Friday, December 16, 2005

Rest In Peace: Antoine's Ambassador

I think almost everyone has at least heard of the legendary Antoine's in New Orleans. The New Orleans institution lost its maitre d' Clifton Lachney to Katrina.......

Lachney did a short stint in the restaurant's kitchen, and another as a waiter's apprentice. "But he found his home at the door," Guste said. "And he loved it."

Managing the social stage that is dinner at Antoine's, a New Orleans institution since 1840, required the touch of a showman, and Lachney was a natural.

"It all started when he was a teenager," said Scott, "when he bought his first guitar, which was a 1953 Martin."

The Hank Williams fan became an accomplished singer and guitarist. As a young man, music stoked his ambitions. Lachney, Scott said, was invited to become a member of Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours. "He had to turn it down because my mom got pregnant," Scott said. "He used to DJ a radio show up in Alexandria when he was younger."

The maitre d' never left his music behind.

"It was not uncommon to see Clif around Jackson Square or some other popular part of the Quarter, playing his music with his hat out," Guste said.

"He'd play at Antoine's for customers who'd request it," Scott said.

Lachney, who in the past couple of years lost his wife and two of his five children, lived in a house near Lakefront Airport with his son Jeffrey, who, Scott said, "was never diagnosed or anything, but we feel he had a little Down syndrome. He didn't learn to walk until he was 10. He never got a really good education, but he was a smart kid."

Clifton, who didn't drive, and Jeffrey rode out Katrina at their home. Scott's plans to drive to New Orleans were scuttled twice, first when Katrina passed near his Florida home, and again after the Crescent City flooded.

Scott last spoke with his father at 1 p.m. Aug. 29, when his dad reported two feet of water outside the house.

"He was still not wanting to go anywhere," Scott said. "He wasn't worried about it."

The markings spray-painted on the Lachney house after the storm indicated there was nobody inside. After weeks of calling, Scott said, he finally persuaded a rescue team to recheck.

Clifton Lachney, 71, and Jeffrey Lachney, 28, were both found dead.
When Antoine's, which was badly damaged by Katrina, reopens in the next couple of weeks, one of its 15 dining rooms will be named for Clifton Lachney, Antoine's Maitre d'.

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