New Orleans Native Bryan Batt jets from Manhattan to Magazine Street, with an eye on Hollywood.
ByDeborah Burst - photography by C. Ross
With the looks of a runway model and the humor of Robin Williams, Tulane grad and Broadway veteran Bryan Batt bounces from the Big Apple to the Big Easy with a gleaming eye on Tinsel Town. He casts a stage full of characters from sold out cabarets to a new television series this summer. Between shows, together with partner Tom Cianfichi, they manage their Magazine Street fine accessories boutique, Hazelnut. "I’ve been told that I have a wonderful set of eyeballs," says Bryan, referring to his flair for decorating, a redeeming asset for the boutique opened in October 2003 when Bryan experienced a short lull in his career. "I have this saying: when a window opens up, jump out!"
A virtual skyscraper of opportunities has Bryan hopping. Actor, dancer, singer, Bryan has been called "one of the most brilliantly funny comedians on Broadway." This big-hearted jetsetter rubs elbows with Liza Minnelli and Joan Rivers feverishly performing on and off Broadway and in Katrina fundraisers, and bringing down the Gershwin Theater with his emotionally charged Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done. I do what I can to help," Bryan says in quiet reflection, then a stream of one-liners. "Put a hammer in my hand, and it's not going to be PRETTY. You don't want ME doing construction."
Living a sheltered life in the shadows of the New Orleans elite, he escaped Camelot in search of ... no not the Holy Grail, but the real world. He discovered acting at the age of 10 on a dusty stage at a NORD (New Orleans Recreational Department) playground. "I had the most wonderful summer of my life. I met a very diverse group of people that opened my mind," says Bryan, admitting he lied on the qualifying age of 12. Determined to make it big, Bryan traveled to the east coast on what he calls "cutting his teeth" on a New York acting career. Odd jobs paid the bills and gave him time for auditions. And not the usual task of waiting tables, Bryan had pizzazz: Chasing people with a bottle of perfume as a Bloomingdale's fragrance model and whipping Mary Tyler Moore in shape as an aerobics instructor.
Part of the two worst disasters in our country--9/11 and Hurricane Katrina--Bryan believes that although the Big Apple and the Big Easy share a common bond, their cures for healing are worlds apart. "New York is constantly changing, evolving. Katrina was a big wake up call. We either evolve or we're going to perish," Bryan says with a curled brow, then a devilish smile. "New York sees the glass half full and so do we, but it's usually filled with scotch." Hazelnut provides a comfort zone for Bryan, a place to chat with friends, a place with heart. "I love when everyone comes in and says they love our taste," says Bryan, picking up the merchandise, introducing each piece like an old friend. "What I love is talking with the people. Tom, and Katie, our manager, tell me, just go up front and talk Bryan. Just talk."
A natural in front of the camera, Bryan moves like a fashion model, tilting his head, lips pursed staring through an iron banister, all the while looking like he just walked away from his Broadway dressing room. How does the man do it? Simple. He plays the part! "I'm usually a porter with a mop, is what I call myself," he says with a Groucho Marx chuckle. "That's part of acting, being able to do anything, being able to transform yourself into a character and do what you're supposed to do."
Catch Bryan in the acclaimed AMC dramatic series Mad Men, written by Matthew Wiener, award-winning writer of The Sopranos.
Published in the Summer 2007 issue
Picked by Deborah Burst
Named after Bryan Batt's grandmother, Hazel Nuss, Hazelnut owns a vibrant blend of many personalities. Bryan along with co-owner and partner, Tom Cianfichi, has joined a gallery of gifted artisans in a spectacular show of traditional, contemporary, and edgy designs.
"It's not so exclusive or high end; we have something in every price range," Bryan says. "The one thing I don't think New Orleans has is our kind of gift shop and home accents."
"I love to shop for the store," says Tom, once a buyer and a manager of a Madison Avenue gift shop in Manhattan. "I enjoy maintaining a certain point of view while always searching for something different, and then merchandising (display) to make it look the best it can."
While browsing Hazelnut, you'll find Jonathan Adler designs that reveal split personalities, king/queen, happy/sad in his Utopia Collection of pottery and tableware with a mid-century feel. Laurel Wilder uses a reverse decoupage in glassware and serving trays with a poetic look at nature featuring dragonflies, ferns, etc. Earthtones hold company with pastels as Tom captures the essence of the smart Madison Avenue appeal with a New Orleans flair.
An exclusive to Hazelnut and featured in national home decorating magazines, the New Orleans Toile collection features icons such as the St. Charles Streetcar, the St. Louis Cathedral, and the Steamboat Natchez. Toile designed bedding, bags, trays, and picture frames are just a few of the popular items that can be found at the store and on the Hazelnut website.
Hazelnut, 5515 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA, 504-891-2424