The club scene in New Orleans is Orpheus in the Underworld…vast and mythic and musical. There are local places that tourists sometimes find, and places perhaps touristic in character but nevertheless deeply authentic in terms of the music played in them.
We’re just getting started here, so expect this page to be copiously populated soon enough…
229 Dauphine St.
(“Bywater” is a name often applied to this gentrifying neighborhood now, born in the scheming little hearts of real estate agents seeking to avoid the traditional name’s association with poverty)
Tel: (504) 947-5562
Open from 12 noon to 3 a.m.
If any place in New Orleans could specifically be cited as Orpheus in — or perhaps having emerged from — the underworld, it would be Vaughan’s.
The Vaughan’s, Webo and Lauren, opened the place as a grocery store in the 1950s. In 1959 they turned it into a bar.
They sold it to a guy by the name of Lee Guillory, who hired a bartender by the name of Ellen. As Lee was dying of cancer he married Ellen, and upon his death she became the owner.
Ellen, no longer young, met a Puerto Rican half her age by the name of Angel and fell in love with him. He’d fallen in love with her money, but nobody could tell her that.
In the meantime a peripatetic woman by the name of Cindy Wood had wound up living in New Orleans in the 1970s. It was the closest thing to Nairobi she could find in the United States.
Cindy lived across the street from Vaughan’s and knew Ellen and could see what was happening. She and her realtor friend Robyn Halverson bought the bar in an arrangement whereby a final bulk payment on the mortgage would be paid at the end of five years. That way, if things didn’t work out for Ellen and Angel had taken her money, she’d still have something.
Things didn’t work out for Ellen. Angel blatantly took women back to the house Ellen had bought for them, and had gotten control of her money. Ellen shot Angel. But Heaven (or Hell) could wait and he didn’t die.
Ellen managed to avoid prison and moved back to New Orleans, where the mortgage arrangement saved her financially.
Cindy and Robyn continue to own Vaughan’s. Cindy runs the place.
Live music on Thursday nights (only; this is an agreement with the neighbors). Free red beans and rice with cover charge.
Good strong, cheap drinks.
This is one of those humble, out of the way places the high & mighty have made it to. There was a now famous incident years ago where Mick Jagger was going to show up (he did) and Kermit Ruffins (who played there regularly for a couple of decades) had to ask who this Mick guy everybody was so excited about was.
Vaughan’s famous Thursday night with Kermit are the subject of a full-length book, Not Just Another Thursday Night: Kermit Ruffins and Vaughan’s Lounge, by our own (Whisperin’) Jay Mazza!
1909 N. Broad St.
Tel: (504) 701-9007
Monday through Friday 4 p.m. until…
Saturday 7 p.m. until…
Live music Tuesday through Saturday
Seating for around 50 people
World class jazz in an off the beaten track place with great food (creole cuisine) and drinks and prices.
Chef at the club is Germaine Gaines, who grew up in a New Orleans household beholden to creole cooking. 1996-99 Ms. Gaines attended the culinary school of Delgado Community College in New Orleans. After graduation she worked around the French Quarter and at Pat O’Brien’s, moving to the Hilton in San Antonio after Katrina hit.
Ms. Gaines is a born and bred specialist in creole cuisine. She’s a member of the American Culinary Institute, she caters for private functions, and she cooks for benefits when she finds the time.
The Maple Leaf Bar
8316 Oak St.
Tel: (504) 866-9359
Live music seven nights a week and it’s the music rather than any fancy ambience that makes the place special. In business since 1974, with entertainers including the Rebirth Brass Band, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Walter “”Wolfman” Washington, The Radiators, James Booker and others. Poetry readings (poet Everette Maddox’s ashes are buried beneath the bar’s patio) and fashion shows too…
Whisperin’ Jay is a regular here.
618 Frenchmen St.
501 Napoleon Avenue
What’s in a name? A rose by any other name smells as sweet! Ah… but does it sound as good?
The question makes more sense if we’re talking about Tipitina’s, and the truth of the matter is rendered moot by the fact that the precursor to Tipitina’s was the 501 Club, given its location at 501 Napoleon Avenue. Then came an ownership and name change…
The latter to that of a song (in the possessive case) — Tipitina — by Professor Longhair. It’s almost kind of funny that musicians can be wildly famous in New Orleans, and hugely influential nation and even worldwide…but outside of New Orleans very few people have ever heard of them. Professor Longhair was Roy Byrd, “Fess” for short. Fess was born in 1918 and the club that would come to bear the name of one of his songs in 1977 (before the building was converted into a club it served as a casino, a brothel, and a gym). Fess was a regular performer in the place until his death in 1980.
Tipitina’s was recently bought by members of New Orleans band Galactic, who are completely dedicated to its place in New Orleans musical life and history. Ben Ellman, to the right below, got his start in Tipitina’s decades ago not playing up on stage but washing dishes back in the kitchen. Those dues have been paid!