Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Maestro

Patrick van Hoorebeck recently opened Patrick's Bar Vin in the St. Louis Hotel. A native of Belgium, The Maestro as he is known in certain circles, has lived in New Orleans for the last twenty-five years. As the king for life (redundant, yes but in Carnival speak) of the Krewe of Cork he has found a way to combine business and pleasure at his new bar. Let's put twentyish questions on the clock and get to know The Maestro.

Photo courtesy of Judi Bottoni.
While in Belgium I was working as a beer salesman for a brewery which had a beer called Vieux Temps (Old Times). I sold a lot of that beer so the men at the brewery called me Patia Vieux Temps, which translates as Pat Old Times. I had not seen my father in twenty years. He was living in Lafayette, I flew to New Orleans in June 1986. He picked me up at the airport and took me to Bourbon Street. I walked onto Bourbon St. and saw a sign for Pat O's and thought, "How cool is that?" So my father and I went into the bar and had a Hurricane. At the time I asked my father, "How long till the day there is a bar in the Quarter with my name on it?" He told me, "I don't think I'll live long enough." He was right.

My name full name is Patrick Philippe Daniel August van Hoorebeck, my sister's name is Evelyn. Our father loved Irish whiskey and ran a bar called the Old Irish Inn in Brussels. I ask him one day why we, proud Belgians, had Irish names and he told me that "Before he met our mother, he fell in love with an Irish girl."

We wanted to open the bar on St. Patrick's Day, but completion of the bar was delayed because of the wine bins. We ordered them in November from a company in California and they told us they would be here in three months. Six months later they arrived and we opened on Belgian Independence Day.

Joe Yaeger, who owns the hotel, asked me what I wanted to do. I told him there was no true wine bar in the French Quarter. There is the New Orleans Grapevine, but that has evolved into a restaurant. So, Mr. Joe bought this hotel and this spot had a liquor license already. So we sat down and had a talk and this bar was uncorked.

Like any bar owner, I want to make this a successful business. But also, I want to create a libation emporium, a spot where every drinker can find his vice.

With wine, people in United States drink better products, know more about wine, and educate their palates better now then they did when I first got here. But wine is still a trend in America. I can see in next ten years wine consumption going up and hard alcohol staying same or dropping a bit.

I've been drinking since I was very young. When my father had a restaurant in Brussels, he would take me to go see his wine distributor. The guy who owned the place, to entertain me while they tasted wine, would hand me a cigar box filled with labels and a book of wines. I would sit there and whenever I matched the wine in the book to a label, he would give me a franc to buy candy with. So I learned to become familiar with names and labels. When we would go to restaurants on Monday nights, I would always get a sip of whatever my dad was drinking.

The wine I chased, and caught eventually, was a very special wine. In 1964 after my parents had divorced, I was a skinny, feeble kid. Maybe I was depressed or mad or something, but we didn't have those terms when I was a kid. So, in 1964 my father takes me Switzerland when I am ten years old to place me in boarding school. We spend the night in the Grand Hotel de Montrieux and had dinner. At that dinner he ordered a 1954 Chateau Haut Brion. We drink it and he tells me (begins to tear up), "Patrick, you are going to boarding school tomorrow. But tonight we will drink this wine from the year of your birth. My wish is that someday you will drink this same wine at another time in your life." I did that two years ago in Las Vegas and it cost me a pretty penny (laughs).

With this wine list, I had to keep in mind that I had a budget which is not something I'd had to worry about before. But I did not want the list to become pretentious. I also filled the list with wines from people whose relationships and support I cherish, the wines of previous Grand Marshals of the Krewe of Cork, and wines from how do you say The Good Old School Club (Editor's Note: he means Good Ole Boys Club). You know the expression politically correct? Sometimes you have to be wine correct.

Next month we are going to start a Reserve Wine List. That list will have wines from the private collections of 2-3 men in town whose wines I will sell on a consignment basis. So that will be the high end, while on the low end I'll always have what we call the vin de patron - a wine the owner drinks which is at $20 a bottle. Right now that is a red from the Languedoc, that I drink myself and only $20 a bottle. That is amazing.

