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R for Art's Sake 

As the newly coined Frenchmen Street Arts and Culture District takes hold, the R Bar's new owners plan to add new energy to a Faubourg Marigny stalwart.

Nightlifers who have loved the R Bar for the past 10 years can expect some changes to the Faubourg Marigny watering hole under new owners Jonathan Ferrara and Todd Pecoul. Whether the alterations are enough to affect the relationship between the bar, its regulars and its surrounding neighborhood, remains to be seen.

The R Bar's new owners don't want to rock the boat too much, but they say they would like to give the place a little more culture. Ferrara, who owns Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in the Warehouse District, had the notion to buy the bar. He haggled with real estate agents, put together the financing, dealt with the manic nature of the purchase process, called the meetings and ordered the inspections. Pecoul, on the other hand, served as the neighborhood liaison. He's a recognizable face among the regulars from his years managing bars and slinging drinks in several Marigny bars including d.b.a. and the R Bar under its previous owners.

The plan by Ferrara and Pecoul is to not so much transform the R Bar but to tweak it just enough so that they can expand on what the current patrons love and try some new, art-inspired events and decor as well.

"It's a whole new way of sailing, but it's the same ship -- a little more juice, a little more energy," says Ferrara.

To make way for the flow of new energy, a few of the old fixtures had to go, most notably, the motorcycle and scuba diver that once loomed overhead. Performance artists have taken their place, so on a recent Saturday night, two women took turns sitting above the bar drinking Miller High Lifes while voguing. Ferrara and Picoul have also improved the sound system.

But perhaps the most important change at the R Bar will be the influx of art and culture that Ferrara will bring.

"It's my thought and Todd's to Œartify' the R Bar," says Ferrara. Some of the plans include DJs, video art, movies by young filmmakers, art films, cult movie nights, new fixtures by local artists and making the bar into a WiFi hot spot. Pecoul and Ferrara's main goals are to present art to their customers in a friendlier, less stuffy environment than traditional galleries.

"People don't go to the arts. You have to bring the arts to the people," says Ferrara. "I want to create a place or expand on a place where it's comfortable for people of all stripes Š to come in and be a part of something."

"But it's still a neighborhood bar," Pecoul is quick to point out.

Indeed, the R Bar is a neighborhood bar in an eclectic area of town that has seen its fair share of growth over the last decade. The Marigny is still hot, and the R Bar's new owners are taking under their wing an establishment that many feel wasn't broke and therefore doesn't need fixing.

"[The R Bar is] definitely part of the Frenchmen Street scene, and it's been the late-night hangout of choice among musicians when they finish a gig at Cafe Brasil or one of the other places," says Scott Aiges, director of music business development for the city. "You can often find the band members having a drink at the R Bar, so it's been a long established part of that scene."

In the early '90s, Frenchmen Street and Faubourg Marigny became a hip destination, but since The Spotted Cat opened in 1999 and d.b.a. opened in 2000, there has been a resurgence of excitement in the area. They joined Snug Harbor, the Apple Barrel, Cafe Brasil, the Blue Nile, the Dragon's Den and Check Point Charlie in the area to create a scene rivaling Dallas' Deep Ellum for concentration of live music clubs.

Unfortunately, many of the venues were not zoned for live music. To address this, the city has designated Frenchmen Street between Esplanade Avenue and Royal Street -- whose ŒR' gave the bar its name -- the Frenchmen Street Arts and Culture District. Essentially, the District is a city zoning designation that allows venues to have live entertainment even though they were not previously so zoned. It is a way to allow the current atmosphere of Frenchmen Street to survive while the zoning is straightened out. Although a block off Frenchmen Street and not a live music venue, the R Bar has been an important part of the bar-hopping bohemia the area has become.

Tom Thayer, manager of Frenchmen Street's d.b.a., believes Ferrara's and Pecoul's version of the R Bar will make a significant contribution to the Frenchmen Street scene. "Jonathan is very creative and Todd is pretty much a fixture in the Marigny," said Thayer. "The R Bar was already one of my favorite bars, and I think maybe some new blood will help liven things up a little. The neighborhood is already pretty much jumping and I think its only going to help bring more people down to the Marigny."

click to enlarge "People don't go to the arts. You have to bring the arts to - the people," says Jonathan Ferrara (left), who along with - Todd Pecoul recently bought the R Bar. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • "People don't go to the arts. You have to bring the arts to the people," says Jonathan Ferrara (left), who along with Todd Pecoul recently bought the R Bar.
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