Patrons of Joe's Cozy Corner are shocked because, as a result of that gunshot, Uptown resident Richard Gullette died across the street from the bar. "I feel a lot of sorrow; I just feel so sorry for all the parties," says trumpet player Kermit Ruffins. Like many local musicians, he's long been a regular at Joe's, the little brick bar at the corner of Ursulines and North Robertson streets.
Customers and neighbors are also reeling because the man who pulled the trigger -- 63-year-old "Papa Joe" Glasper, who owns Joe's -- has for years preached against gun violence. "I've seen him stop shootings, grab a handgun out of someone's hand," says Henry, sitting on the shoeshine stand in front of Joe's. Another regular customer, Earl Carter, nods his head. He's seen that twice, he says, once on the corner and once on the street in front of the door.
Customers like Henry, Ruffins and Carter are now bracing for another blow. Unless a judge grants an injunction, Joe's Cozy Corner will be serving its last drink on Thursday.
Last month, the city's Alcohol Beverage Control Board yanked the club's liquor license. "When bars and lounges establish a pattern of lawlessness and become safe havens for criminal activity, we will shut them down," Mayor Ray Nagin said in a press release.
Neighbors and customers say it's more complicated than that. They universally condemn the shooting. But, they say, this bar -- called Ruth's Cozy Corner before Glasper took over about 13 years ago -- is one of the city's cultural treasures and an anchor that helps keep this neighborhood safe.
"Somehow the mayor has to understand what an important community center this is," says Mary Pat VanTine, who's been seeing jazz at Joe's for a decade now.
The place has almost a legendary status. Actor Sean Penn once sat along the bar at Joe's. Photographer Annie Lebowitz spent time there, having drinks and looking at the photos of Treme jazz musicians on the walls. Here, during a friend's campaign, Lindy Boggs ordered herself an Absolut on the rocks. And the building's distinct facade, dotted with colorful paintings of musicians, served as the background for Ruffins' portraits in both GQ and People magazines.
A few years ago, local photographer-writer Richard Sexton was asked to contribute to Celebrating the Third Place, a book about neighborhood gathering places. He chose two New Orleans spots -- Galatoire's restaurant and Joe's Cozy Corner. In his essay, he recalled his first trip to the club to hear jazz. "Major venues and recording contracts may represent where Kermit Ruffins and Henry Butler have arrived," he wrote, "but Joe's is at the heart of where they came from. The best way to describe the music scene at Joe's is that it's 'the real thing.'"
No one has observed Joe's more than Jessie Varnado, who often sits on her porch watching the club's crowd. "I would just hate if they closed it down," says Varnado, who at 78 has lived in this spot for more than 40 years. People from the corner look out for her and bring her food from the grill whenever they're cooking. "I feel good having them down there," says Varnado. "And, to me, it looks like everyone has a nice time -- the white go down there and the black."
In the Treme neighborhood, which has produced so many of the city's great musicians, the bar can inspire grand pronouncements. "Joe's is to jazz what Bethlehem is to Christianity," says John Richardson, a jazz pianist and record producer from England who lives just down North Robertson Street from Joe's.
At this point, the club also stands alone as the very last live-jazz venue in the Treme. "I can remember not too long ago, six or so years ago, when we were playing in all these bars," says Corey Henry. One by one, those clubs closed or weren't allowed to have music anymore. "This is the only place we have left," he says.
"Everyone who knows Joe's knows that daytime is so nice, you would not believe it," says Kermit Ruffins.
On a typical morning, the jazz and R&B on Joe's jukebox can be heard through the open side door that reads "Jazz Jammin Every Sunday" in yellow and red letters. Inside, someone sings along to a Sinatra song, and a few old men laugh, big rollicking laughs. People are almost always smiling and laughing in that bar, says Juanita McNair, a petite woman in her mid-20s who's wearing a purple home-health worker's smock with teddy bears on it. The jokes and smiles keep the atmosphere at Joe's sweet, she believes. "Usually, if you're in the middle of a laugh, you're not going to turn sour on someone."
