It is wonderful to see life returning to the LGBTQ+ community as well as our bar scene. It is equally exciting when a new gay-owned-and-operated business is established. The American Townhouse opened at the end of June and is a welcome addition to our community. The well-appointed space boasts a sleek bar with an impressive array of wine and spirits. They also have a gorgeous courtyard and a second floor private event space with a balcony overlooking North Rampart Street.
I’ve been there a few times since its opening and discovered my Bartender of the Month for July. Rhett Gautreau is the epitome of a hospitality professional. His warmth, charm and boisterous personality are wonderful traits as a bartender. He also has the best sultry Cajun accent ever. An absolute whiz behind the bar, Rhett is quick, efficient, funny and has a stellar ability to handle large, thirsty crowds.
Rhett grew up in South Louisiana. His mother’s family hailed from Leeville and his father’s from Ascension Parish, but most of Rhett’s life was spent in Baton Rouge. After Katrina, he started working for Galatoire’s Bistro in Baton Rouge. There he met many New Orleanians who encouraged him to make the Big Easy his home. He started his life in the Crescent City in 2009 accepting a job at the restaurant Stella! When Stella! unexpectedly closed in 2014, he landed a coveted bartending gig at The Polo Lounge in The Windsor Court Hotel.
But his real adventure began when he helped open Black Penny at 700 N. Rampart in 2015, which was where he worked when the pandemic hit and life in the industry came to a screeching halt. I have been asking all the bartenders I interview how they handled the pandemic and what their thoughts are for the future of the industry.
“During the pandemic, I divided my time between New Orleans and Lockport, which is where my parents reside. My father underwent major surgery and I traveled home as much as possible to spend time with them and help as much as I could. For the first time in almost 20 years of working in the industry, I felt like I had time to properly take care of myself,” he told me.
His outlook for the industry is fascinating and spot on. “One of the largest changes I hope we will see in the service industry, in the future, is employers taking care of their employees as well as they take care of their guests. So many veteran service workers have pivoted into other fields out of necessity and those left deserve to be cared for both mentally and physically, to insure the success of our bars and restaurants. We’ve all heard about how difficult it’s been for so many businesses who would like to reopen to find staff, but can’t. I believe that many times it is not because there aren’t enough people willing to work, they just want to work for someone who cares about their health and well-being. I always feel as though you can immediately tell when staff members are properly taken care of and are happy and how that directly reflects in the quality of service and the product.”
He believes people are ready to enjoy the bar scene again. “I have noticed more and more customers learning to run the marathon and not attempt to sprint the race, myself included. We can’t wait to get out and support our friends and family in the industry and catch up with our favorite bartenders, but to make it through a long day of drinking requires us to properly pace ourselves, which is something that locals have always prided themselves on.”
Rhett pretty much is a master mixologist, but I was curious what he drinks when he goes out. When he is not sipping on a local beer and a shot of nice tequila, he likes to drink low proof spirits such as fortified wines mixed with club soda and some citrus. Simple, low proof cocktails are great for the summertime heat and easy to drink all day. Americanos are one of his personal favorite cocktails and they’re simple to make. They consist of equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth over ice and finished with club soda and a twist. His extensive background and knowledge about his craft gives him perfect insight when helping customers select new cocktails to try. I mean after all, you cannot be a basic “vodka soda” person all your life.
I asked Rhett what his favorite part about being a bartender was. “My favorite part of bartending is getting to meet as many people from all over the world and helping them understand what real southern hospitality is all about. Most of my best friends and chosen family all started out as bar patrons and kept coming back because they felt at home instantly and included in the fun. For me, there’s nothing like the feeling of being a part of a loving community and being able to open that up to others who wish to be included. Caring for others has always been something I take pride in and I’m super excited to have the opportunity to continue that on N. Rampart once again. It’s been so wonderful to watch the Rampart corridor flourish and to feel as though I have been a part of the revitalization of this section of the Quarter.”
Definitely visit the new American Townhouse and see Rhett who works mostly afternoon/evening shifts from 3-9 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday. American Townhouse is located at 1012 N. Rampart Street.