Where was the Dew Drop Inn?
If you were here in the 1940s, '50s and '60s and didn't drop in to the legendary New Orleans nightclub, you missed out on some great rhythm and blues, soul and rock performances by nationally recognized musicians and up-and-coming local artists. From about 1945 to 1969, a continual chorus of musicians walked through the Dew Drop Inn's doors at 2836 Lasalle St., including Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Otis Redding, Dave Bartholomew, Earl King, Tommy Ridgley, Allen Toussaint, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, James Booker and others.
The Dew Drop Inn boasted it was "the South's swankiest night spot," and few argued against the claim for 25 years. It also was a place where black and white musicians and artists honing their craft were welcome onstage together, despite segregation laws, and musicians liked to drop in to hang out or jam after hours.
"We all got something out of the Dew Drop ... it was an era," Earl King recalled in John Broven's book Rhythm and Blues In New Orleans. "Man, if you wanted a band, you'd go around the Dew Drop and there they were." Another performer described it as "sort of a headquarters and musicians' club."
Although it became an iconic spot, the Dew Drop had humble beginnings. Frank G. Painia, a Plaquemine native, opened Frank's Barber Shop on the corner of Lasalle and Sixth streets in 1936. He bought a grocery store and bar two doors down the block and in April 1939 opened the Dew Drop Inn, which included an expanded barbershop, restaurant, barroom and hotel. Because the South was still segregated at the time, the Dew Drop Inn's hotel provided a place for African-Americans to stay, and several musicians lived there.
By 1945, Dew Drop Inn, which could accommodate 200 to 300 guests, had established its reputation as a hopping music club and staged two shows a night on weekends, plus an amateur contest on Fridays. Despite raids by police trying to enforce segregation laws in the 1950s, black and white patrons continued to visit the club for the music. It closed in 1969, and Painia died in 1972.
Today, the name Dew Drop Inn is still painted on the steel doors that once admitted music fans, but the club as well as the barbershop, hotel and restaurant are closed and plywood covers some of the windows. Painia's grandson Kenneth Jackson ran the hotel and cut hair in Frank's Barber Shop until Hurricane Katrina and the floods damaged the building. In May, the Louisiana Landmark Society placed Dew Drop Inn on its Endangered Nine list for 2010 to draw attention to the deteriorating condition of the building.
A representative of Jackson's family, who asked not to be identified, said last week that there are no immediate plans to reopen the club or restore the building.