As usual, the customer sitting at the middle of the bar is promoting number 3301 on the jukebox. "It's 'I Got a Big Fat Woman' recorded by the Treme Brass Band, featuring Mr. Henry Youngblood," laughs a 70-year-old man who turns out to be Youngblood himself. "I come here most every weekend, sometimes during the week. Or anytime I feel like it," he says. "When I get tired, my wife comes and get me."
"Youngblood! Henry Youngblood!" A head topped with a flat straw hat peeks in the front door, preceded by a fancy cane. It's Youngblood's lifelong friend, 72-year-old bass drummer "Uncle" Lionel Batiste, who's here with a music photographer to pose on the three-chair shoeshine stand that Batiste built out front.
"The best part about Joe's is all the elderly people who hang out there in the daytime," says Ruffins. "The stories and the laughs you can get are unbearable, any given day."
On his days off, Ruffins says, he walks into Joe's with a tablet, orders a beer, and jots down a few notes. Inevitably, on those days, someone lights up the big, custom-made grill out front and they cook all afternoon, feeding anyone who comes by.
Some mornings, Henry Levine stops by with pork links and eggs and makes breakfast for everyone. Levine is known only as "Cabbie" around Joe's because of the orange taxicab he drives from 4 a.m. to around 1 p.m. "I'm here seven days a week," says Levine, walking to the jukebox to play his favorite number, "Back to Normal" by Johnny Adams. "When I get home, my wife says, 'Where you been, by your house?' She calls this my house."
Music -- especially jazz -- is a standard topic among Joe's regulars. The old men in here also seem to specialize in detailed political conversations. But they also can hold animated discussions on more unusual topics, like manicures and pedicures -- who gets the best foot massages and what sort of clear-coat fingernail polish works best.
Early in the day, next-door neighbor Curtis Francis cleans the bar room and empties the trash cans. Lloyd Dright holds down the bar, standing behind the long faux-marble countertop that he built himself several years ago. A while back, Dright ran Jerry's Bar on St. Bernard Avenue. "It was named after my wife," he says -- but after she died, he didn't have the heart to run it anymore.
Dright expertly spins a napkin onto the bar with his left hand and places a drink on top of it with his right. He believes that running a bar requires a careful balance. "You have to be tough and good," he says. "Because if you're too good, people'll come in and run over you. Just like in your own house."
Dright pours a beer for Gerald Stone, a Treme native and a custodian at Joseph A. Craig school for 36 years. "This is my stop, not most every day -- every day," says Stone, sitting on a bar stool at Joe's. "At age 55, there's not too many places I can go."
Next to him sits Alden Caryn, who drives a van for Delgado Community College. Caryn doesn't want to think about the possibility of this place closing. "Baby, I'm going to tell you like this," he says, his toothpick wiggling in his mouth. "Anywhere you go, you are going to have things happen. I like coming here -- I love coming here -- and I'm going to keep coming here until the end." He takes the last swig of his Budweiser, stands up, and looks over at Dright, who says, "All right. See you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," says Caryn, walking out the door and waving at a passing car.
All day long, cars drive by Joe's, giving little honks and sometimes braking for a few minutes. Treme native Robert Green stops his car to explain. "It's tradition almost -- every morning and every evening, people stop. It's like finding out the news."
People who stop at Joe's commonly say, "I'll pass through later" or "Has so-and-so passed through yet?" Louisiana State University anthropology professor Helen Regis, who has written about New Orleans second-line culture, says that she herself has started "cutting through the Sixth (Ward)." That means taking Ursulines Street from Rampart Street and then turning left at Joe's. "You know that you can always see Uncle, Youngblood, Corey and Kermit," she says. "It's that place where you go to talk, a community center as much as a bar."
Regis says that she believes a fair number of Joe's regulars were born and raised in the neighborhood but live elsewhere now. "Through Joe's, they're staying connected with the place that's a big part of who they are -- the Treme."
