Officials gathered in Central City on Thursday (July 7) to officially break ground on the restoration of the famed Dew Drop Inn, the city’s leading Black music venue for three mid-century decades.
The groundbreaking was complemented by performances from the Beautiful Creole Apache Tribe and Cyril Neville.
Speaking at the ceremony, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city is working to redevelop the section of Central City where the Dew Drop Inn Hotel & Lounge at 2836 LaSalle St. can serve as an anchor.
“The city of New Orleans is making sure we’re leveraging our dollars in this immediate area,” she said. “It has been my focus to make sure that the surrounding area, Louisiana Avenue for example, is being revitalized. Right now, we are being intentional about that area, LaSalle and Simon Bolivar — you name it.”
There are also plans, she said, for a rock ‘n’ roll museum next to the Dew Drop Inn, which is being developed into a 3,000-square-foot music venue, a 17-room boutique hotel, a resort-style pool and a small retail space that the developer has said he envisions as a coffee shop.
The Dew Drop, along with J&M Studio on the other side of town, played a major role in the creation of rock music. From the mid-1930s to 1970, the music venue was not only a local showcase for top national acts — Little Richard, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke among them — it nurtured the local sound that became New Orleans R&B, a precursor to rock ‘n’ roll.
Roy Brown’s 1947 “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and Fats Domino’s 1949 “The Fat Man” are considered pivotal in the development of rock music. Both musicians, and others who played on those hit records, performed at the Dew Drop, where the local house band could outshine the national luminaries. Led by Dave Bartholomew and Edgar Blanchard, the Dew Drop’s house band regulars included Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Earl King, James Booker, Charles Neville, Earl Palmer, Tommy Ridgeley, Huey “Piano” Smith and Deacon John Moore.
The band’s all-night jam sessions were legendary. During the jam sessions, the regular gigs and just hanging out at the Dew Drop, according to multiple published interviews, the locals formed a tight community at a time when Black musicians were not allowed in the city’s White clubs.
The Dew Drop project’s lead developer Curtis Doucette Jr. said his love of music, the city and the landmark building itself led him to take on the multi-million dollar venture that several developers were forced to relinquish for lack of funds. As CEO of Iris Development, the New Orleans native’s specialty is in complex multi-layered financing and increasing the value of under-performing properties.
Now that the project has cleared the city’s permitting hurdles and construction is underway, the Dew Drop Inn is expected to open in 2023.