You know about army brats. Steve Watson was a hockey brat, born in Pittsburgh but living most of his youth in the Washington D.C., area. The son of pro hockey player Bryan “Bugsy” Watson, Steve and his family traversed the U.S., tagging along with pop, from Edmonton and Ontario to St. Louis and Detroit–the latter where on the Red Wings Bugsy earned hockey fame alongside Bobby Hull.
Steve Watson found his own entertaining way in life through music, albeit in two cities bereft of hockey rinks: Austin, and now, New Orleans, the latter where he now owns The Kingpin bar and the Chicago-style pizzeria and bar Midway. In the late ‘80s in Austin, Watson, 49, played bass in cult band The Neptunes. In New Orleans, he joined the band 1000 $ Car and bartended on the side at the Bulldog Tavern. “I was the slowest bartender in at least four states,” he says.
Enter, circa 2000, The Kingpin, an unpretentious bar, featuring a saw-dusted shuffleboard, a back dartboard room, and Elvis memorabilia-walls. The King-theme grew organically. “We put up an Elvis poster to fill the walls and then people just started bringing more shit in,” says Watson. “The best things aren’t forced. They just happen.”
Happenings are Kingpin. And it happened to be one of the late Anthony Bourdain’s favorite New Orleans watering holes. The bar has become one of the most reliable food truck hubs. Live bands, including the rockabilly act A Clockwork Elvis, cram into the corner storefront where passerby slow to see what all the fun is about, as crowds spill out the door to the neutral grounds. Young coolies and old fogeys comingle, as it should be. And witness Watson’s business partner Ben Sherman, striking karate poses in his sequin jumpsuit on top of the bar on any given night. OK, so Watson’s a bit of a showboat too. Here, to paraphrase Elvis, “a little less action, a little more conversation.”
Describe your personal style.
Shabby-chic with bold details. I like to stand out. Loud so-called “Fuck You” pants, a cool hat. You can’t be scared to look a little different…just not too. I have two fat metal wrist cuffs, made by a local designer named Gogo, that I absolutely love. And I have two go-to jackets: old-school black tux jacket, and a new favorite, a twist on a hounds-tooth, that rocks it.
What’s your favorite 19th Hole?
I can’t help it, the price is right: I love having vodkas and soda at my own bars, Kingpin and Midway. But when I’m actually paying, my go-to is Patois restaurant, on a Sunday. I have brunch and then mix champagne, vodka, and white wine with Jack Dan iels shots. This is what happens when you listen to the exaggerated stories that owner-buddies Leon Touzet and Chef Aaron Burgau tell.
The truth about cats and dogs?
We have two dogs now, Radio and Tiger. But I had a fantastic venture with our old cat Pipsqueak. For a while he was the only living thing in the house–and this includes my wife Kate, son Ike, and the dogs–that actually listened to me. Tiger thinks that we’re in a relationship so I guess that makes up for the loss of Pipsqueak who hit the road one night and never returned.
There are few cars in New Orleans that truly wow. You have one of them.
Well, my tangerine-dream 1974 Scout, no top, is pretty much the coolest thing I own. Like the band I was in, 1000 $ Car, this baby cost me exactly that and still runs great 17 years later. When Hurricane Katrina hit it was my only ride, and I hit the road in it during evacuation. I drive it as much as possible over our regular Jeep and pickup, although having no roof or working gas gauge limits long-trip usage. With its gigantic steering wheel it’s like driving a motorboat without a need for life jackets.
You’re a duffer, yes?
“I’m too young to retire but if I could I would golf every day. I play mostly at the course in Audubon Park. It’s cheap. And if I drink too much someone will drive me back home in a golf cart. And though I then feel like I’m in a retirement community, it can be a good feeling.
Greatest moment in life?
Besides raising a son to be pretty fucking cool, and just hanging with my wife, I’ll take any Sunday following some big blowout weekend, and just rehashing on my front porch with friends, having hairs of the dog. At those moments, I actually get maudlin, and say out loud: “This is one of the best days of my life!”
It’s been said you rarely laugh out loud. What’s with that?
This is easy. I’ve spent my life trying to get laughs, and sometimes when they don’t come for me, I like to smile because that says, Keep it up, because the laughs will follow. I just spent a grand on my teeth, so maybe it’s time to show them before I lose them.
Digressing, Ginger or Mary Ann?
Neither. Too much rowing to get to the island. Maybe this is a little twisted, but I had the hots for Bailey Quarters on “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
“My grandmother’s perfume that she wore every Christmas. I don’t know what it was about it but once in a while I will be somewhere and somebody’s wearing it. And it conjures up great memories. If I can approach the woman I will tell them the story of my grandmother.
What insults your intelligence?
A lack of humor. It has me running for the exits.
Favorite Last Meal on Death Row?
It would be special delivery from Clancy’s restaurant, a bustling, super-local corner spot off the path Uptown. When I am a free man, I start with the crabmeat salad, then, I get either the Pannee Veal Annunciation or the sweetbreads floating in Marsala-mushroom sauce. I die and go to heaven.
Where’s your Greto Garbo (“I vant to be alone”) hideaway?
I cannot hide. I crave attention.