Extinct Restaurants

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Uptown: 3222 Magazine

Flagons opened during the great blossoming of Uptown Creole bistros. It became much like those restaurants. But it started out with humbler—if no less innovative—aims. Flagons was the city’s first wine bar. In the early 1980s, many restaurants had good collections of wine by the bottle. But almost none of them had more than a handful of wines served by the glass. And most of those were cheap house wines of little interest.

Flagons opened with forty wines by the glass. The selection changed constantly. Even the best-versed wine buffs found it interesting to pore over the list and have a taste or two of many different wines.

The system Flagons used to serve so many wines without their going bad was high-tech and interesting. The bottles were held inside handsome wood-and-glass cabinets at ideal serving temperatures. Tubes supplying nitrogen under pressure not only forced the wine out through a tap into the glass, but prevented the wine from deteriorating after the bottle was open.

Flagons was owned by Eugenie Vasser and Tim Garrard, who were married to each other (but not for much longer, as it turned out), plus wine merchant Mark Hightower. All were knowledgeable wine buffs, and had worked in the wine business somewhere along the line. Their wine selection was always intriguing, because they served the wines they were interested in. Nothing was off limits—not even old Bordeaux, not even if half-glasses had to be sold in double digits. (That was something else nobody had done here before.)

Flagons fooled everybody in the wine business, who wanted to see it take off but didn’t give it much of a chance. Largely because of Eugenie Vasser’s sense of style (she was from Natchez, and very charming), Flagons became a popular upscale hangout.

They opened with a minimal menu of food—boards of cheeses and cured meats and pates, soups, a few sandwiches. It wasn’t long before the kitchen expanded to serve a short bistro menu. That was well received, so a door was knocked through the wall into another, larger dining room.

Parker Murphy was the first in a series of brilliant young chefs brought in to run all this. They would stay just long enough to become well known, then move on to open their own places. Among Parker’s best successors was Michel Fouqueteau, a French chef who later turned up at Christian’s and La Provence. Each new chef left a great dish or two behind. Regular customers almost looked forward to the next turn of this revolving door.

In short, Flagons in the middle 1980s was enormous fun for food and wine aficionados. I dined there far too often—enough so that I sometimes was pressed into service as an unpaid bartender.

Flagons expanded again, extending the dining room all the way to Pleasant Street, buying the building, and building a major new kitchen. That came, unfortunately, just as the local restaurant economy—which was overbuilt—took a downturn. Then some bookkeeping problems appeared. Back taxes nearly bankrupted Flagons. Eugenie split with Tim (who had already left town). She continued to develop innovative ideas to jump-start the place. But the hole was too deep, and the restaurant closed right before wine really started going crazy in the mid-1990s.

It would be a decade before anything like Flagons came along again. Or needed to. Most restaurants began offering full pages of wines by the glass. And the ever-changing menu that made Flagons food interesting is common now. But it sure was fun while it lasted!

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