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Awards

Each year, the Southern Foodways Alliance celebrates men and women whose lifework enriches Southern food culture. Five SFA awards and honors recognize these cultural standard bearers.

2005 Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame: Martin Sawyer


Martin Sawyer of New Orleans won the 2005 Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award.

Sawyer was born in 1920. He witnessed the great flood of 1927. He survived Katrina.

He has worked in and around the French Quarter of New Orleans for more than sixty years, working thirty-four years at the Rib Room in the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel.

He got his first job as a bar-back at the infamous 500 Club. A bartender friend recruited him for the job so that Sawyer, one of the few literate young men in his circle of friends, could help him decipher drink orders.

Earning the nickname, “Professor,” Sawyer studied cocktail mixology and quickly became a fixture on the French Quarter bar scene. He had his picture taken with jazz great Louis Armstrong and served champagne to General de Gaulle of France.

With all that time tending bar, it is easy to believe that he would have had a few brushes with celebrity. What’s hard to believe, though, is the number of cocktails this man has mixed over the years. With time, care, and a painstaking attention to detail, he has made mixing drinks — rye-brandy Sazeracs, wicked mint
juleps, and his namesake Marsaws — a high art.

Martin Sawyer’s chosen profession was bartender. He’s proud of his lifetime of work. And we’re proud to honor him with a short film, Marsaw, by Joe York, and a cash prize.

– Amy Evans

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.

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