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BZA Backs Bacchanal

City Board Clears the Way for Music to Return to Bywater Wine Outpost

After Bywater residents' pleas sounded off the halls of power Monday, live music is set to return to the courtyard at Bacchanal.


One business that fell subject to the city’s permit crackdown found a sympathetic ear in City Hall today, as the Board of Zoning Adjustments overturned the reccomnedations of city staff, and cleared the way for live jazz to return to the Bywater wine spot.


Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits, located at 600 Poland Avenue, had been operating since 2002 without a hitch until August of 2011, when police raided the business. The raid revealed alleged violations of the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, and Bacchanal fell under the scrutiny of the City Planning Commission for their lack of permits for off-street parking as well as for the live jazz music that often emanates from their courtyard. Murray Roth, attorney for applicant Mary Jayne and Chris, LLC, appeared before the board at February’s meeting to request a 30-day deferral and came back today with an army of neighbors to plead for permission to keep their beloved Bacchanal in business.


The request on the docket reads, “to permit the construction of an outdoor stage with outdoor seating/performance area with insufficient off-street parking,” but that language is misleading, according to Roth. He pointed out that there were never any plans to build an outdoor stage but simply to allow jazz musicians to continue to play in the courtyard, as they have been doing since immediately following Katrina. Roth also disputed the wording of “parking variance,” since he contended that the property was “grandfathered in,” and therefore never required to provide the 37 off-street spots required by city ordinance.


Bywater residents, including many that live adjacent to 600 Poland, were not taking these “violations” lying down. More than 20 people spoke at the hearing, each arguing the business was an integral part of the community. And it wasn't just about loving live jazz and fine wine; everyone who spoke today credited Bacchanal with improving residents’ safety.


Maurice Slaughter, owner of multiple properties in the area, said that the value of his properties would be reduced tremendously if Bacchanal were forced to shut down due to their lack of ability to provide off-street parking. According to Slaughter, Bacchanal is the primary reason that most of his tenants chose to live in that area of the Bywater, and they would no longer feel safe if it were to close. Slaughter was also one of many to call attention to the fact that parking has never been an issue on the block since many patrons of Bacchanal and residents of the area are bicyclists, not drivers. Some of his tenants spoke as well, as did Lauren Swinney, another longtime property owner that lives next door to Bacchanal.


As Swinney delivered her speech, onlookers at the meeting began to visibly tear up. She painted a portrait of her porch, where she likes to sit and enjoy the “twinkling lights of Bacchanal’s courtyard.” She praised the thriving community and spoke about attending wine tastings on Saturday afternoons. In her closing remarks, she referred to Bacchanal as a “good neighbor,” and said that it has brought her “safety, a learning opportunity, cheer, and music.” Property owners and tenants weren’t the only ones to come speak in favor of allowing Bacchanal to continue business as usual.


Ann Marie Coviello urged board members to “listen to the neighbors,” whose support was evidently unanimous. Alex Fleming presented more than 1000 signatures gathered in support of the motion from an online petition. Vocalist Emily Robertson spoke to thank Bacchanal for the opportunity she has had to perform there and said that business like Bacchanal are crucial for musicians and vocalists like herself to get on the map. Jessie Wightkin, representing the nonprofit Edible Schoolyards, said that Bacchanal’s employees were her “#1 volunteers.” People of different ages and backgrounds all appeared to persuade the BZA to save their community, and the BZA listened.


Before hearing the motion, The City Planning Commission’s staff recommendation was to deny the variance. Despite the widespread public support in favor of live music, the board was reluctant about the construction of an outdoor stage and also feared that the parking variance could backfire in the event that future businesses to inhabit the space weren’t as bike-friendly.


However, not one person showed to express their opposition, and the board was persuaded to reconsider. When the decision came down, applause rang out through the chamber.


In addition to music, the hearing also paves the way for Bacchanal's new indoor kitchen to begin operations. The old kitchen, which operated outdoors, was also cited by city officials in the late-summer raid. Since then Chef Joaquin Rodas has been cooking meals in food trucks, and Bacchanal began building the new kitchen. But Bacchanal still needed the parking issue resolved to ensure they would not have to make any further changes to the property to stay open.


Now mostly complete and without anymore zoning roadblocks, Bacchanal owner Chris Rudge said the kitchen and music should be poised to return within several weeks.

hurrah! great article.

hurrah! great article.

This is terrific news for New

This is terrific news for New Orleans.

Thanks for covering this.

Thanks for covering this. Just a quick clarification, Bacchanal is actually doing food through the truck 7 days a week. They just started that schedule right after Mardi Gras.

Of course they cancel sometimes because of rain or whatever, but generally speaking they're going to serve food every night from here on out.

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