Rachel Breunlin lives nearby and is now finishing her thesis on the club and its owner for a master's degree in urban anthropology at the University of New Orleans's College of Urban and Public Affairs. "The nights Joe's has music are really special experiences for neighbors, because so much talent leaves the neighborhood," she says. But on those nights, Treme musicians are playing for the people who nurtured them.
They're also playing for fellow musicians. Like trumpeter James Andrews, who has family on all the surrounding blocks. "We get so much inspiration here at Joe's," he says, "from all the people who have played here and play here now." This place, he says, is the home of the second line, the place where all the downtown parades end. It's the place where many of the brass musicians meet up, before and after gigs. "I've met people from all over the world in here," he says. "Tell 'em, 'The whole world comes to Joe's.'"
In March, when Kim James married her husband Mike, the entire wedding party came to Joe's after the reception. "Because this is the only place I have a good time in," says James. "All night, people are dancing, talking, mingling. It's not no chaos."
James waves hello to a drummer who's walking in the door with his snare hanging from a shoulder strap. Then she orders a drink and sits next to the bar. "See how we're talking like this?" she says. "At other places, people don't know how to converse."
"I have never heard nothing positive about Joe's bar," says Gloria Gullette, speaking in the City Council chamber last month during a hearing held by the city's Alcohol Beverage Control Board. A few feet away, a young woman sits, surrounded by other Gullette family members. She holds a sign that reads, "Save Lives, Close Joe's Bar." Throughout the lengthy hearing, she rotates signs. "Put Down Guns, Pick up the Bible," reads one. Another reads, "Justice for Richard Gullette, Close Joe's Bar."
On Jan. 18, Joe Glasper's world crashed into the world of Gloria Gullette and her sisters. That day, Glasper shot their brother, Richard Gullette, who was selling beer across the street from Joe's after the jazz funeral and second line for Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen.
According to New Orleans Police Department reports, Glasper had called the police and asked them to disperse all the beer vendors outside his bar. Everyone left except for Gullette. Observers say that Glasper walked across the street and demanded that Gullette leave. Gullette then punched Glasper in the head and Glasper shot Gullette in the abdomen.
Gullette was taken to Charity Hospital and pronounced dead. Glasper waited for police to arrive and turned himself in. He is free on bail pending trial, but is not commenting on the situation on the advice of his attorney.
The Gullette family sits on the left side of the room. On the other side sit defense attorney Carol Kolinchak, Lloyd Dright, several Treme residents and Glasper along with his son. When Glasper was growing up near here, he came to this spot every day to attend A.P. Williams Elementary School, which once stood on this block. Today he sits silently, as the city attorney introduces its case against Joe's Cozy Corner -- a few narcotics arrests, a gun-possession charge, a murder that took place in the bar in December 2002, and Glasper's actions on Jan. 18.
Kolinchak notes that none of the narcotics arrests resulted in convictions. The man with the handgun was an attorney who had a permit, she says, and the charges were dropped. He had been ordered into the bar by police officers making an alcohol and beverage check there.
Kolinchak, herself a Joe's regular, says that the December 2002 murder of Mark Cerf was a tragedy that Glasper could not have stopped. Regulars agree. It was a hit, they say, committed by someone bold enough to enter a bar filled with people and shoot Cerf point-blank.
Glasper's son discusses taking over for his father, but his paperwork is incomplete. Then public comment begins. Each speaker is told to limit comments to two minutes. Almost no one does.
First to the podium is Gullette's brother, followed by a woman named Barbara Veal. "I came because my child, Mark Cerf, was killed in the bar," she begins.
Next comes one of Gullette's eight sisters. "The very fact that Mr. Glasper needs to purchase a .357 Magnum indicates that it's not the kind of business we want in our neighborhoods," she says. She talks about how her brother had two prosthetic legs but how he was still able to repair their father's roof.
Patricia Cook, another sister, walks to the microphone, then glares at Glasper. "Why did you need to leave your overflowing bar and go across the street?" she asks. Throughout the next hour of comments, Glasper remains silent, due to his pending criminal court case.
