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Frenchmen Gets Bamboula-ed

Frenchmen Street is getting another restaurant-bar and music venue. Bamboula’s, a restaurant featuring three bars and two live music stages, is set to open in mid-October at 514 Frenchmen Street, the former site of the Laborde Printing Company.

For years, owner Andre Laborde has unsuccessfully attempted to lease the long-empty property adjacent to the Maison. Laborde initially inherited the structure from his father who had housed a small printing operation in the building’s downstairs space. Recently, Laborde, who inhabited the building’s upstairs residential unit, vacated his childhood home.

In the past, Laborde indicated to OffBeat that he has had several “deals” with developers who were interested in leasing the property and were seeking to get more investors involved with the project. These arrangements obviously fell through as he has officially signed a 20-year lease with developer Joseph Ascani and local attorney Guy Olano, Jr.’s realty group, The Millenium I.

In addition to other restaurants and bars, the investment group owns The Dock in Slidell and Pensacola as well as Fiorella’s and Last Call Sports Bar and Grille in the French Quarter. Technical director Mary Pappas, who will oversee the Bamboula’s sound system, has been involved in several clubs in the city, including the now-defunct Rubyfruit Jungle, which was originally domiciled in the Marigny Brasserie’s current location on Frenchmen Street.

According to Bamboula’s marketing director, Penny Young, the 6,000-square foot building is currently undergoing massive renovations. “We’ll have three bars and two stages for music — a main stage and a smaller stage. The upstairs portion of the building will be used for a green room and special event space. We intend to restore the original ambiance of the building and showcase its unique architecture,” she said. “We’re installing a restaurant and kitchen, and we’ll serve Creole-Caribbean fusion cuisine. We’ve also just brought in a turn-of-the-century antique bar that used to be the bar at La Louisianne [Bar and Bistro].”

Young also intends to visit all of the businesses on Frenchmen Street and gather feedback from her soon-to-be neighbors. “Our group has a long history in the city, and we’re very concerned with making sure that we do something on Frenchmen that fits in with the spirit of the street,” she noted. “We’re very passionate about doing a good job with Bamboula and making sure we are good neighbors.”

As she confirmed, the vacant lot located between the Laborde building and Blue Nile is not included in Bamboula’s deal. Laborde contends that another faction of his family controls the property and that he does not know about its development. The space, however, has played host to several non-permitted, illegal events and functions in the recent past.

Neighboring businesses are aware of the activity at the property and question the use of the building as a restaurant, bar and music venue, specifically in the face of the limitations imposed by the city’s ordinance governing Arts and Cultural Overlay Districts.

“I don’t know if they’ll be able to get the proper permits,” said Jesse Paige, manager of the Blue Nile. “There are limitations on the number of bars with live music that can operate on Frenchmen Street. I’m also concerned that a large place will put more of a drain on electrical resources, and it’s going to be more like a Bourbon Street club than the ones that have been on Frenchmen for years.

“As far as I’m concerned, it could be the end of Frenchmen Street as we know it,” Paige went on to say. “It’s just getting too crowded. We already have issues with police protection, noise and illegal vendors here. This could make matters worse.”