If you lived here, you’d be drunk by now.
Some wonder what it means to be a Quarter Rat, what it takes to survive on dumb luck and forced opportunity. Those of us who make our way here know it takes the right set of eyes to see… Peer behind the curtain, beyond the neon beacons and syrupy, sugar-laden drinks. Look past Bourbon Street, burdened with tacky souvenir shops and thumping disco blare. Amble on; discover the real French Quarter—one that is sacred and profane, placid and chaotic. –M. Bevis
That was the first paragraph from the very first Quarter Rat publication on March 9, 2009. It was printed on a single sheet of legal sized paper folded in half. One ad from Molly’s on Toulouse and a handful of snarky anecdotes about living and working in the French Quarter and lists of annoying tourists questions directed at bartenders: “What’s the cheapest thing you have?”; “Right now, it’s you.”
Soon the local fanzine became a much sought-after collectible. A cultlike following formed from the Bourbon Street hospitality workers eager for an outlet to rage about their experiences from the service industry trenches. Within a year, the Quarter Rat expanded to 18 pages filled with tales of breaking up drunken Texan brawls, more stupid questions from patrons, strippers farting on customers, getting drunk and/or fired at work and hallucinating mascots assaulted by drag queens.
It was a cathartic release for the frontline, boots-on-the-ground service industry folk whose daily workplace was (and still is, for some) the French Quarter. It was a support group of sorts for the veterans of the most chaotic tourist destination in the country. We count our tours of duty by how many Mardi Gras we fight and survive through. Sitting at the local dive bars we remember those co-workers from seasons past who had enough and moved back home. When they recounted their stories from the Quarter, no one believed them.
Advertising in the magazine increased to at least an ad per page and all were directed at our readers—the locals. Ads included drink specials from our favorite local haunts, the best places for an inexpensive lunch during a shift, record shops and dominatrixes offering services. There were never ads from the big name tourist joints that we actually worked at and for two reasons: we would not be caught dead as a customer at our place of work and this was not necessarily a publication for tourists.
The real secret for it was that it never took itself too seriously. The rag published sophomoric humor, embellished tales of actual French Quarter encounters, photos of scantily clad bartenders, bodily function jokes and the boast of “Now with 30% more typos.” The rodent mascot summed it up the best: we ain’t Disney World.
Several failed revivals sought to cash in on the tourist ad revenue, which was perceived as lucrative. That is why they failed in bringing it back. It was never for the tourists, it was always about them.
A few well known Bourbon Street establishments would refuse a stack of Quarter Rats dropped off on their cigarette machines. Some owners screamed at employees if they were even caught reading it at work, according to a few witnesses. Articles written by ex-employees blasting back at their former employers with libelous accusations and accounts of less-than-ideal work environments. This eventually contributed to the demise of advertising from business owners who saw it as crossing the line.
The mastermind behind this anti-publication went by the alias of Otis B. Easy: a charming, convincing and quite possibly sociopathic individual who could best be compared to the character Tyler Durden from Fight Club. Every bartender and kitchen help having a smoke in an alley, or street performer would wave to Otis and ask “When’s the next one coming out?”
When a new issue was released, on several occasions, a parade of topless young women organized Quarter Rat deliveries to our distribution locations. Local artists painted their breasts with themes of Christmas, Halloween or whatever was the topic of that issue. I watched these topless dancers and barmaids snatch handfuls of the magazine from a shopping cart and run into bars with fistfuls of issues to the delight of employees and customers alike. At most every location, a bartender or customer offered to buy shots for the girls.
As the ensemble reached the 800 block of Bourbon Street, things started fall apart. The now-wasted delivery girls would carelessly fling handfuls of magazines into an open bar and onto unsuspecting customers and staff. Half-naked women pulling a combative half-naked woman off a tourist may have presented the wrong image. By the time the final box of magazines was dropped off on lower Decatur Street, the group was scattered across three blocks. Some were MIA, while another was passed out in the shopping cart. Only Otis could have managed to organize such an event.
I came into the creative mix in October of 2010 for issue #18. I moved to New Orleans determined to make it as an artist. I was a little fish in a big pond filled with established local artists. I stumbled across one of those Craiglist ads asking for free artwork in return for exposure. “What the fuck, it’s a chance to get seen.”
From that point on I did the covers and additional artwork, as well as some writing for the QR. I located to the French Quarter and found myself being dragged from bar to bar, introduced to bartenders, dancers and bouncers who all knew my work. “I am Jack’s success.”
The highlight for me was a full page ad I designed for Bourbon Street’s Deja Vu strip club. I was escorted in by a bouncer who looked like a villain from Die Hard and he took me up to the manager’s office, where Buddha handed me $200. On my way out, a dancer jumped off of the stage and gave me a hug.
After leaving, I stood there and, for a brief moment, relished the fact that I walked out of a strip club with more money than I walked in with. I had climbed the food chain. Mission completed.
If you had to place a theme on the Rat, it would be “It’s all about the hustle,” whether it’s a shot girl pushing tubes of nasty tasting liquor, the guy betting you that he knows where you got them shoes or a publisher trying to sell a reality television show idea based on the life of a Quarter Rat. Yea, we tried to go there (we’ll save this story for later).
Given the level of entertainment available at the time, it seemed like it would sell. There was also a hustle for an animated show about life on Bourbon Street. That is another story I won’t go into for the time being, but it was a fitting end to the Quarter Rat and appropriate in so many ways, with poetic perfection. In hindsight, it was the best thing never to happen to me.
The final issue of Quarter Rat magazine was issue #30 for Mardi Gras 2013. Shortly after the abrupt ending to that incarnation, I was approached by some ambitious hipsters to bring back the publication and to capitalize on the still fervent cult following of the publication. Quarter Rat Monthly lasted two months. My buddy Eddie gave me $200 to do an issue in May 2015, Quarter Rat Digest. I was constantly being asked to do another issue. In 2016, I produced a full issue based on my comic “Binge.” I paid for 500 copies printed in China and charged a $5 cover price to offset the total absence of advertisers. I still have a couple of cases left. “Fuck this art shit, I’ll just sweep bars for now on.”
Now here we are with TheQuarterRat.com. For a while I had occasional contact with a writer who wanted to do something with this enigmatic legacy. I kind of kept blowing him off after having a dozen people approaching me over the years with notions continuing the premise. He was persistent and seemed to have some talent so I tossed him the logo with a “Good luck with that buddy” and a snicker. I was surprised to hear back from him with a link to a decent looking news site for the French Quarter. I only contribute opinionated libertarian rant pieces and locally themed memes. It’s enough for me for now.
I’m pleased to see that, much like the publication’s totem animal, the quarter rat hasn’t been exterminated.