Julia Reed, the spirited and irreverent longtime Garden and Gun contributing editor and columnist, inspired countless writers, chefs, home cooks, and most recently, a bar in New Orleans’ newly opened Four Seasons, with panoramic views of downtown. Donald Link, the James Beard Award–winning chef and owner of some of the city’s most celebrated restaurants, recently debuted Chemin à la Mer in a historic Edward Durrell Stone–designed high-rise and took some time to reminisce about his friendship with Reed and how their shared dream of opening a bar led to the one here.
“She was a huge part of my early career,” Link says. “We met on a Tuesday afternoon when Herbsaint had just opened, back in 2000.” Link, a self-described “typical, cocky young chef,” was not keen on making the rounds and chitchatting with diners. When his manager told him there was a woman at the bar who “really wanted to meet him,” Link was reluctant but decided to peek through the kitchen porthole anyway. “So there she was, drinking Scotch and smoking a cigarette—at two in the afternoon—and I thought, Okay, my kind of person.”
Like many who knew and treasured Reed, Link immediately became enamored with her unabashed exuberance and candor. After Reed’s rave review of the young chef’s food, a decades-long friendship was forged, abundant with road trips, recipe testing, impromptu dinners, and lots of entertaining. Link credits Reed with teaching him how to throw a great party, and perhaps more importantly, how to start and run a foundation. “There was never an agenda with Julia,” he recalls. “She told it like it was, and her confidence in me was invaluable and truly helped me find my voice and pathway as a chef.”
Over the years, Link and Reed dreamed of opening a bar together and had looked at various locations, with the desire to include art by one of their favorite artists and a mutual friend, John Alexander. Reed envisioned a place to go after dinner, a grown-ups’ bar with tasteful taxidermy and sleek banquettes. “We wanted to name it the Purple Grackle,” Link says. “Hanging in Julia’s mother’s home in Greenville, Mississippi, was a John Alexander painting of one, for which she had a great fondness.”
Now, tucked off to the side of Chemin, the “high-brow Southern” bar has come to life. The color scheme nods to the erstwhile Braniff International Airways by way of the Caribbean. The vibe: “Not pushing it too much”—an intimate niche where one can sip Link’s favorite rum-forward Ti Punch or the Julia Reed Scotch Old-Fashioned.
“Before we opened in late 2021,” Link recalls, “I went to the Four Seasons in Miami and was thinking about Julia and how much I wished she could have been part of the opening. Then I saw a purple grackle by the pool. At first, I thought it was a plain blackbird, but it flew up and sat right by me. Sunlight hit it just so, reflecting the deep violet colors…and I knew…let’s just say it was an interesting moment.”
Six paintings by Alexander anchor the bar at Chemin, including one named Purple Grackle. “I know Julia would have been so happy sitting in this bar—unofficially named in her honor—reveling in our dream, toasting to the good life with a Scotch, straight up.”
Kim Sunée is the author of two cookbooks and the best-selling memoir, Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home.