Bob Demmons was entertaining out-of-town friends at Mardi Gras in 1949. And entertain them he did. Since Monday was sort of a quiet time, he took his group of six to lunch at Brennan’s. All very lovely. But his guests very unprepared for what happened there. Demmons surprised everyone at the table by producing a tiara and crowning one of his guests as Queen of the luncheon. And he presented the Queen with a bouquet of gladiolas. Demmons then escorted his party to the street where a horse-drawn carriage was waiting. Gaily tossing gladiolas to astonished diners at Brennan’s, the Queen and his party exited the restaurant and proceeded through the streets of the French Quarter. Tossing gladiolas. Thus was born a tradition. In New Orleans, a tradition is something that is 100 years old if no one likes it or one minute old if everyone likes it. Each year the party grew, and soon Demmons decided was getting too expensive to host by himself, so eager participants agreed to pay their own way. Before long, the group expanded to 55, the largest number the private dining room at Brennan’s could accommodate. In the early 1970s, Bob Demmons died, so his good friend Jim Wynne took over the duties of coordinating the traditional Queen’s Luncheon on the day before Mardi Gras. Wynne, who happily continued as Master of Revels for many years, explains that, with time, the group of Monday merrymakers became too large for the private room at Brennan’s, so he decided it was time to move. Besides, Wynne says today, it became clear that Brennan’s was not exactly happy with this rowdy group. Thus began the years of the Diaspora, with the luncheon nomadically moving from restaurant to restaurant (With stops at Entre Nous, Cafe Sbisa, Restaurant Jonathan, and Menefee’s, all of which subsequently closed, incidentally, although Sbisa later reopened). In the early ’80s, Wynne decided to approach Arnaud’s Restaurant. Unsure as to how welcoming Arnaud’s would be of his group; he met with sales director Lisa Sins and was very guarded. After describing that there was a lot of drinking in his group, and that some tended to become somewhat drunk and disorderly in their partying, he finally explained, “We crown a Queen.” Sins responded enthusiastically, “Oh! One of the season’s debutantes?” Wynne replied slowly, “N-o-o-o-t ex-a-a-a-a-ctly … ” Sins didn’t understand what Wynne was trying to express obliquely, so he finally blurted, “We are a gay group.” There was a long pause. Then Sins looked Wynne in the eye and replied, “S-o-o-o??!!!”Wynne says today, “We’ve been friends ever since.” And the luncheon has found a happy home at Arnaud’s ever since. Not only has the restaurant been a welcoming host, but, Wynne says, Arnaud’s staff members buy a table each year and enjoy participating in the merriment. The festivities, which Wynne renamed The Fat Monday Luncheon, have expanded over the years. Now two queens are crowned each year, “An Out-of-Town Queen and a Town Queen,” says Wynne. And, in the The Queen’s Pen ancient spirit of Mardi Gras mockery, a number of participants are singled out for dubious distinction “awards.” All are humorous and most are ribald, such as the Drag Queen Award and the Size Queen Award. Today, the two Queens are put into a limousine instead of a carriage. They then lead a band and other diners in a second-line parade from the restaurant to a 2:30p.m. Queen’s Reception at Good Friends Bar. Each of the designated Queens is allowed to keep her tiara for the year, but must relinquish it the following Fat Monday. However, Queens are also presented with a special pin, a permanent gift that is proudly worn long afterwards. After the 1995 luncheon, Wynne retired as coordinator and was designated ”King Emeritus.” Bill Bryan and David Hood now host the affair, which always sells out the 200- seat room. This year’s invitation heralds, ”Kings, Queens and in-between’s are cordially invited … ” It adds that jackets are required, but “Basic Black, Pearls and High Heels
Welcome.” This oldest of organized activities in Louisiana gay culture will this year celebrate its 49th year, a milestone in itself, but nothing, say organizers, compared to next year’s 50th anniversary.
Roberts Batson has written more than 75 articles on gay
history and culture, which he is currently editing into a
book, Anekdota: Stories of the Lives of Lesbians and Gay
Men in New Orleans. He welcomes suggestions, additions
and corrections, and can be reached at The Bienville
Foundation, P.O. Box 50986, New Orleans, LA 70150.