A long-neglected building that once housed a music hall where early jazz legends performed has been renovated as a restaurant/music hall/event space called Little Gem Saloon (445 S. Rampart St., 504-267-4863; www.-littlegemsaloon.com).
Lunch and dinner are served daily and feature updated Creole classics from veteran local chef Robert Bruce. Bands perform in a second-floor jazz club, and piano players hold court in the bar during the weekday happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. General manager Chris Ycaza says Little Gem Saloon soon will add a brass band brunch on Sundays.
It signals a remarkable turn-around for an address that has sat empty for many years. The building is one of a handful of structures left standing along a stretch of South Rampart Street that had been a hotbed of commerce and culture for the city's black community dating back to the early 20th century. It was part of a bustling, often raucous district variously known as "Back o' Town," "Black Storyville" and "the Battlefield." The Little Gem Saloon address has been home to bars (including its namesake, Frank Douroux's Little Gem Saloon) and a loan office where early jazz musicians are said to have pawned and bought instruments.
In recent years, parking lots have replaced many of the buildings on these blocks of South Rampart. Last year, the Little Gem property was acquired by Dr. Nicolas Bazan, director of neuroscience at LSU Health Sciences Center (his son, Nicolas Bazan III, owns RioMar and La Boca), and Charles Clark and Tim Clark, of Tim Clark Construction, who embarked on the current redevelopment.
Little Gem Saloon's menu includes dishes like deviled eggs remoulade, pickled oysters, crabmeat ravigote, oxtail soup, daube glace, stuffed fish, frog leg fricassee and a sandwich with chaurice sausage and head cheese. Bruce crafted this menu with a vintage feel, which reflects the building's history and his own family ties. His family ran Maylie's, located across the street (now Walk-On's Bistreaux), which served classic Creole cuisine for more than 100 years before closing in 1986. Some of Bruce's dishes come directly from the Maylie's tradition.