Southern Living writer James T. Black interviews Michalopoulos for the May 2010 issue of Southern Living giving readers a sneak peek into the enigmatic life of a New Orleans artist…
Artist and rum distillery owner James Michalopoulos shares some of his favorite New Orleans stories.
On meeting musician Dr. John
“I’ve done five posters for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival featuring people like Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Allen Toussaint, and Dr. John. I’ve been a fan of Mac Rebennack [Dr. John] for years. I’d met him a couple of times at events around New Orleans but didn’t know him well. When I got the commission to paint him for the poster, I went to New York where Mac lives now and spent some time with him. He’s a great fellow, really friendly, and very dedicated to New Orleans. He’s done a lot to help the city and its musicians rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.”
On starting the Old New Orleans Rum distillery
“I’d visit friends in Switzerland, and the wife would make wines and other spirits using fruits from her garden. She inspired the distillery. At first I wanted to start a winery, but Louisiana isn’t the best place to grow grapes. We do grow a lot of sugar cane, though, so I thought, ‘why not rum?’ I got together with some friends and we started Old New Orleans Rum in 1995- It was trial and error at first, but we finally figured out what we were doing and now we run the largest rum distillery in the country. It’s located in a renovated cotton warehouse on Frenchman Street. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work.”
On the best way to handle a summer in New Orleans
“For a while I was an art director for the House of Blues productions and the ABC television network, working on broadcasts of their rock concerts. That job gave me the opportunity to live in France for several months, and I discovered the wonderful town of Macon in the Burgundy region. I bought a house in Macon, and now my wife, our three kids, and I live there about four months out of the year. I love New Orleans- but France is a lot cooler in the summer.”