Iris Gullette is next to speak. "Richard Gullette was my husband, and that was my livelihood," she says. She looks toward Glasper and says, "He has ruined my entire life," then begins crying and is helped back to her seat.
When it's Gwen Gullette Germain's turn, she turns and speaks to Glasper. "Do you have a heart, any remorse for what our family went through?" she asks at first, then finishes by turning again to Glasper. "I would like to say this to Mr. Joe: You have a God to face like we all do."
Later, Sheila Gullette, a minister, holds up a photo of her brother in a military uniform. "When fun and money and music become more important than life, we have to re-examine our priorities," she says.
The board unanimously votes to revoke the bar's liquor license. No one will be able to sell alcohol at that location for at least one year. The Gullette family applauds and they hug each other while Glasper and his supporters walk up the aisle, leaving behind a sign that reads "Live Jazz Every Sunday Night."
The hearing was televised a number of times on local cable access. Albert Hunter, one of the daytime regulars at Joe's, found the process unfair. "You're giving him a black eye before the public before he goes to the real trial," he says.
Mary Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University, has written about the blurring of civil and criminal law. Often, she explains, civil proceedings happen before or at the same time as criminal proceedings and there is no legal reason that this hearing should wait until after the trial.
"This is considered a civil proceeding," says Cheh. "But they do have to treat you fairly. They can't make decisions based on emotional testimony that's irrelevant to the question at hand."
Even if the proceedings were conducted properly, the results might be the same, she emphasizes. "Maybe the board would find that, yes, this is a site where a lot of troublemakers are drawn, and things happen, and it's not under control, and therefore we're going to yank your license."
But that should be accomplished in an orderly proceeding, focused solely on the issue at hand -- whether the bar was a nuisance, says Cheh. "That's how you do things. I don't understand why people were coming up and commenting like it was some call-in radio show."
Every afternoon, over in the Treme section of town, children in plaid uniforms race down the front steps of Craig Elementary and sprint down a block-long stretch of sidewalk, backpacks in hand and pigtails flying. They're headed for the neighborhood bar.
As the children round the corner, they see Papa Joe Glasper sitting in his usual position, in a chair by the bar's front door. They skip toward him, yelling "Papa," and tugging on his shirt.
It's an everyday occurrence, says Juanita McNair. "The kids come here from school -- straight here," she says, sipping on her own glass of 7-Up. Sometimes the children get potato chips, soda pop, fruit rollups, says McNair. "But Papa always has something for them."
Today, he puts on a stern face and asks them about school, then -- when he's satisfied with the answers -- pulls a money clip out of his pocket and peels off a dollar bill for each kid. They run off, some of them to play basketball around the hoop Glasper put up across the street, where Ursulines dead-ends just before it hits Claiborne Avenue.
The same kids also visit every morning. "Plenty of schoolchildren pass by here to get their donuts and milk from Papa Joe," says neighbor Doris Kendrick, sitting out on her front steps.
Glasper points at his forehead. "It's food for the brain," he says. "You can't learn if you're hungry."
Part of the difficulty in separating Joe's Cozy Corner from its owner is that Glasper is a bigger-than-life character. He is a soft touch for neighbors who need bills paid, kids without winter coats, and the fuzzy stray cats who hang around outside. If old ladies in the neighborhood get a check but don't want the money around their houses, he'll keep the cash in his safe for them until they need it.
Countless customers can recall Glasper toting food to families who needed it. And, they say, every year in the fall, the neighborhood kids -- "my children," Glasper calls them -- get whatever school supplies they need. He keeps spares in the bar. "Baby, I been poor in life; ain't nobody got to tell me how it feels," he says, grabbing a tablet and some pencils for one of the kids.
Rachel Breunlin traces Glasper's generosity back to his upbringing in the Third Ward, much of which was torn down a half-century ago to make way for buildings like City Hall, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and the Orleans Parish Civil Court.
"Papa Joe watched the physical infrastructure of his neighborhood collapse," says Breunlin. He then wanted to re-create that sense of neighborhood, so he brought the Third Ward's traditions and groups -- such as the Jolly Bunch Social and Pleasure Club -- to the Treme, where his family moved when he was about 15 years old.
