New Orleans’ oldest coffeehouse and longest running open mic night is looking for a new location. After more than 40 years on Danneel Street, the building has been sold to new owners and the Neutral Ground Coffee House has lost its lease.
At the end of April, the coffeehouse and entertainment venue will be without a home. The owners of the nonprofit will continue their Sunday open mic night with the help of NOLA Spaces on Toledano Street near St. Charles Avenue but are actively looking for a new building.
“We are working with a friend of the coffeehouse who, potentially, may let us buy into one of their properties, but it will take time and capital to get through the zoning process and to refurbish the building,” said Neutral Ground co-owner James Naylor. “If this location doesn’t work out, we will find another.”
To help with a down payment so the coffeehouse can a place of its own, Neutral Ground is hosting a fundraising festival on April 22 at the Batture Riviera — across the levee on the Orleans-Jefferson Parish line, overlooking the Mississippi.
The Coffeehouse started its life as the Penny Post on Maple Street in Uptown New Orleans in 1976. After a fire in the late 1970s, the Penny Post moved to the current Uptown location at 5110 Danneel Street, eventually changing the name to The Neutral Ground Coffeehouse in the early 1990s.
“The Coffeehouse has always been about community, nurturing musicians and poets from all over the world. The Neutral Ground was where an untold number of artists played their first gigs, honing their craft,” Naylor said. “It is an incubator of New Orleans talent.”
The Neutral Ground has been able to survive because its landlord, property manager Jonathan Wallick, hasn’t raised the rent in 20 years. In early April, after months of speculation, two local investors, contractor Michael DeGruy and Realtor George Jeansonne, purchased the mixed-use building at 5110 Danneel St. for $875,000.
Musicians and other supporters have rallied around the coffeehouse, donating to a GoFundMe campaign and coming together for a 10-hour fundraiser, the Neutral Ground Fest, set for Saturday (April 22).
“The community has always been welcoming and encouraging to all that pass through their doors. Surviving these many years as a volunteer-run community, the coffeehouse is one of the rare places in the world that is truly multi-generational and collaborative in nature,” Naylor said. “A place where young kids and elders mingle — playing chess, reading each others poems, trading lyrics, and learning new chord patterns. It is the very definition of a Third Place.”
The Neutral Ground Coffeehouse is reaching out to its expansive community for help raising funds to continue the tradition.
The Neutral Ground Fest will be an all-ages event with musical acts that have played at the coffeehouse throughout the 40 plus years that the Neutral Ground has been around. From young, up-and-coming acts to those that have gone on to much larger stages. It will run from 1 to 11 p.m.
See the Facebook event page for more information and updates on the Neutral Ground Fest.