By DAVID MOWERY
Today we mourn Bud Skinner, the legendary Montgomery restauranteur and bar owner who’s Jubilee Seafood and Bud’s Bar establishments have hosted more Alabama politicos than we could ever count. Bud died last week after apparent complications from COVID-19.
Everyone has a Bud story, or perhaps a dozen, and I can’t think of a better way to convey how meaningful his legacy is than by telling my own.
When I first moved to Montgomery, it was directly from a long sojourn in Mobile. On the coast. Best seafood, and right on the water. Pick your restaurant out on the causeway, and it will likely be better than anywhere you’ve been.
I was also newly married. And broke. So half in jest, I refused to take my wife to Jubilee because she had ample time to visit me in Mobile and avail ourselves of the fruits of splendor available there.
Then, as I was initiated into the rites of Montgomery, and the goings-on at the Legislature, I found myself occasionally getting dinner, or more likely going to a party with a large spread “put out by Bud.” Just who was this “Bud”? Surely the guy that owned and operated the best restaurant in town wasn’t this surly character in constant motion throughout the cramped quarters – stopping only occasionally to greet The Right People? Sure enough, it was.
For approximately my next 10 meals there, I thought Bud hated me. And for the 10 after that I was sure of it, despite my ever-increasing party and check size. So I did what I always do in a situation like that: ignored him. I didn’t seek him out to try to let him know “hey we’re dropping some coin in here tonight, show some respect” – because there’s always someone dropping some coin in there, and more than you are. Bud didn’t care about that. What Bud cared about was getting everybody’s meal to them as hot off the pan as possible. Keeping the drinks as fresh and cold as possible.
Eventually, I must have shown up enough, with enough of a cast of characters who knew him, that he got the scoop on “the tall kid” and we would exchange a passing hello. I still made sure never to get in his way when it was crowded.
Over the next 12-13 years, I would have many an eventful time, and always an even better meal, at Jubilee, Kat N Harri’s and Bud’s. If life were a movie, this part would be the montage:
The Christmas Party Circuit – One year, I was sick all week, but I knew that was the only time I’d be able to get Bud’s fried quail, so I choked down some medicine and made an appearance. I was more concerned with my plate than my health.
Eating at the bar with a friend, and Scott saying “Dave you want the usual?” – There’s something about being a guy who has a “Usual” in a place like Jubilee. Going away parties and birthdays in the side room – for a time it seemed like that’s just what we did. My birthday. Wife’s birthday. Friends’ birthdays. Friends moving. “We have the side room at Jubilee at 7.”
My phone ringing, I’m at an end of the season baseball party for one of my kids, and the person on the other end says “Perfect. I’m at dinner with the new owners of The Biscuits, and they need some help knowing whos’ who and what’s what in Montgomery. I told them to hire you, so come down here and have a bite with us.”
Getting on stage at Kat N Harri’s to sing “Werewolves of London” with the band for Clint Graves’ 40th birthday party.
The Harlequins Spring Party. Never had Bud’s brisket before. Party is dying down, so I tell him how much I enjoyed it. He comes out with a plate of leftovers – “Take this home and heat it up for your boys for breakfast.”
The Victory Party for Rick Pate for commissioner of agriculture.
Here’s where the music starts, and the movie comes back into sharp focus.
COVID-19 pandemic is upon us. Restaurants and bars are trying to figure out just what to do, and how to stay open, despite forced closings, mask orders, distancing and capacity requirements and everything else.
It’s my wife’s birthday, and I haven’t set foot in a restaurant in six months. But what do you do for a birthday? You go to dinner at Jubilee. I call in a pick up order. Go to pick it up, and there’s four high tops against the wall across from the bar, one of which has a single occupant. I take a seat and wait for them to call my name.
Bud comes through and asks me about how I’m doing. How my family is. How my business is. He allows as how they’re struggling, but they’re happy to have a base of customers and to be putting out the best product they can, despite the circumstances. We talk about the stress of owning a business – it’s hard even in the best of times.
Bud says “Ya know something, David? I never thought I’d be a restaurateur.”
This was a little shocking to me, as it seems like it would be hard to stumble into being the best seafood joint in town, the hub of the political world, and a Montgomery institution.
“Naw, the only thing I knew, is that I wasn’t gonna be able to work for someone else. I knew I wanted to work for myself, and I knew I’d be successful.”
That, my friends, is an epitaph worthy of our friend Bud Skinner. Rest In Peace, Bud.