Buried at the Bar: From Favorite Watering Hole to Final Resting Place
A good bar will always have customers who claim that it's their home away from home. But some bars create an atmosphere so welcoming that regulars never want to leave — even after they die. Whether the ashes are stashed behind the bar or buried under it, a few loyal patrons have been inspired to turn their favorite watering hole into their final resting place.
Requests to be buried at the bar seem to pop up in the South more than anywhere else. New Orleans in particular is a city known as much for its colorful residents as it is for its food, cocktails and hospitality. And there's something quintessentially New Orleans about Brobson Lutz's last wishes.
"My idea was to be embalmed with the remoulade sauce from Galatoire's, and then be cremated... and designate someone to deposit my ashes in a couple of secret spaces that I know there," says Lutz. "But they sort of changed the remoulade, so I dropped that from my plan."
Lutz's revised plan is to have an "operative" hide his ashes throughout Galatoire's without permission from the management. Although the waitstaff is the reason he's dedicated to Galitoire's as if it were an old family member, he hasn't involved any of them in his plan for fear of getting them in trouble with their bosses.
A doctor who has lived in New Orleans since 1969, Lutz goes to Galatoire's twice a month—down from his peak of a couple times a week back when his favorite waiter Gilberto still worked there. He won't reveal exactly where his ashes would be squirreled away, but says that "anybody who drinks in the main dining room" will be able to toast to his "presence."
Of course, most bars that host a patron's ashes are aware of it.
The Maple Leaf Bar serves as the burial spot for Everette Maddox, a well-known New Orleans poet. Maddox penned many of his poems on bar napkins, fliers and beer coasters that his friends collected and published after his death. When he died in 1989, Maddox's ashes were buried in the patio under an epitaph that simply reads, "He was a mess."
Along with being Maddox's favorite place to drink, the Maple Leaf was also where he established the longest-running poetry reading series in North America. Show up Sundays at 3 p.m., and you can hear local poets read with Maddox only a few feet away.
The most talked-about ashes in the city are in a Crown Royal bottle behind the bar at Old Absinthe House. While he wasn't anyone famous, Rob hung out regularly at Old Absinthe House with his old Louisiana State University fraternity buddies. When he passed away in the 1990s, his friends brought his ashes to the bar to have one last drink with him after the memorial service. Well, they left the bag of ashes behind, according to long-time bartender Kathy Lewisch. And when they came back to retrieve them along with his wife, they decided the best way to celebrate his life was to keep his ashes at the bar in an empty bottle of his favorite booze.
"Every year when they come back to town, they sit there and they drink and they grab the bottle, set it down, set it at the bar with them and they have a shot also with him," says Old Absinthe House General Manager Sam Alassal. "They are loyal friends, buddies. You know, old-school. They order [a shot] for him."
A few states over in Georgia, Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta also holds ashes that are frequently treated to a round or two. An urn with the cremated remains of Calvin Fluellen sits behind the bar next to the ashes of the bar's namesake Manuel Maloof and his brother Robert. Fluellen was the first African-American graduate of the Grady Memorial College of Radiology, and people frequently ask to have a drink with his urn.
A little further south in Florida, there's George's Bar & Grill/Liquor Store, Orlando's oldest continually owned bar. The ashes of three regulars were laid to rest in the beer garden out back, including Bob, who was the bar's second customer back in 1971 and passed away more than a decade ago.
"We're an old timey bar and grill. It's just like it used to be," says Mark Fekany, son of George himself. "We're not like these modern bars with Facebook everything and Internet stuff. We don't even advertise other than word of mouth."
Alongside Bob's ashes are the ashes of Ron Jon and Gary. Ron Jon, who got his nickname because of his surfer looks, started coming to the bar at 18 and stayed a regular until he passed in his early 40s. Ron Jon's mother honored his wishes to have some of his ashes scattered at the bar, as did Gary's daughter when he passed.
"Two of them have memorial plaques placed there and the third one had a tree planted," Fekany says. "Ron Jon's mom still comes by and puts artificial flowers out there. We're honored they thought of us so highly."
However, navigating the afterlife from the bar isn't solely an American choice. Andrew Woodward, owner of the Boat Inn in the United Kingdom, honored his father's final request to be buried under the pub.
His father, Jack Woodward, was born in the pub, operated it for many years and then became a regular during his retirement. The Boat Inn has been owned and operated by the Woodward family since 1877. Now Jack's oak casket lies beneath a flagstone with a plaque that reads: "Stand here and have a drink on me."
It makes sense that as funerals transform into celebrations of life rather than meditations on death people would choose to have their remains in a happy place that not only meant something to them when they were alive but would continue to bring joy—and a shot of whiskey or two—to those they left behind.