On New Year’s Eve, 1912, an over enthusiastic 11-year-old boy was arrested for firing a celebratory shot from his stepfather’s pistol into the air on the corner of South Rampart and Perdido Streets. The young Louis Armstrong subsequently spent the next two years as a ward of the state, honing his skills as an aspiring musician while playing cornet in the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs band.
Jazz historians have long considered the 400 block of South Rampart Street the birthplace of jazz. The Little Gem Saloon was first opened in 1903, taking its place among other jazz clubs that have long been lost to the past including The Eagle Saloon and the Iroquois Theater. No other single location is more significant to the founding and evolution of jazz than this one. During its time the Little Gem Saloon served as a popular watering hole for early jazz legends like Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard and Jelly Roll Morton until closing its doors in 1909.
From 1926-1949, the building became a popular “loan office” where musicians would hang out and pawn and buy instruments. Later, Pete’s Blue Heaven Lounge operated there throughout the 1950s and served as a starting and ending point for Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club funerals, which to this day are a revered and recognized uniquely New Orleans tradition.
More than a century since it first opened its doors, the restoration of the Little Gem Saloon marks the resurrection of this historic area as the new epicenter of New Orleans’ jazz.
1876 – Businessmen Bernard Maylié and Hypolite Esparbé move their coffee stall in the historic Poydras Market to a Billiard Room and Saloon on the corner of Poydras and Dryades Streets and soon begin serving market workers a family style lunch.
1877 – Charles “Buddy” Bolden is born
1894-1986 – “La Maison Maylié et Esparbé” expands into a second building built on an adjacent lot – with an iconic wisteria vine growing between the two buildings – and the restaurant’s trademark Table d’Hôte tradition begins. For 110 years Maylie’s served as a living link between the Gilded Age Creole Cuisine of New Orleans’ wealthy and its Progressive Age transformation into the food of a city.
1895-1907 – Buddy Bolden’s band serves as a top draw for local music lovers and forges a link between the local brass band tradition and the contemporary rhythms of ragtime ushering in the birth of New Orleans Jazz.
1903-1909 – Frank Doroux’s Little Gem Saloon indelibly links a series of three late 1880s Italianate Terrace Houses at 445-449 South Rampart Street with the birth of our Nation’s greatest indigenous art form, becoming a watering hole for Jazz legends such as Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard, and other early performers of the neighboring “Back of Town”, “Black Storyville”, or ”Battlefeild” District.
1906 – Buddy “King” Bolden, the enigmatic “Father of Jazz” collapses during a performance, suffering from acute alcoholic psychosis; after being diagnosed with dementia in 1907, he is admitted to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum at Jackson, where he spends the next 24 years of his life.
1908 – Frank Doroux, owner of the notorious Little Gem Saloon, purchases the Eagle Loan Office at 401-403 South Rampart, rechristening it the Eagle Saloon and employing Buddy Bolden’s former bandmates as the house band of the venue’s second floor Oddfellows/Masonic Ballroom.
1908 – John L. Metoyer and members of a New Orleans society called “The Tramps”, attend a vaudevillian comedy show at the Pythian Temple Theater, on Gravier and Saratoga Streets, which includes a skit with performers in grass skirts and black face; by 1909 they have renamed themselves “The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club”. By mid-century Zulu members adopt the site of Frank Doroux’s Little Gem Saloon, now known Pete’s Blue Heaven Lounge, as the rallying and disbanding point for their Jazz Funeral Processions.
1911-1920 – The Iroquois Theater flourishes as the City’s premier black vaudeville theater and showcase for local talent, later becoming a venue for early motion pictures – and the historic site of a fabled talent contest won by a promising young cornetist named Louis Armstrong.
1913 – A twelve year old Louis Armstrong is arrested on New Year’s Eve for firing his stepfather’s pistol into the air in the 400 Block of South Rampart Street. He spends the next two years as a ward of the state, honing his skills as an aspiring musician playing cornet in the colored waifs home band.
2012 – The Little Gem Saloon marks the resurrection of an historic gathering place at the apex of one of our city’s most important entertainment corridors and showcases the roots of our indigenous culinary traditions under the stewardship of renown Executive Chef Robert Bruce, Native New Orleanian, Graduate of Johnson and Wales University, and Step-Grandson of Willie Maylie.
“Cradle of Creole Cuisine, Birthplace of Jazz.”