Howie Kaplan had zero experience running a major music venue when he bought the Howlin’ Wolf from Jack Groetsch in 2000. Just over 30, Kaplan had spent his entire adult life in the hospitality industry: waiting tables, bartending and booking shows. He was running Rock ’n’ Bock, a neighborhood bar in Metairie, at the time and had just recently started booking bands there when the opportunity came.
“There was an article in the Times-Picayune that said [Groetsch] was putting the Wolf up for sale,” Kaplan remembers. “That was Friday. That same weekend, we had Quiet Riot at Rock ’n’ Bock, a tiny little place. That was Saturday. That Monday, I reached out to Jack. It was supposed to be 15 minutes. It ended up being a couple hours. He’s a great guy. We came to terms on the place, he handed it off and the rest—the last 18 years—is history.”
Groetsch opened the original Howlin’ Wolf in Metairie’s Fat City district on December 8, 1998, making the club 30 years old this month. Two years later, he moved it to 828 S. Peters Street in the then-developing warehouse district. In 2005, Kaplan moved it again, to its current location at 907 S. Peters Street, just down the block and across the street. Katrina delayed the move, but only slightly. The Wolf reopened in time for MOMs Halloween Ball that year. “We were one of the first places to reopen,” Kaplan recalls. “We got lucky. With people coming back, we were kind of a meeting place.”
During Kaplan’s reign, the Wolf has hosted some legendary shows. He lists some favorites: “The Mardi Gras shows we did with Rebirth and Papa Grows Funk—in my mind, one of the most underrated funk bands around, some of the nicest guys; the chance to do the first Meters reunion club show during Jazz Fest a few years ago. It’s been an honor, really, having these amazing musicians come in and grace us with their presence.”
Kaplan has expanded the wolf into more than a venue. It is now also an artist management agency, currently working with Rebirth Brass Band, Mike Dillon, Naughty Professor, RumpleSTEELskin and Sexual Thunder. Moving forward, Kaplan plans to focus more and more on this side of the business.
“The real growth and fun has been in managing bands and taking on new clients,” he says. “The Wolf isn’t just a music club. It’s all these different things. It’s about the production company. It’s about the bands. I think that’s really where we’ve grown most over the last 10 years. The relationships we’ve built as an independent venue have really helped all these bands we put on the road. It’s not limited to these four walls.”