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It’s probably best not to try and label “Mad Men” and Broadway star Bryan Batt. The actor/singer/dancer/author/designer is merely a well-rounded renaissance performer. This quintuple threat also has one more moniker up his stylish sleeve you might not know about – “Shopkeeper Extraordinaire”.
Batt and his partner Tom Cianfichi opened their New Orleans-centric gift and home décor boutique Hazelnut back in 2003. When pressed to sum up his glamtastic shoppe, the affable Batt seemed a little stumped to come up with the quintessential description. “It’s not eclectic … it’s not chic … those words are overused,” said Batt. “It’s stylish and whimsical. It’s glamour shopping with no intimidation."
Whatever the case, the store – located in the uptown area of N’awlins – is tastefully done, yet big on visual overload. If you have a short attention span – this is not the place for you. Or maybe it is? (Look! Something shiny! And something else shiny … and something else -- oh, you get the idea.)
Batt is a proud New Orleans native – born and raised – and his store is a spirited reflection of his Big Easy heritage. Many local artists show proudly off their wares and the store is teeming with a hodgepodge of old-world/new-school charm. “You can always find something for a good price,” said Batt. “More bang for your buck.” Plus, if you’re a Fleur-de-lis-ophile, Haelznut is like the mother ship calling you home.
“New Orleans is a city that loves itself … the good, the bad and the ugly,” Batt mentioned. “Our store has evolved too … things we’ve designed, custom-work and New Orleans-themed items.” Take the New Orleans toile, for instance – which you will find in bountiful supply throughout the store. The classic French fabric has been given a new twist, with many of the beautifully drawn vignettes sketched by Batt himself. Even more impressive? All the highly detailed fabric items are hand sewn by local New Orleans craftsmen and women. In 2018, the city is poised to commemorate its 300th birthday so you’ll also find plenty of upscale tricentennial memorabilia that -- as Batt commented -- is flying off the shelf.
The shoppe was named after Batt’s beloved grandmother. “Her name was Hazel – and she was a nut,” he added. Over the years, the shop has literally weathered several obstacles including rallying from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city in 2005. “We were one of the first stores to reopen on our street after Katrina,” said Batt. “It’s all about – and is still all about – the rebuilding.”
Batt’s personal style spills over into the store … or is it the other way around? “My style? Old world glamour with a twist … classic!” he said. His abode on the other hand? “It’s the house of dings and dents … or whatever didn’t sell at the shop,” he joked.
Currently, Batt is putting the finishing touches on “Bryan’s Song”, a new one-man cabaret show that has its debut in mid-June in London. Of course, besides his extensive theatre pedigree, he’s still most widely known for his role as Sal Romano on the first three seasons of “Mad Men”. Little known fact … Batt originally turned down his first audition for the show. When another actor backed out, Batt followed up. “We knew the pilot was good,” said Batt. “Then we waited an entire year and everyone (in the cast) made sure they were available. ‘Mad Men’ was the little engine that could. We watched it explode before our eyes.”
If you’re taking a trip to the Big Easy anytime soon, swing by Hazelnut for the perfect gift. (They’ll even personally gift wrap anything on the spot.) You may even spy Batt in the store – he’s usually around during the busy holiday shopping season. “I love it when people smile at my sense of design,” said Batt. “I like them to feel better when they leave than when they entered.”
Other nearby Fave Places of Bryan Batt:
1. Audubon Park - 6500 Magazine St, New Orleans. The World’s Fair was held here in 1884 and it’s also home to the Audubon Zoo. You’ll often find Batt on the walking trail most mornings. “The oak trees dripping with moss makes me feel at home.”
2. PJ’s Coffee - 5432 Magazine, New Orleans -- Batt met me for our interview at PJ’s Coffee – just a hop, skip and jump from Hazelnut. The famed New Orleans coffee shop opened in 1978 and now has nearly 40 locations scattered throughout the city. May we suggest their famous iced coffees? Perfect for a muggy N’awlins day. They’re brewed daily using a special cold-drip process that protects the flavor and strength of the beans. Get yourself a fresh-baked pastry while you’re at it.
Planning a trip to New Orleans?