There’s no more room on Frenchmen Street. Every single building between Esplanade and Royal Street is occupied by a bar/music club or a restaurant/music club, with the exception of the art market and a couple of tattoo retailers.
Over the past 15 years, Frenchmen has blossomed to become the younger, hipper cousin of Bourbon Street that is attracting more visitors than locals, whereas it used to be the street where local music lovers went (and sent their out-of-town friends) to hear live, original music.
Gone are the days when you could pick up a set by Anders Osborne or the Soul Rebels. That caliber of established musicians no longer plays on Frenchmen because, for the most part, there are very few venues that regularly charge a cover that will support more well-known musicians. Today the majority of the musicians play for tips or a percent of the bar without a guarantee. It’s a pity, but it’s the way of gentrification, poor zoning and enforcement choices on the part of the city, and some of the venue operators who can’t afford to or won’t pay the bands a guarantee (there are notable exceptions, of course; not all Frenchmen venues rely on tips or bar percentages to pay musicians).
But the fact remains that some local bands won’t play on Frenchmen Street because they just can’t make enough money to survive.
It’s also a fact that Frenchmen has become more of a street party than a destination for live music that people pay to hear.
So there’s an opening somewhere for an area that wants to support live music in a nurturing environment where musicians and bands can learn their craft, make a decent living, and entertain locals who want that old Frenchmen Street vibe.
I’ve asked repeatedly in several polls where the next “Frenchmen Street” will be located, and the general consensus is that there’s enough local population and a growing critical mass of bars, clubs, retailers, artists (just look at the plethora of murals there) and restaurants on St. Claude Avenue.
From what I understand, commercial properties on St. Claude are being snatched up almost all the way to Poland Avenue; restaurants and bars, and now music venues are popping up overnight. The newest is a conversion of the old Siberia to the Carnaval Lounge. There’s another music venue that’s being opened by the band members of Water Seed at 3036 St. Claude Avenue (the Get Down Lounge).
There’s a place for everything in New Orleans entertainment: Bourbon, Frenchmen, and now St. Claude Avenue. It would be outstanding if the St. Claude corridor could develop in such a way that it becomes a model for a New Orleans “entertainment zone” that would include provisions for musician loading zones, parking, policing, sanitation and more.
I understand that one of our city councilmen and staff will be making a trip to see how it’s done in other cities, namely Seattle and San Francisco, meeting with city officials and “night mayors.” It certainly never hurts to look at the way other cities manage their nighttime economies. Maybe we can learn a lesson or two.