Fushan kids back in bus

New OrleansMay 2011:
Putting My Feet Up in New Orleans



Again the next day I hop off the Green Line tram at Canal Street. Then I cut over to Royal and walk down to 437. I am a little cautious about going into the shop. I stare in the window for awhile, then enter the shop.

It is not just guns but antique coins and stamps as well. I am glad that it is not just a gun shop, where it might be expected that you are a gun enthusiast. Maybe this concern is a little silly because any of the guns sold here are simply collectors items; they are guns too old to be fired. I in fact am an antique-gun owner. I have a five-shot, Iver Johnson 32-caliber pistol that I inherited from my grandmother. It is pearl-handled and silver-plated, unlike the standard Iver Johnson models. My grandmother was a school teacher in Arizona in the late 1890s and was afraid of coyotes and Indians. Hence the pistol that she never used on either. When as a kid I used to visit her, I used to go into her bedroom and ask to see "the gun." She took it out of her desk drawer, unloaded the cartridges—it was an unusual gun that breaks at the top, automatically ejecting all cartridges—and I got to point it out the window towards the vegetable garden in the back yard and absolutely nowhere else. Being the gun's greatest admirer—my brother's interests were elsewhere—I inherited it when she died. I still have it in a locker in San Francisco. It is unloaded and I have no bullets for it. I think I am a reasonably safe owner unless the gun should fall out of the locker and hit someone on the head.

Finally, I walk inside the shop and work my way around the counter on the left side, thinking about my grandmother and bygone times.

I ask a tall, thin, slightly nervous guy behind the counter about Peychaud's shop. Are gun shops supposed to make you nervous? Maybe so, because I was feeling a little nervous too. He tells me it was purchased by James H. Cohen & Sons—that's the name of the current shop—back in the 1800s. But he says that very little has changed. Mostly some offices were added in the back. The windows and the front of the store look virtually unchanged. Then I noticed three Colt 44s under the counter where we are standing. I inquire about them. I have always admired this weapon for its aesthetics. It is big, sleek, and well balanced. There are a couple of them in the Wells Fargo museum in the bank in San Francisco and I always have trouble walking by them without stopping to admire them. Have you ever held a long-barreled Smith & Wesson 357 magnum? Weapons like that have a strange, unwholesome attraction, at least for me. When I was younger I felt it intensely; now only a little. They combine beauty and the power to destroy all in one object; and in their explosive power, there is even something sexual about them. They are perhaps an evil fascination.

He lit up a bit when I asked about the Colts and pointed out that there were three slightly different models.

"Ah, yes, I see this now," I said, as if I had been foolishly inattentive before.

We were both now staring down into the glass case, two fellow worshippers.

Then I mentioned my pearl-handled, silver-plated Iver Johnson. He looked pained and said that unfortunately they had no Iver Johnsons. I let him know that mine was not for sale.

"Yes, yes, I understand," he said.

"Could I shoot a picture?" I asked, pointing to one of the Colts.

"Sure, no problem," he said. "Is the position okay?"

"Yes, I think it's fine," I said.

He had changed from cold to at least lukewarm. But sill I didn't have much information on Peychaud and the old shop. It was a big shop, though. That surprised me. I had somehow pictured a little shop with a small counter. This place was big enough to host a cocktail party, not just a few friends sitting on hard wooden stools and putting their feet up. There were also big windows from which to watch the street and, I thought, any ladies who might venture by. Was there a one-drink limit or was a second or even a third allowed? One will never know. There was no licensing board to check up on Peychaud back then.

And what about drinking in the street? I suppose the issue never came up, but it is hard to imagine Peychaud's friends walking off with the coquetier, or egg glass, turned upside down that he served his drink in. You may want to note that the French word coquetier, mispronounced "cocktail" by Americans, may have been the source of the name for this type of drink. But regard this possibility with skepticism. Merriam Webster shows the origin of "cocktail"  as cock + tail, and the Farmer's Cabinet newspaper used the term "cocktail" in an editorial about a "lounger" back in 1803, probably before Peychaud first served his drink. The world is full of stories. They form its mental fabric, according to some. So maybe we should just enjoy them.

The Sazerac Company now owns the Peychaud label, and if you want more information you can go to the Sazerac website. As for the Sazerac Coffee House, you can ask the Holiday Inn about that.


Taste of New Orleans