Mad Man of New Orleans
Bryan Batt, aka Salvatore Romano, talks “Mad Men,” cocktails and why he enjoys living in the South.
A native of New Orleans, Bryan Batt landed the role of Art Director Salvatore Romano on AMC’s “Mad Men” in 2007. He moved from New Orleans to New York right out of college to be an actor and starred on Broadway and off, more recently guest starring on “Law and Order” and “Ugly Betty.”
Batt made it through three seasons of “Mad Men” before his character was fired for rejecting the sexual advances of Lee Garner Jr., son of a Lucky Strike exec, a huge client for the agency.
Now, Batt spends his days traveling between New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. While in New Orleans, he can usually be found at his Magazine Street home décor shop, Hazelnut. He says that 10 years ago, he wouldn’t have been happy living anywhere but New York, but that the slower pace of life in New Orleans has grown on him.
“I love walking down the street not having to negotiate, not getting bumped,” he says. “It’s just a different way of life here, and I’m really enjoying the easiness. I still enjoy going to New York and LA, but I love being here in the South.”
Editor Erin Z. Bass talked to Batt by phone on March 19.
Based on your “Mad Men” fans, do you think that after the long hiatus, some will stop watching the show or will they be more ready than ever for the premiere?
They’ve [AMC] done a great job marketing the show and the press has been very supportive of the show, so I think especially the fans who’ve waited, have waited with baited breath to see what’s going to happen. The idea of a two-hour premiere is just fantastic.
Do you have any predictions for this season?
When I was on the show, we never knew from week to week. Every time we thought something was going to happen, the complete opposite would happen. It’s so brilliantly written. I have no idea what’s gonna happen.
I really loved Belle Jolie, the lipstick campaign I did. Every scene I had, I had so much fun doing. I think the “Bye Bye Birdie” thing was just too much fun and crazy, but I really loved my first episode where I was kind of featured, “The Hobo Code,” in season one, where the exec from Belle Jolie kind of made the moves on me at dinner. It was very, very interesting, because I was a little nervous. My friend Rich [Sommer] came to watch the shooting. He plays Harry Crane. And Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell, came for moral support. It was wonderful.
Being from New Orleans, you know we’re all quite familiar with the cocktail culture down here. What do you think it is about the “Mad Men”-era that’s so appealing to viewers?
The cocktail culture had made a resurgence before “Mad Men.” I’ve drank martinis since college. I always liked them, so it wasn’t anything I was discovering. I was listening to the cocktail music and getting into the cocktail era all the way back to 1998 maybe. I don’t think anyone really wants to live that lifestyle as they did back then, having so many drinks during the day, coming home and doing it all over again every night. That’s just wear and tear on the body and the liver, but it’s interesting. I’ve been invited to so many “Mad Men”-themed parties. It’s wild.
Tell us a little bit about what you carry in your shop, Hazelnut. Could people find any mid-century furnishings or accessories there?
There are some. We don’t have vintage, but we have some lighting fixtures, some small furniture, some things that are mid-century. We have a very eclectic blend of just all different home furnishings and gifts. I won’t have anything in the shop that I don’t like.
I designed a New Orleans toile, which is a classic French toile fabric with scenes of iconic New Orleans architecture and icons of New Orleans like the streetcar, the [Steamboat] Natchez, the Cathedral and French Quarter. Then I have another one called Pontchartrain Beach, which is kind of an homage to Palm Beach meets the Gulf South. Also, these wonderful decoupage plates, which we did with maps of New Orleans and different historical things and then Audubon birds and wildlife.
There’s so many things that we carry, and it’s always changing. I shop constantly and I shop the city also just to make sure I’m not duplicating anything. My partner [Tom Cianfichi] and I want to be known as the place where you can find something that no one else really has.
How often are you in the store?
I just left. It depends on my schedule. I’ve been going back and forth to New York for different events and jobs and I’ve been going in to film a little movie and going to LA for different things, so if I’m in New Orleans and someone needs the day off or for the holiday season, I’m pretty much there. I’m a really good gift wrapper. Whatever I have to do, I do. It’s very grounding. It’s like having a little child in a way. It’s your baby. We were House Beautiful’s favorite store and were just in in Elle Décor and Architectural Digest.
I think the next progression is the book, “Big Easy Style.” My editor was in the area and she heard about the store and she came in, and said, ‘If you could do a design book, what would you do?’ I said I’d take pictures of rooms and tell you why I like them, and it was just this wonderful learning experience of how to put together a design book. We’re looking forward to doing another book.
Do you have a favorite spot for cocktails in New Orleans?
I do. One is Bouligny Tavern. It’s connected to the wonderful restaurant Lilette on Magazine Street. I just love that place for a cocktail. There’s no TVs, they can make anything you want, and they’re not too precious. Now, it’s getting to be like they’re splitting the atom sometimes while they’re making your drink. Come on, just make the drink. It’s a great mix of people of all different ages, and it’s very relaxed. I really enjoy that place for a cocktail.
Will you be watching the premier on Sunday?
My favorite thing while I was on the show was getting to see it, because when we filmed it, it was months prior and you really don’t revisit the script or the story after you film it. The only time you hear the full script is at the table read the day before you start shooting, and you’re only involved in the scenes that you’re in, so you don’t know how the rest is visualized, how it’s filmed and how it’s edited. So, it really was a thrill for us to see the episodes as they were airing.
Can we assume you’ll be having a martini?
Oh, yes. That is a given.
Photo credits, from top: Bryan Batt by Andrew French; “Mad Men” stills from bryanbatt.com; and Big Easy Chair, $530 a pair, “Big, Easy Style,” $35, and Alison Evans sea-inspired serving pieces, $30-$398, all available from hazelnutneworleans.com.
Season five of “Mad Men” premieres this Sunday, March 25, at 8/9 central. Plan to join Batt in mixing up a martini or check out AMC’s online party planner for menu, cocktail, decorating and fashion tips. Southerners will be glad to know that pimento cheese spread on Ritz crackers and deviled eggs are suggested appetizers.