Running a bar in the French Quarter has caused us to invent a term. You know that movie Wedding Crashers? Well, there are Bar Crashers in the French Quarter - guys who stumble in at 11 pm, just because they see a light, who can't see much else and they just want another beer. They are very drunk and probably do not even know where they are.

Keeping it fun is intentional. Wine can get very serious if people let it. All of our signature cocktails feature wine or wine based liquors as the main ingredient. Things like Lillet. With our cocktails we like to keep simply simple. Let me say this, I have a lot of respect for modern cocktails and mixologists. But when I go into a bar with a good buzz and it takes them 15 minutes to get me a drink, I get aggravated. Do not waste a good buzz.

Put it this way, you are going out to dinner with your wife or girlfriend. And first you say, "let's get a drink." So you go somewhere and want an aperitif, which you know comes from the Latin word "to open." You want a drink to stimulate your palate, open you up. They already make drinks for this like Campari, Vermouth. There is no need to order an elaborate drink that costs you $32 for two drinks. Just order two sherries or Camparis at $6 a piece.

I am a white burgundy guy. When on a budget, I will tolerate Macon-Villages. Pouilly-Fuisse will be deja vu. I like to be drinking Meursault-Chassigny and Puligny-Montrachet. If I win the lotto, Batard-Montrachet.

I do not like the markup in the wine business. But it is what it is. But I don't like it. My father would say, whatever you buy wine for, sell it for double. But big business believes everything has to have a margin of 350% to be profitable. It rips people off and I dont like it.

New World wines have a friendliness to them that Old World wines do not. Wine is like a woman. Any woman can put a smile on your face, but the question is is that a real smile.

The French are bored with wine. Look, you have this young generation. They see wine everyday, their grandfather drinks wine, their mother drinks wine, wine is everywhere. Wine is boring to them. Over ten years ago, I went to France with a girlfriend who only drank martinis. I brought a shaker with me and would go to the bar and find out if they had vodka. If you asked for a martini, they would ask White or Red (he points to bar where two bottles of Martini vermouth sit). No one in France had heard of Grey Goose. Now, Grey Goose is a symbol of French pride and everyone drinks it. The French aren't drinking as much wine as before because of a generational shift and boredom, that is all.

Best advice to people who are beginning to build wine collections is to be patient. Before you go to a store, get on winery mailing lists of wines you like. And most of all, when you go into a restaurant, always order a wine you don't know anything about. Like driving a car. You may love Mercedes Benz's, but there is nothing wrong with test driving a Jaguar now and then.

Romanee-Conti and Cheval Blanc, to start. Some Chateauneuf-du-Pape, of course, Hermitage, Chateau Haut Brion, Margaux, and Batard-Montrachet. Richebourg, Champagne, California Cab, Sauternes, and Vintage Port, that would be a nice case of wine.

At end of day, I want a big glass of beer. Everywhere you go in the wine world, every wine maker say, "It takes a lot of beer to make good wine." And it is true.

Living in the French Quarter is living as a Bohemian. If the French Quarter did not exist, I would be back in Brussels. I went back to Belgium many years ago, and my friends asked me why I stayed in America. They would tease me and say, "Tell us, come on, you stay in America because you fell in love with a woman." I would say back to them, "No, I fell in love with the French Quarter."


Nick said...

Excellent interview, I've been to Patrick's Bar Vin and had the pleasure of meeting him. He's a really interesting guy and the bar is really cool.

Anonymous said...

couple of these "answers" make zero sense without the privilege of knowing the questions.

I know you have this weird explanation on how you dont want to upstage your interviewee, but it's absurd. Rolling Stone, Playboy, GQ - nobody else seems to get hung up on printing the questions. why? because they're useful to the reader.

stop hating your readers.

Rene said...

I don't hate our reader(s) at all. I bet you are someone who is still mad at the Sopranos for not showing you exactly how Tony died. I like writing the interviews this way. You are welcome to fill out a customer complaint form and request your money back. Our accountant, Peter, will get right on it.