The Christopher Inn

Soaked After the Second-Line

Sometimes referred to as the Patron Saint of Frenchmen Street and local style icon “Uncle” Lionel Batiste was a patriarch of the famed Treme Brass Band and one of the so-called “Benchmen of Frenchmen”--the eclectic crew that hung out on the bench outside the Apple Barrel to shoot the sh*t and pass along wisdom and/or dirty jokes to subsequent generations. In 2012, “Unc” passed away at the age of 80, at home at the Christopher Inn, where he lived on the corner of Royal and Frenchmen. Crowds of friends and neighbors and fellow musicians gathered on July 20th in the torrential rains, getting ready for the second-line...

The second-line parade is a quintessentially Black New Orleans tradition rooted in historic jazz funerals, although not all second-lines today are funeral second-lines. The name refers to the “second line” of everyday revelers who follow in the wake of the band and the rest of the official procession, be it a hearse, a wedding party, or the celebratory members of a Social Aid & Pleasure Club. The big logistical difference between attending a regular parade and attending a second-line is that at the former, you find a spot to post up and watch it pass. At the latter, you’re walking the route too. 

On the day of Uncle Lionel’s funeral, a public second-line was planned to help dance the body from the service to the cemetery. Here’s how Big Red, an attendee and friend of Unc’s, remembers that day:

“Uncle Lionel seriously fucked with everybody when he passed. The day that his burial was supposed to happen, he sent torrential rains… They’re like, ‘We’re canceling the jazz-funeral procession because we can’t get to the cemetery. It’s underwater. The carriage house with the horse-drawn hearse is underwater, so we’re gonna have to send Uncle Lionel home later.’

“The whole gang there was like, ‘F*ck that.’ Everybody’s like, ‘We’re going to do it anyway.’ The brass band and everything but the hearse. Everybody’s already knee-deep in water in Tremé, in Armstrong Park. We blow up. We start rambling around. 

“We go from Mahalia Jackson through Tremé up to Frenchmen Street coming up Kerlerec to go back onto Royal to come up to Christopher Inn, where Uncle Lionel had lived. The rain is coming so fucking heavy again now, and by the time we get up there and we’re about to meet Royal again, just below Marigny Brasserie, it’s like up past our knees. 

“Everybody on the second line that’s holding umbrellas throws them down and just starts rolling in the water. The rain is so percussive, and Uncle Lionel was the bass drummer of a Treme Brass Band, and as we approach Christopher Inn, the rain is hammering out a distinct beat. I was like, ‘Okay, Unc. We hear you. We hear you. We hear you, and we hear you.’”

The whole gang there was like, “F*ck that”...

The “whole gang” she was referring to that day included everyone from Uncle Lionel’s close family members to the Mayor of New Orleans, natives and transplants, Black and not, world-renowned musicians and locally-renowned winos. Fellow Benchmen of Frenchmen and fellow residents of the Christopher Inn, where the second-line ultimately wound up. (The burial was pushed back three days.)

The Christopher Inn, often cheerfully referred to as “The Old Folks’ Home,” is an affordable senior living center and--at least in this subjective opinion--one of the most underrated parts of what makes Frenchmen Street. For a scene so vibrant, local, and inclusive, it seems fitting that you’ll find revelers of all ages mingling in the bars and on the dancefloors.



2110 Royal Street