In a strange twist on the New Orleans nightclub scene, an Uptown bar and casual restaurant named Snug Harbor Bar is presenting live music beginning in June. The bar, located at 2037 Soniat St. on the corner of Soniat and Liberty Street, is a neighborhood fixture that's existed for decades, and has featured live music occasionally in its long history. That was before Frenchmen Street's Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro established itself as a powerhouse on the live jazz scene -- and the Uptown venue is such a low-key establishment that its phone number, 269-8018, while currently listed, wasn't in the 2000 edition of the White Pages.
But the potential for confusion exists, especially considering the new plans of the "original" Snug Harbor (their quotes, not mine). Every Sunday night in June, the Soniat Street bar is presenting jazz vocalist Linda Aubert, for two shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., with an $8 cover charge. Aubert is a New Orleans native and former Phillip Manuel collaborator who's just returned home from living in Los Angeles since 1986, and she's using a rotating cast of superb collaborators -- and Frenchmen Snug regulars -- for her shows. Her support includes pianist John Mahoney on Sunday, June 2, and June 16; bassist Bill Huntington (who'll actually be playing guitar for Aubert) on June 9, and pianist Mike Esnault on June 23.
If past experience is any indication, patrons aren't the only ones who need to distinguish between the establishments. Jason Patterson, talent buyer for Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, says that after the Frenchmen Street club opened, bands he booked occasionally showed up at the Snug Harbor on Soniat Street. Snug Harbor Bar owner Charlie Lewis, who says he bought the business three years ago, acknowledged in a fax to Gambit Weekly that the two businesses are "always confused in directories and listings."
The local history of the Snug Harbor name, an obviously popular choice in a port city, doesn't follow a straight line. Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro owner George Brumat formerly owned the Port of Call restaurant -- which was formerly named Snug Harbor. A search of the Louisiana Secretary of State Corporations Database shows that Brumat's Frenchmen Street business and jazz club holds five separate and current trademark variants on the name, including Snug Harbor, Inc. Lewis' Soniat Street business has no trademarks registered, although all his city permits are issued to Snug Harbor Bar, while the sign painted on the outside of Soniat Street advertises "the Original Snug Harbor."
Brumat had no comment on the Uptown club's plans for live jazz.
In other nightclub news, Carrollton Station owner Tom Bennett has sold his venue, with new ownership taking the reins on Saturday, June 1. Bennett's been at the helm of a long and admirable run for Carrollton Station, opening the doors on his tenure on Jan. 1, 1980. With his reserved demeanor, good taste, and blue-collar common sense, Bennett turned Carrollton Station into that rare animal: a great bar that's a great music club, and vice versa. His venue started out as a combination restaurant and bar, but Bennett eventually phased out the food operations, and on the recommendation of a friend, booked bluesman Andy J. Forest for a gig in the early '80s.
Since then, Carrollton Station has been an intimate showcase for some of New Orleans' finest musicians, especially in the blues, singer-songwriter, and rock genres. Guitarist Mason Ruffner had a regular residency at Carrollton Station in the mid 1980s, which helped him land a major label deal with Columbia Records and the radio hit "Gypsy Blood." The New Orleans guitar collective Woodenhead has been a Carrollton Station staple, along with Little Queenie, and the Continental Drifters. In recent years, Bennett's been one of the biggest supporters of New Orleans' acoustic scene, helping launch Caffeine Music's songwriter series, and regularly presenting stellar up-and-coming talent like Jeff and Vida.
The good news is that Bennett appears to be leaving his business in capable hands. The new owner is Eric Orlando, vocalist for local rockers Barstool Logic. Says Bennett, "I've been planning this for years, but was waiting for the right buyer to come along. And Eric knows the music and business side of it."
"Any owner is going to put their own touches on a business, but I really want to keep things the way they are for as long as possible," says Orlando. "I think we'll keep the meat of everything with the roots-rock, maybe do some more rock, but we won't go too far."
Bennett, an avid sailor, is fulfilling his life's dream and becoming a full-time captain. He's put all his possessions in storage, and he and his wife depart shortly for the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize. Congratulations, and thanks for everything, Tom. We wish you clear seas and safe, snug harbors.