The rumors in the Twittersphere started on Sunday: “The Apple Barrel is closing.”—Twitter is a rumor-monger’s dream come true.
Well, it’s not true.
The Apple Barrel is not closing; it will still operate as a bar on Frenchmen, with music. But what could change is the type of music.
The building that is the home of the Apple Barrel (the bar and music club downstairs) and Adolfo’s (the restaurant upstairs) isn’t owned by either Adolfo’s or the Apple Barrel.
For the past 15 years, operators Liz Montoya and Doug Hopper have operated the iconic music venue at 611 Frenchmen Street. Hopper is philosophical about his and Montoya’s leaving the business: “Businesses open and close all the time. We had a good 15-year run,” he said. But Montoya is devastated at the loss of the business. “This is something that we created and built. It took us 15 years to get it where it was, and now it’s all been taken away,” she said.
The Apple Barrel was—is—a favorite neighborhood bar that just happened to feature music from mid-afternoon through the wee hours. The bar hosted legendary Coco Robicheaux for years, and Coco was a habitué of the bar until his death in the very bar where he loved to perform in November 2011. Montoya, who ran the bar and booked the Apple Barrel’s rather eclectic musical offerings, said “We saw Coco at the Jazz Fest, saw him hanging around Frenchmen Street, and asked him if we could make him an offer to play at the Apple Barrel. We did, he said ‘You got me’,” He performed there regularly until his death. For that reason alone, the Apple Barrel was beloved amongst New Orleans music lovers.
The Apple Barrel was originally the name of the bar at 611 Frenchmen Street; the building and the bar were owned by Philip Esteve. Over the years, it contained a restaurant upstairs named Alberto’s [sometimes I even call it that, ‘cause I’m obviously old-school]. Alberto’s closed, Esteve leased the bar to Hopper and Montoya, who chose that specific spot because they wanted a place on Frenchmen Street. Montoya had worked for Esteve in 1983, so she was very familiar with the location. “We wanted a neighborhood place,” said Hopper. “So when we had to opportunity to get a lease on the Apple Barrel, we took it right away. “
Alberto’s closed and was replaced by Adolfo’s, which has received a stellar rating from diners.
Esteve passed away and left his estate including the building to his partner, Richard Bivens. When Bivens too passed, the estate was passed on to his nephew, Kevin Coakley, an NOPD police officer.
Over the years the co-occupiers of the building (Adolfo’s and the Apple Barrel) began to have neighbor “issues,” which also led to problems for the building owners (cited were problems with maintenance of a shared ice machine, smoking marijuana inside and outside the building, broken windows and doors, etc. After Bivens’ death last year, Coakley decided that it was “in the best interests of the estate” to not renew the lease on the Apple Barrel to Hopper. The lease ends on October 31, 2013.
The entire building will then be operated by Adolfo Perez Palavacini and his wife, Kim Perez, with Adolfo’s restaurant upstairs and the Apple Barrel continuing downstairs as a bar and a music venue. But Perez says “We had problems as a restaurant with the loud music that came from the Apple Barrel bands during the time Adolfo’s was open for dinner [5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.]. We tried to get the music turned down, but it just didn’t happen. You can’t operate a restaurant in the same building as music venue without there being some compromise on both sides,” she said. “If the music had been toned down a bit during the hours we were open, it would have made it better for everyone. But that didn’t happen.”
The Apple Barrel did host acoustic music early every evening, seven days a week, and amplified music later in the evening, but apparently the music was still disturbing Adolfo’s customers, according to Perez. “We are only open five hours a day, and it was just too disturbing to our patrons. Sometimes the walls would shake. We plan to continue to have music at the Apple Barrel, but it will be different from what was there before,” she said.
Originally the Apple Barrel only had a jukebox and a dartboard, but because of their love for local music, when Hopper and Montoya took over they decided to present local bands and singer/songwriters. Montoya says “I loved blues, and we tended to book those bands. It’s a shame what’s happened with the Apple Barrel because a lot of great musicians who have played at the Apple Barrel for years are going to be out of regular work [Andre Bouvier and the Royal Bohemians; Mike Sklar and the Hipshakers; Mike Darby and House of Cards; Kenny Claiborne and Blood From A Stone; Butch Trivette; Mike Hood; Adam Crochet; Margie Perez; Big Pearl; Ken Swartz & the Palace of Sin; Dave Easley and many more were regulars].”
Perez will have signed a lease for the space with Coakley as of Thursday morning. “We’re not changing the name of the the bar; it was called the Apple Barrel from the very beginning,” she said. “We’re cleaning the place up a bit and changing the music format, but it’ll still be the same place, only better.”
Let’s hope that the new owners understand the importance of music on Frenchmen Street. Perhaps they—or the building owner—might installing acoustic sound-proofing materials to make it a bit quieter for Adolfo diners. That would keep certainly keep the music intact at the Apple Barrel.
The option for installation of sound-proofing materials in venues that present music is expensive, however. But think of how many problems it would solve for music clubs who are accused of producing music that’s loud enough to disturb neighbors or co-occupiers of a building such as the Apple Barrel.
If the city really wants to preserve its musical heritage, allow music to flourish in local clubs, then perhaps the City Council and Mayor should consider a tax credit of some kind for those operators ad building owners who do install sound-proofing. Then everyone is happy: the musicians get to play, patrons of restaurants are able to eat without being disturbed; neighbors no longer have to complain about loud music disturbing their sleep; and we preserve our reputation as the greatest musical city on earth.