Circle Bar Rallies Against City Hall, Throws “Notary Party” Saturday

Days after storied CBD dive the Circle Bar was denied a permit for live entertainment, owner Dave Clements is rallying the troops. Clements told OffBeat late Friday afternoon of plans for what he’s dubbed a “notary party” Saturday night (August 4), when local musicians will be asked to vouch for the Lee Circle mainstay’s status in the community.

Circle Bar

CBD club, the Circle Bar seeks to have entertainment license reinstated.

The trouble began three weeks ago, according to Clements, when city officials asked for the bar’s mayoralty permit and entertainment license. “To my knowledge I don’t ever remember us having one,” said Clements, who, along with the late Kelly Keller, opened the venue in 1998.

“They come in, ask for it, we don’t have it,” Clements continued. “They gave me a subpoena, so I went to City Hall, the Department of Revenue, filled out the application. It didn’t seem like it was gonna be a big deal.”

Fast forward to a letter dated July 20 informing Clements, who also owns Uptown’s Snake and Jake’s, that live entertainment is not permitted in the venue’s district. He immediately pulled the plug on live music, and the chance of $500 a night fines. While talent buyer Jason Songe scrambled to move acts to other venues, Clements wound up at the Building Inspector’s office — which he said signed the letter — and some grandfatherly advice via a City Hall staffer he preferred to leave unnamed.

“He basically told me that if I can establish proof of a history of live music going back as far as I can, and also get a signed affidavit by people, musicians stating that they’ve been playing the club for many years … he thought that conceivably we could get our live music ability [back] fairly quickly.”

Patrons and players — especially those who’ve gigged frequently at the Circle Bar — are asked to show up tomorrow night starting at 8 p.m. and lend their autographs to the cause. A local entertainment lawyer volunteered his notary services, though Clements added that he was waiting to hear how many signatures were required: “I might need 20, I might need 50.”

Clements was set to appear on WWL Friday night to share his thoughts about the city’s recent clampdown on live music and so-called nuisance bars. “Yes, there may be valid reasons, but how about looking at it from a little bit bigger picture?” he mused. “This is why people come to New Orleans, and, yes, [bars] may not be everybody’s cup of tea but we’re paying sales tax, and we’re providing work for musicians and bartenders and employees, and we’re bringing people into the city to have a good time, and they’re sabotaging it.”

“Somebody’s gotta stand up,” Clements said. Still, he expressed his anxiety at the TV spot. He admitted not wanting to rock the boat and risk losing his business, whose 15 years of almost nightly live entertainment he conceded may prove the key advantage. “I feel bad for the other bars,” he said, referencing Siberia, the AllWays Lounge and the Saturn Bar. “I don’t want to be slipping in under the radar because I happen to be there longer and get my permit.

“At some point I’ve thought about getting all the bars together and say, let’s just see what happens. Let’s tell the city, ‘You know what? We’re gonna close, we’re gonna take a little vacation for a month. Let’s see how much sales tax revenue you get, how many people come to New Orleans without the bars open and without live music,’” he said, “because it’s getting ridiculous.”

In the meantime, Clements said he plans to go to City Hall Monday with the sworn statements gathered at tomorrow night’s event, adding, “I’m not trying to turn it into a giant free-for-all, [but we’ll] try to make a bit of a party out of it.”

OffBeat will be following this story as it develops.