As the rapid redevelopment of the Freret Street, a restaurant serving “Japanese fusion” cuisine is planned to open in the former Friar Tucks bar on one end of the commercial corridor, and a new neighborhood live-music venue is slated for the large, bright-blue building at the other end of the street.
The long-promised street improvements on Freret have yet to begin, however, and business owners worry that poorly planned and executed roadwork could blunt the street’s recovery.
Optimism was the dominant theme of Monday night’s meeting of the Freret Business and Property Owners Association, coming only a week after the widely praised opening of Adolfo Garcia’s two new restaurants, High Hat Cafe and Ancora Pizzeria. Freret residents were already eagerly anticipating the summertime openings of Company Burger and Midway Pizza, but the meeting brought a handful of additional announcements.
The future of Tuck’s | The former Friar Tuck’s building will be home to a restaurant serving a “Japanese fusion” menu, said Ben Jacobson, one of the partners in the company that bought the building in April. The chef had been looking for the perfect location for nearly a year since leaving her last endeavor, an Uptown sushi restaurant, and had been closely watching Freret, Jacobson said.
“It just seemed to make sense,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson said the restaurant hopes to open by Sept. 1.
Live music | Another substantial addition to the Freret corridor will be a neighborhood bar with a performance space for live music, comedy, art shows or any combination of the above, said Rhett Briggs, who spoke on behalf of the project Monday. The bar will share the bright blue building on the corner of Cadiz Street with Neighborhood Housing Services, and Briggs noted that the arrangement is ideal, as the NHS workers will be leaving just as the bar is opening, leaving the large parking lot for customers.
A tentative name is the Publiq House, Briggs said, a play on the pub concept. He said he hopes it will be both eclectic and classy, perhaps similar in style to d.b.a. on Frenchman Street with a touch of the Julia Street gallery vibe and attracting a mix of local and traveling musicians. He anticipates a selection of more than 200 beers and said he hopes to experiment with the trend of high-quality wine by draft, so that patrons can order reasonably-priced wine by the glass during shows.
“We’re doing everything in mason jars and really neat glassware,” Briggs said. “By all means we don’t want to be a Friar Tuck’s or college bar.”
Briggs said he is hoping for an October or November opening.
Roadblocks ahead? | The latest delay of a long-promised streetscape-improvement project on Freret was the source of less frustration Monday night than the problems some merchants are now worried it could cause. The project was last slated to start in June, but association board member Kellie Grengs said she has been told by the city that the contracts still have not been finalized.
The design of the project will narrow the street in some areas, which she said could present a safety hazard since Freret is a major thoroughfare for city buses. A narrower street could make deliveries from 18-wheelers more difficult, and businesses owners will likely have to pay more in shipping costs if smaller trucks become necessary, Grengs said. If the city can be convinced to implement this road narrowing more sparingly, some money may be available for benches, garbage cans and bicycle racks, Grengs said, “because none of that is currently in the plan.”
“As beautiful as Oak Street is, that’s not what we’re getting,” Grengs said. “We’re disappointed it’s going to take six months for them to do eight blocks and plant 12 trees.”
Complicating matters more, Grengs said, is that Freret is on a list of state repaving projects similar to the construction currently underway on Magazine. She has not been able to get a start date on that project, she said, but it seems likely that it would come after the city’s streetscaping. Because the projects would be the work of two different governmental entities — the city and the state — it’s likely impossible to have them coordinated, Grengs said.
“It doesn’t make sense that they’re going to rip it all up, make it pretty, then rip it all up again,” Grengs said. “I can’t get them to do it all at once.”
The meeting drew a larger audience than usual of nearly 30 people, many of whom were not current property owners on Freret, but proprieters of other businesses interested in the street’s revival. Peter Vazquez, former chef-owner of Marisol downtown and currently at Mimi’s in River Ridge, said he is exploring an idea for another form of ethnic cuisine on Freret, but declined to divulge the details of it.