Jimmy’s Music Club Needs To Reopen

Thank goodness I’m not in government. I just don’t have the patience for it.

Sometimes the evidence is just so overwhelming that some things are just right and some things are just plain wrong, that it boggles my mind why it takes months and years to make a simple decision.Yes, I know this is a democracy and all voices must be heard. But sometimes the incredibly slow wheels of government boggle my mind.

Case in point: Jimmy’s Club.If you’re read OffBeat over the past quarter century, you’ll remember that Jimmy’s Club, located at 8200 Willow Street, was a regular advertiser in this magazine. Jimmy Anselmo presented music, of all kinds, for the better part of a quarter century. In the past ten years, Anselmo got out of the club business and leased the property to several operators, the last of which was The Frat House (not exactly known for its music, but certainly known for its, shall we say, alcoholic beverages and young crowd). Before I go on, let me say that I saw some amazing shows at Jimmy’s: everyone from Earl King to the Radiators, to Joan Baez an everything in between. I was really sad to see Jimmy’s close its doors.

Jimmy's poster by the inimitable Bunny Matthews.

But I can tell you—from experience working with music club operators for over 25 years—it’s a really tough business. Jimmy was tired, and he needed a break. The Frat House closed; Anselmo has been working for months with a partner to re-open Jimmy’s as a music club. There was a special event there to celebrate the club and the great bands that played there in December. Everyone in the music community, and a lot of people who spent formative years in college experiencing Jimmy’s, were thrilled that it was reopening.

But there’s a problem. For over two years, the City Council has imposed a moratorium on granting liquor licenses in an area uptown that includes the Jimmy’s location. The City Council had the authority to impose the moratorium for a year, and also has the option to renew it for two 180-day periods. That period is over on February 4. However, City Councilman Susan Guidry and the rest of the council want to not only renew the moratorium but to extend it two more blocks to Birch Street. This would essentially prevent Anselmo and his partners from re-opening an historic New Orleans music club.All this does is to stall an inevitable decision on the part of City Planning and City Council, and allow neighbors to be able to weigh in on the proposal—like they haven’t had a chance

I’ve heard for years that there have been stops in decisions until it can be comsidered in a new (proposed) Comprehensive  Zoning Ordinance.

People: the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance probably isn’t going to be passed in my lifetime.

I think using this as an excuse to stall a decision needs to stop. We’ll be hearing this excuse forever…and nothing will be done. It seems to me that the Council, for the most part, is swayed almost always towards the side of residents. Maybe it’s because neighborhood associations have more clout, vote-wise, with Council representatives than neighborhood businesses, which is a shame. It’s just a fact that where there’s music, there’s almost always alcohol; this is the way that virtually all music clubs operate. They need the bar revenue in order to support  the music. Jimmy’s is just as much a part of the uptown music scene as Tipitina’s, or the Maple Leaf.  It’s missed; it’s historic; it gives New Orleans musicians another uptown venue in which to play; Jimmy’s has played an important part in New Orleans music history since 1978.  Jimmy’s Music Club should be able to acquire a liquor license, which will then allow it to operate as a music venue. The former can’t happen without the latter.Not allowing Jimmy’s to open is an egregious mistake on the part of the City Council.  We need our Jimmy’s back.
On another note: the property at 514-16 Frenchmen Street, the Laborde Building, which was proposed as a large music club, bar and restaurant to be named Bamboula’s, has failed to get the support of the city planning and zoning. The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA)— the Marigny’s neighborhood association—came out against the project after the developers failed to get the proper work permits for renovations and were shut down twice by the city. Frenchmen Street has a special zoning that in theory only allows 20 percent of businesses with an alcoholic beverage license to present live music. All others must operate as a restaurant and are theoretically only supposed to present acoustic music. (This percentage, however, is a target, not a requirement). At this point over 35 percent of the  Frenchmen Street businesses have music. The FMIA protested on these grounds. In an interesting twist, businesses already operating on Frenchmen, for the most part, opposed the development, citing its large size, the increased traffic, parking issues, sanitation and policing that such a large music club would create. “We don’t want Frenchmen to become another Bourbon Street,” they say.