In the newly revitalized St. Claude corridor, nightspot and music venue Siberia (2227 St. Claude Ave., 265-8855) definitely has a niche to fill, though your perception of that niche might vary depending on the night you visit.
"[We'll have] 100 headbangers in here one night, a bunch of kids shaking their ass to Katey Red the next night," owner Matthew Russell says. "To see the transitions from night to night is pretty hilarious."
Russell and his partners Meghann McCracken, Daphne Loney and Luke Allen opened Siberia last spring. Since then, the bar has transitioned from mostly metal and punk bookings to a more diverse slate of acts as groups put in bids to play in one of the city's most eyebrow-raising venues. The curious ambience is part hipster haven, part dive bar, part question mark. Pieces from Loney's taxidermy collection, including a resplendent game bird and an antler horn chandelier, adorn the walls and ceiling. Other objets include a life-size cardboard cutout of Lil Wayne, vintage video games and an enormous dilapidated mirror framing the back of the bar.
But aside from being a repository for Marigny/Bywater oddities, Siberia functions as a more permanent home for the operations of Russell's former production company, 86 Productions. Russell is a New Jersey native who stuck around New Orleans after college to play music and produce shows, and Siberia happened when one good night led to another ... and another.
"I started booking shows after Katrina because there really wasn't anyone doing anything," he says. "I was doing stuff at the Saturn Bar, Hi-Ho, AllWays, the Saint, pretty much wherever they would let me. After a couple years of that ... the partners and I found this place, and we just decided to go with it."
Moving a previously established crowd to a new venue helped the team get off to an energized start. Originally they stuck with the basics — Russell describes their bar as a "beer-and-shot kind of place" — but being on firmer footing has brought such developments as Champagne in a can, wine in actual glasses and free happy hour shows on weekends.
Most significant, the bar has transformed its pre-existing cooking area into a Slavic-themed kitchen. Inspired by the serendipity of the bar's name and a friend's Eastern European-style pop-up restaurant, the kitchen is open every night except Tuesdays and features pierogies and other edibles from far-flung parts of the former Soviet bloc.
"There's nowhere else to get stuff like that around town," Russell says. "I think that's the best way when you're trying something new, to offer something you can't get anywhere else."
It's a stance taken by many St. Claude and Bywater business owners, who have transformed the neighborhood into one the city's more exciting places to eat ethnic food with a cocktail in hand.
"Every day there's a new building for rent, or a new store going in; it's pretty nuts," Russell says. "I think it's just kind of beginning, too. We'll see what happens over here in the next few years."