Glasper's sense of responsibility for the neighborhood also came from that upbringing, Breunlin believes. He agrees. "You see, I believe in the old ways," he says often. "The new ways are no good."
Glasper is also a self-described "music fanatic" who remembers seeing Louis Armstrong walking through his neighborhood when he was growing up. "He was always dressed fine, elegant," says Glasper. "He had a good shoe on his feet." Glasper has had his eyes on footwear since age 11, when he began shining shoes for men's clothing-store owner Sam Bernard. "Always be neat by the feet," he'll tell the younger guys as he works the bar's shoeshine stand.
As a youngster, Glasper also learned how to use both his fists and his wits. Today, if he sees someone dealing drugs, he'll call 911 at the drop of a hat. A brass band chant that's been around for several years says, "Who called the police? Papa Joe." Glasper is proud of that. "I don't want dope or dope-dealing around my premises. I don't like it. I don't stand for it," he says. Even Kermit Ruffins can recall being chased off the corner for smoking weed.
If a guy gets too aggressive with a woman customer, Glasper will grab him by his shoulders and show him the door. He's banned countless people from the premises, says Ruffins. "I've seen a lot of people who loved the place who still can't come back there to this day because Papa caught them in the bathroom or on the corner snorting coke or rolling up a reefer."
If Glasper is trying to deal with a hassle or if he's watching something and he doesn't approve, he scowls, pushing out his lower lip and lowering his eyebrows. But the look may not last long. When two teenage boys stroll by, Glasper orders them to retrace their steps and pick up a piece of litter they dropped on his sidewalk. "Don't make me have to cut off those dreadlocks," he says gruffly. Then the stern look disappears. "Are you going to see your daddy at work?" he asks.
Breunlin teaches writing at John McDonogh Senior High School and, last year, had a student who wrote about living down the street from Joe's in an essay called, "The Nosy Man, Papa Joe." Breunlin quotes from it. "The man is so nosy. He's always calling the police on the boys on the corner of St. Philip and North Robertson. Even though the boys do sell drugs, they don't cause no harm." The girl sums up her essay by saying: "Sometimes he's cool, but sometimes he can be very grumpy and a pain in the ass. Excuse my language."
His regulars nod their head. "Papa is a goddamn tomcat -- he's finicky," says Reggie Batiste, who grew up down the street and returns to the neighborhood nearly every day to make a stop at Joe's.
Glasper's nickname is fitting, says Batiste. "Papa is not only a bar owner to me. He's like a father." Most of the other young guys who spend time in the bar will say the same thing, he says. "Papa gives us counseling even though we don't agree with half of what he tells us. And we go to him for advice. I love him for that."
What some might see as nosiness, others will see as watchfulness. One customer used to drive a beer truck that delivered to Joe's. One day, he says, an armed man walked up to his truck out front, intending to rob him. "Papa saw it, ran out, and stopped it," he says.
Treme neighbors of photographer and attorney L.J. Goldstein recall the night that his house was spray-painted across the front with anti-Semitic messages. Early the next morning, Glasper was the first one knocking on the door, checking to see if he was all right. "We don't need that around here," Glasper says, recalling the incident. "This ain't no hating neighborhood."
A dozen years ago, when Glasper first opened Joe's, he bought a .357 Magnum and got a permit for it. But he'd never once used it -- until January, when he fired one shot. That shot left some customers conflicted about a man they've admired for years.
Goldstein spent many afternoons studying for law school at Joe's. "What is going to be Papa Joe's legacy?" he asks. "Is it going to be all the good things he did for the community from that bar room? Or is it going to be that one shot he fired from that gun?"
Joe's is not the first local bar to be closed after a violent incident. But with other establishments, neighbors say, the residents from the adjoining blocks were fighting to see the bars closed. That isn't happening here -- none of the Gullettes live nearby and many of the neighbors nearest to the bar signed a petition asking that it stay open. The text on top of the petition noted: "Our neighborhood, as is true of many neighborhoods in New Orleans, has been plagued by drugs and violence and some of that has spilled into Joe's. However, that is and has always been the exception at Joe's."
