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Little Gem Saloon Unearthed

Early Jazz Landmark Roars Again in the CBD



Stepping into the Little Gem Saloon one might think they’ve traveled back to 1903, when Frank Doroux first opened the joint.

 

Once a watering hole for legendary jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Buddy Bolden, this Little Gem at 445 S. Rampart St. in the CBD packs a lot of history -- a fact owners Nicolas Bazan, Charles Clark and Tim Clark don’t want customers to forget.  

 

“We’re trying to revive that era with the food, music, décor and ambiance,” said manager Jose Torres, who is aiming for an early 1900s vibe.       

 

With Chef Robert Bruce of Palace Cafe and Chophouse unpacking his knives in the kitchen, the Saloon is in good hands. For a more authentic turn of the century feel, Bruce unearthed old family recipes, including a particularly arduous recipe for oxtail soup that takes two days to prepare. His authentic Creole cuisine stays true to the past.  

 

“If the ingredients didn’t exist back then we’re not using them,” said Torres.  “We use a slow cook process.” 

 

Aside from a slow simmering oxtail soup, Little Gem also offers deviled eggs, a staple of the era, baked oysters gratinee, gumbo and “unique sandwiches reminiscent of the things they used back then like marble rye bread.”   

 

The bar, by turn, uses hand chipped ice for drinks and old style cocktail recipes.  

 

While downstairs looks like your typical restaurant/ jazz club with a layout akin to Galatoire’s, upstairs’ dark wood, rich red velvet drapes and baroque chandeliers connote a Storyville scene of bordellos and speakeasys.   

 

“It’s a night club atmosphere that looks kind of like the swanky speakeasy of the day,” said Torres.  

 

Prior to Bazan and Clark’s purchase, the building sat dilapidated and forgotten on the corner of South Rampart. While the building underwent much construction to bring it back to life, the owners maintained its historic integrity.  

 

“We restored everything, but we didn’t change anything,” said Torres.  

 

The building’s vital role in the New Orleans jazz scene earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and, according to the Smithsonian, became one of the most important places to jazz music in the world.  

 

“We took that seriously; something that should be revived,” said Torres, noting the historical significance of the building.  

 

Downstairs, daily jazz piano pays homage to the musicians that made New Orleans music what it is today. Upstairs, a local talent buyer and former Tipitina’s employee will choose more popular acts, including last night's inaugural musical performance by Meschiya Lake. Saxophone player Donald Harrison also played to a full house over the New Year's soft opening.  

 

Despite good food and music, Torres emphasizes that the business is more than just a restaurant, it’s a concept.  

 

“A strong push is the food and the music, [but] we’re not counting on any one in particular. We’re bringing back the old 1903 era and making it popular again,” said Torres.  

 

After a couple of successful soft openings, Little Gem Saloon officially opened for lunch last Monday.    

 

“We’re at a competitive price point.  Today we filled up for lunch and each day we’re getting better,” said Torres.   

 

For a music schedule and menu samples, visit the Little Gem Saloon website.
 

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

Published Daily