Music returns to historic Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans (2024)

NEW ORLEANS -- Silent for more than half a century, music is finally returning to the historic Dew Drop Inn.

The legendary New Orleans music club and hotel -- where Ray Charles, Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner and James Brown all performed in their early days -- is reopening Friday after years of renovation by a local developer who rescued it from decades of blight.

Music returns to historic Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans (1)

The club served as the premier venue for Black musicians throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In the era of Jim Crow segregation, the inn was prominently listed in the "Negro Motorist Green Book," a historic travel guide that published which establishments throughout the United States were considered safe for Black travelers.

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The Dew Drop Inn is "a milestone place" in American cultural history, said New Orleans-based music historian Ben Sandmel.

"It was the grapevine that nurtured so many great New Orleans R&B musicians. People may not realize it, but the creative process that went into the sound that people love around the world -- a lot of that was incubated at the Dew Drop," Sandmel told ABC News.

Rescuing from blight

However, what New Orleanians -- who grew up in the city since the early 1970s -- knew of the Dew Drop was blight.

Located in Central City, just a short walk to the Superdome, the nightclub had been in decay for decades. Curtis Doucette, Jr., a developer native to New Orleans, said he had driven past the location for much of his life, but only recently did he learn of its rich history. "The more I learned, the more I got interested in it," Doucette told ABC News.

Doucette purchased the Drew Drop in 2021 from the grandson of the original owner and only then, did the enormity of the project reveal itself.

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The flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005 gutted the original music space, leaving just a shell, and the hotel, which had been "limping along" for years, was similarly incapacitated. Doucette planned to bring "the building as close as it looked like in 1953 as possible," he said.

The nearly $11 million project not only resurrected the music club and restaurant, but each room of the adjoining 17-room hotel is named after prominent musicians and singers who once dominated the stage on the ground floor.

One such room is dedicated to New Orleans guitarist-singer Deacon John Moore who is performing at this weekend's grand opening nearly 60 years after first playing there with his band, Deacon John and the Ivories. Many nights, he remembered, ended with all-night jam sessions that lasted until sunrise.

When Little Richard showed up one night, he was so impressed he later recorded a namesake song to honor the club; the recording included Moore on guitar. Moore said the hotel played a role in the music's evolution because it allowed visiting musicians to remain in town for days or weeks to record, jam and collaborate with others in town.

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Owner Frank Painia "created a way station" for Black musicians, Moore said, through housing and meals at his restaurant.

"He could also give them a job playing at the club to tide them over so they could have enough capital to put them back on their feet again and get back playing other venues on the circuit," he said.

Before opening the club in 1939, Painia operated a barbershop. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to purchase the building next door and expand his enterprise. In the era of segregation and discriminatory bank lending practices, those accomplishments are examples of "Black economic resilience," Doucette said. "We never want to forget those things."

The reopening will feature some of Painia's original but newly restored barber chairs.

LGBTQ+ pioneer

Painia also was ahead of his time by welcoming drag performers throughout its history including Patsy Vidalia, the club's long-serving emcee.

Moore recalls the Dew Drop as both elegant -- people on and offstage were decked in suits and gowns, and musical dignitaries like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Lionel Hampton often visited -- and decadent with its rotating cast of exotic dancers, drag performers, ventriloquists, tap dancers and others.

"It was a place for entertainers from all walks of life," he said.

The club also played an important role in Civil Rights history when Painia sued the city of New Orleans in 1964 for its harsh segregation laws which prohibited different races from mixing under one roof. The club was often shut down by police when authorities discovered he was allowing white people in to hear the music; his court action resulted in an injunction that ended the raids for good.

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"Any Black person today who can freely drink at any public water fountain should pay special tribute to the people before us and a lot of those people were at the Dew Drop Inn fighting the good fight," Doucette said. "Frank was constantly being harassed just because white people wanted to hear the music."

The Civil Rights Act that same year expanded the options for where Black musicians were able to play; music tastes were also changing, both of which led to the club closing in 1970. Painia died two years later.

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Doucette said the $11 million required to bring the complex back to life included various city, state and federal fees, as well as state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. He is responsible for most of the funding along with private investors which included members of the Painia family who still own a small stake in the project.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell will appear alongside Doucette Friday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by a performance by Moore. Irma Thomas, the New Orleans soul singer who also performed at the original club, will headline a performance at night.

Performances will continue all day into the night and throughout the weekend.

Moore said appearing once again at the Dew Drop "is like a dream come true."

"It brought tears to my eyes," he said. "I never thought I would live to see this day happen."

Music returns to historic Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans (2024)


Who is the new owner of Dew Drop Inn? ›

The family launched the Dew Drop Inn earlier this year​​ having sold the Crown to the Beehive chef Dominic Chapman in 2022.

Where was the original Dew Drop Inn? ›

2836 LaSalle Street New Orleans, Louisiana

What is the history of the Dew Drop Inn? ›

The Dew Drop Inn “opened” its doors in 1939 under the ownership of Mr. Frank Pania. The Dew Drop would become a major player in the development of Rhythm and Blues. The “Drop,” as it was called, became the hub of social and civic activities for New Orleans residents, regardless of race or gender.

Who owns the Dew Drop Inn Mobile? ›

“As the owners of the Dew Drop Inn, Robin and her husband, Powell Hamlin, have been an irreplaceable part of Mobile's cultural fabric. Their business is beloved throughout the City and particularly in Midtown.

What show was the Dew Drop Inn? ›

If you watched the 1970's dramatic series, "The Waltons," on television, you might remember Jason Walton and his job as a musician at a tavern called the Dew Drop Inn in Scottsville and who later became its owner.

When did Dew Drop Inn in Mobile open? ›

Opened in 1924, the Dew Drop Inn has served generations of Mobilians with their famous Dew Drop Hot Dog. They are even credited as introducing Mobilians of the 1920's to the early 20th century phenomenon of a “hot dog”.

What happened to original Mountain Dew? ›

In 2010, the original formula was replaced with a new formula called "Mountain Dew Throwback," which was sweetened with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

What city was Mountain Dew made in? ›

Origin. Tennessee bottlers Barney and Ally Hartman developed Mountain Dew as a mixer in the 1940s. Soft drinks were sold regionally in the 1930s, and the Hartmans had difficulty in Knoxville obtaining their preferred soda to mix with liquor, preferably whiskey, so the two developed their own.

What was the original Mountain Dew logo? ›

Mountain Dew's original logo was then a signature logo – a logo consisting only of the company name in a sans-serif font. Back then, green, a shade reminiscent of nature, and white were used. This logo was used from 1948 to 1969.

What happened to Mountain Dew Throwback? ›

In 2020, Mountain Dew Throwback was rebranded as Mountain Dew Real Sugar, with a new design using the 1980s Mountain Dew logo, with the words "Real Sugar" in a similar font.

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