One neighbor who's lived very close to the bar for 25 years says that there probably have been 20 shootings on that corner during that time. But a lot of the surrounding corners have also seen their share of violence and drug dealing, he says. Even neighborhood people who are highly critical of Glasper worry that the shuttering of Joe's would do nothing except leave this corner open for dealers from adjacent corners.
Going from stoop to stoop, from porch to porch, it seems as though most close neighbors support the bar. "It's not a problem for us. And I raised six children here," Doris Kendrick says, sitting on the front steps of her house. Her husband, Richard, agrees. "I'd like it to stay open," he says.
"I don't go there now, because I'm of age and I'd rather stay in," says Doris, who just turned 68. "But I do listen to the music. Sometimes I wake up at three in the morning and I listen to the music by the window. Yes, I do."
To ask why a neighborhood bar is important is to ask a big question, says Florida sociologist Ray Oldenburg. "You might just as well ask, 'What's important in life?'" Oldenburg, author of the book The Great Good Place, is a longtime defender of gathering places like bars and coffeehouses, which he calls "third places" (home is first and work is second). A few years ago, Oldenburg edited Celebrating the Third Place, the book in which Richard Sexton wrote about both Joe's and Galatoire's.
"A neighborhood bar does a variety of things, but it also makes the neighborhood," says Oldenburg. "In the heyday of the tavern, 80 percent of the trade came from within a two-block radius. And because it was there, everybody knew everybody." After World War II, with the advent of suburbs and neighborhoods that were zoned residential-only, that changed, he says.
"The city of New Orleans is now saying no more liquor outlets in residential neighborhoods," says Dr. Richard Scribner, who researches "alcohol-related outcomes" in New Orleans -- homicides, assaults, sexually transmitted diseases -- through his job at the LSU School of Public Health.
Scribner believes this new zoning change is a step in the right direction. "We're in a city where we make alcohol freer than any city in America," he says. And, he says, research links crime to alcohol. "Most bars, especially 24-hour bars," he says, "attract people who sell drugs and carry guns."
Oldenburg too knows of research showing more serious crime in areas with bars. But, he says, these areas of town had other serious problems as well -- like poverty and drugs. "Politicians are going to say, 'Shut these places down' because they can sell that to people as a remedy," he says. "A better answer is to say, 'Let's understand that these places serve important functions.'"
"When Joe's closes down, I'm going to be lost," says Reggie Batiste. "I don't go nowhere else."
As a kid, Batiste says, he would rollerskate up to a little side window on what was then Ruth's Cozy Corner. He walks outside to show where the window used to be and bends his knees to demonstrate how he -- as a short kid -- used to perch on a little pipe that stuck out of the building. That way, he could peer into the window, tease the clerk and buy potato chips, pickles and frozen cups. "This place has been around here so long, it's ridiculous," he says.
In some ways, the inside of Joe's is like a family scrapbook for Batiste. He walks back inside and touches a photo high on one of the bar's rose-colored walls. "That was taken in 1974, if I'm not mistaken," he says. It was the premiere of a new social and pleasure club called The Moneywasters, launched by his family -- the Batistes -- and the Jones family, which included the family of Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones and his stepmother, the Ruth of Ruth's Cozy Corner.
"There were six divisions in that parade," Batiste recalls. He was only 9 years old at the time, but he can still remember what song launched the parade. He sings it -- it's the brass band anthem "Tuba Fats" and it was played by none other than Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, he says, pointing at a few 8-by-10 pictures of the beloved big man.
In the Moneywasters photo, Batiste points out his own father and his uncle, Uncle Lionel Batiste. Then he walks further down the wall, identifying nearly every person in nearly every photo. "There's a lot of history in here," Batiste says. "People say, 'It's a breeding ground for violence.' But if you don't know, you don't know. You're looking at it from the outside."