at it.
David enjoys working at The Pub/Parade tremendously because it has such a long, colorful history and has been a place for many people from all over who need a safe haven to be themselves. “Many tourists become locals or quasi-locals,” he said, “visiting a few times a year, or even every few years, but I remember their drinks and their stories as if I had just met them.”
“I am in awe and humbled every time a customer from the past reminisces about the impact that I had on their time in New Orleans and their younger years.” I think more bartenders need to hear this statement. You do not understand how positively you affect people. Your hospitality adds to their memories for years to come. I have always said that bartenders are true ambassadors for our city.
Now that you know about David, you can find him upstairs at the bar closest to the balcony corner on Fridays evenings, Saturday all day, and Sunday evenings. After the New Year, as business in the city continues to recover, he’ll be making rotations downstairs. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram for updates.
One of my questions in every interview is how did COVID affect you and what do you see as the future of the industry? David’s answer was touching and hopeful.
“The pandemic affected me greatly. I went from being surrounded by hundreds of people every week to seeing no more than 5 people daily. The loss of the revenue stream for nearly a full year had a profound financial effect. But there were positive outcomes as well. I was able to spend more time with my husband and son and other family, complete some projects that I had been saving for a rainy day and focus on expanding my real estate practice. I think that the pandemic gave people in the hospitality industry a wake-up call. You can’t take anything for granted. Make the most of today but always be prepared for tomorrow–you never know what is going to happen.”
In addition to being a bartender, about 10 years ago David started practicing real estate. His husband had been licensed since Hurricane Katrina and it seemed like a natural fit for him to get licensed as well and form a business partnership. He works in the Latter & Blum Historic Office on Elysian Fields. Over the years some of his bar patrons have become real estate clients. “What I bring to bartending is the same skill set I bring to real estate–I enjoy being of service and making people feel at home. Whether it be out on the town or within the walls of the dream house that I helped them find.”
Come see David at the Bourbon Pub & Parade located at 801 Bourbon Street.