Before Frenchmen Street was on the must-do list for any well-informed visitor to New Orleans, it was that scary area just over the line from the French Quarter that hotel concierges would warn their guests not to cross. Music clubs helped changed all that.
And long before the Bywater became our city’s own prime hipster habitat, it was Kermit Ruffins’ Thursday night gig at Vaughan’s Lounge that helped draw people all the way down through that neighborhood, giving them a chance to see along the way that it was actually a pretty cool part of town.
Music venues may not actually be engines of revitalization all on their own, but they sure can serve as enticing invitations. Two newer clubs have been doing their part along similar lines. There's Siberia (2227 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans, 504-265-8855), in the once forlorn, suddenly-burgeoning St. Claude Arts District, and the Circle Bar (1032 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-588-2616), a bright spot along the under-loved curves of Lee Circle. But recently both of these venues were forced to suspend their live music schedules, reportedly over zoning and permitting issues with City Hall.
Siberia and the Circle Bar both remain open, and they’re well worth a visit for a drink or just a show of support. You can also sign online petitions urging the return of live music at Siberia and the Circle Bar.
True, these venues should be in compliance with the rules, and any functional community needs to have such rules. But it’s natural for us to get upset when the normally lethargic enforcement culture at City Hall rouses itself against something we enjoy and value. After all, the collective rattle and clank of all the problems, violations and noncompliance issues we do not enjoy around this town are so cacophonous, it makes you wonder how the squeaky wheels of Siberia and the Circle Bar managed to draw notice.
More astute political minds than mine have come up with their own ideas on why this is playing out now. There is this analysis, for instance, from local attorney and Uptown Messenger contributor Owen Courrèges.
I think the situation also speaks to a complaint I have heard countless times from local business owners, and would-be business owners who simply gave up on the process: the city’s rules are confusing, the road to navigating them is dark and official enforcement is inconsistent. As long as this is the case, we will be left to wonder about who is allowed to do what, where, and the cause and timing of the citations that do come along. When these issues strike our music culture, it is bound to stir up emotion.
Both the Circle Bar and Siberia are reportedly working to straighten out their issues with the city and get live music back in rotation. In the meantime, however, even with their music calendars cleared, there are good reasons to visit beyond simply solidarity with the local music community.
Siberia, which was formerly an obscure tavern called Te Te’s Bar & Grill, opened in 2010. It’s become the de facto clubhouse for a hard-rocking stripe of the city’s music subculture that doesn’t get much cred elsewhere. With lots of mounted game, glitzy mirrors and dark colors, it has your classic hunting-lodge-punk-club-bordello look, like an American Legion post taken over by metal rockers with a sense of humor. There is also a kitchen, called Kukhnya, serving Slavic soul food (pierogi, blini, Polish sausage po-boys, etc.) daily from 5 p.m. to midnight. There’s a pool table, good draft beers and cheap beer-and-a-shot combos.
The Circle Bar, meanwhile, has been around since 1999 (here’s an appreciation I wrote on the place earlier this year, after it reopened from an extended renovation). No live music is a jarring change here, though no live music doesn’t mean no music – the Circle Bar has one of the city’s great jukeboxes.
Go visit one, or make a barhop of them both to show some love. And if you happen to see any derelict buildings, gaping potholes, broken streetlamps, missing manhole covers, dangerous sidewalk paving, leaking water lines, aggressive pan-handling or other bumps along the road of New Orleans life, just keep the faith that someday these issues, too, will get some timely attention.
The Circle Bar
1032 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, (504) 588-2616
2227 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans, (504) 265-8855