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Bands are finally playing again inside New Orleans’ Dew Drop Inn

Albert Doucette performs on stage at the Dew Drop Inn in Central City, New Orleans on April 3, 2024. Doucette was one of several audience members who participated in the venue’s weekly open jam session.
Matt Bloom
/
WWNO
Albert Doucette performs at the Dew Drop Inn in Central City, New Orleans on April 3, 2024. Doucette was one of several audience members who participated in the venue’s weekly open jam session.

For almost two decades, the Dew Drop Inn sat boarded up on LaSalle St. in Uptown, uninhabitable due to water damage from Hurricane Katrina.

But now, the doors of the two-story club are open. Jazz bands play most nights on a remodeled stage. The names of iconic artists — from Aretha Franklin to Ray Charles — don the doorways of 17 rentable hotel rooms. There’s even a pool out back.

The Dew Drop’s new owners have reopened the storied club to the public, with a heavy nod to the space’s history. The revival marks the largest comeback attempt to date for the 84-year-old landmark, which got its start as a safe space for Black and LGBTQ performers during the height of Jim Crow segregation in the mid-20th century.

It was more than just a bar or a club. It was a meeting spot,” said Kenneth Jackson, a part-owner of the venue, whose grandfather Frank Painia opened the business as a restaurant and barbershop in 1939. After a few years serving mostly Black clientele, Painia purchased the residential building next door and turned it into a thriving music hall.

Patrons walk outside of the Dew Drop Inn in 1953.
Tulane Special Collections
Patrons walk outside of the Dew Drop Inn in 1953.

“It was a place where people came to mingle and enjoy each other’s company,” Jackson said. “See a good show have a good meal, get a good haircut, get a good night's sleep if you got too drunk. Just an overall fun atmosphere.”

The national Negro Motorist Green Book, listed the Dew Drop Inn as a welcoming port of call for Black travelers. In its heyday, it became the place for big touring acts to perform in New Orleans. And Painia didn’t enforce local segregation ordinances, allowing Black and white patrons to mingle.

Police raids followed. But local civil rights leaders helped sue the city on behalf of Painial to get an injunction on the enforcement of segregation before the practice was abolished.

The atmosphere made it feel safe, Jackson said, especially for Black and LGBTQ performers who were rejected from segregated hotels.

One of the most famous stories about the inn involves Little Richard. In 1955, while visiting New Orleans, the singer performed on the club’s stage and improvised the opening line to, “Tutti Frutti,” which went on to become Richard’s first big hit.

Local artists, including Deacon John and Irma Thomas, as well as drag queens, frequently joined in jams with national acts, Jackson said.

“Whoever came in, they’d invite 'em to come up on stage and just join in the show,” Jackson said.

Kenneth Jackson, a part owner of the Dew Drop Inn, stands underneath the venue’s new sign. Jackson’s grandfather, Frank Painia, opened the venue in 1939 as a barbershop and hotel before it grew into a famous music hall in the 1950’s and 60’s. Matt Bloom
Matt Bloom
/
WWNO
Kenneth Jackson, a part owner of the Dew Drop Inn, stands underneath the venue’s new sign. Jackson’s grandfather, Frank Painia, opened the venue in 1939 as a barbershop and hotel before it grew into a famous music hall in the 1950’s and 60’s.

In addition to serving as a hub for Black culture, the club served as a meeting spot for the city’s mid-century gay community. Patsy Vidalia, a drag queen, served as an emcee in the 50’s and 60’s. She hosted the annual New Orleans Gay Ball at the Dew Drop every Halloween.

The club’s success began to wane in the 70's, when more venues in New Orleans became integrated and Painia’s health failed. He passed away in 1972.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the whole place and shut it down. But Jackson said his family always wanted to reopen it. Financing and insurance issues got in the way of the effort, though, and the building fell into disrepair for two decades.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson decided to sell a majority stake in the space.

“Something had to give just to make sure that the Dew Drop would still be around,” he said. “The city deserves a place of this magnitude and of this historical significance.”

Curtis Doucette Jr., a local developer, bought the inn and promised to rehab the building into a new hotel and venue. After several years of work, the Dew Drop reopened as a hotel and music hall in March. And bands are finally playing again on a restored stage.

Musicians host a weekly jam session open to the public. On a recent night, a live band backed up DC PauL, a local comedian and jam host.

“Y’all are in the place to be on a Wednesday night,” PauL told the large crowd.

Patrons watch the band play inside the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans on April 3, 2024.
Matt Bloom
/
WWNO
Patrons watch the band play inside the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans on April 3, 2024.

Performers wrote their names on pieces of paper, put them in a jar and got on stage to perform with the band once their name was pulled out. Paul said it feels like the venue is continuing a legacy.

“History has been made in this space and history is still being written today and tomorrow and is being written into this space,” he said.

Dew Drop veterans have sung, danced and jammed on the stage since its reopening.

Albert Doucette, the uncle of the developer, used to visit the Dew Drop when it was in its heyday. He said he’s glad it’s been brought back to life.

“I think it means a lot for the city. I just hope the city get behind ‘em,” he said after performing a song titled "In New Orleans, There'd Be No Party Without Us."

“We need people back in this area to support the area," Doucette said.

The new Dew Drop Inn is open six days a week. Owners are planning big events for Jazz Fest and other upcoming festivals, with live music, comedy, food and drinks every night.

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