By Lyndsey Beaulieu
In this week’s episode, “Sunset on Louisianne,” the music career of DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) is thwarted yet again when his band of Educated Fools arrives at Caledonia’s for a gig -- only to find it closed for business. The club may be fictional, but that some of the best music clubs on N. Rampart St. were shut down following Hurricane Katrina is not.
The long revered stretch of N. Rampart St. between Canal St. and Esplanade Ave. was a hotspot for authentic New Orleans music, with the Funky Butt (714 N. Rampart), and Donna’s Bar and Grill (800 N. Rampart St.), at its center. The Funky Butt, operated by Sam Williams of Big Sam’s Funky Nation and his wife, Shanekah Williams, was hands-down one of the best places in town to hear live music. But like so many of the dive bars in the area, the Funky Butt was in such a state of disrepair that it was forced to close just before Katrina. After the storm, a New Orleans businessman attempted to bring the Funky Butt back to greatness, but city politics and re-zoning put a fast stop to the plan. Between the residents of the Vieux Carre and City Hall, there was virtually no support for the once-venerable club’s reopening.
Donna’s Bar and Grill was the last mainstay to go, closing its doors in 2010. For over 20 years, Monday nights at Donna’s were legendary; a rite of passage where musicians came to see other musicians jam until the wee hours of the morning. Also legendary were the red beans and rice and barbecue chicken served by its proprietors, husband and wife team Donna Poniatowski and Charlie Sims. But like the Funky Butt, extensive damage and dilapidation eventually did them in, effectively ending the era of live music on N. Rampart St.
Music legends were also born on N. Rampart St., at the historic J&M studios, which is now a laundromat. Legends like Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Lloyd Price and Jerry Lee Lewis put some of their biggest hits on wax at 838-840 N. Rampart St.