Small Business

Pandemic marks the end for two local gems: Saturn Bar and Liuzza’s

The closings of the Saturn Bar and Liuzza’s mark two more 2020 heartbreaks

As the pandemic continues to shapeshift the New Orleans restaurant and bar landscape, two more local institutions fall by the wayside, casualties of the city’s current economic uncertainty.  The Broyard family, which has owned the Saturn Bar for 60 years, won’t be reopening it, instead will sell the business, name and all. And Liuzza’s, one of the great neighborhood Creole Italian restaurants in business in Mid-City since 1947, is also for sale, advertised by the McEnery Co. real estate firm at $2.4 million, which includes the name, the restaurant and the adjacent empty lot along Bienville. It is currently still open and hasn’t announced an official closing date.

For a city of residents fiercely loyal to their neighborhood bars and restaurants, the news is beyond sad.

A quirky original

How to count the ways that the Saturn Bar defines quirky?  Besides there always being a resident cat on the bar, the place was a homespun mess, full of all kinds of junk and “collectibles” amassed by original owner O’Neil Broyard, who opened the hulking bar on the corner of St. Claude and Clouet in 1960.

 

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One of the best dive bars in town – maybe even the world? – the Saturn’s charisma drew the likes of the Rolling Stones, who partied there late night after a gig back in the 80s. There are photos on the wall to prove it, along with pics of a slew of other celebrities. A proud shot and beer joint, the bar’s character was never compromised by the likes of organization or interior design.   

Live music on the weekends defined the bar, as did the monthly DJ Matty and DJ Kristen Mod Night dance party, which attracted hip-shakers in mini-skirts and skinny ties, since 2008. Guessing the hours the bar would be opened was always a crapshoot – but when it was open, you could be sure it wouldn’t close until the wee hours.

“When will live music come back? We just don’t know, and it would be hard to try to reopen without music,” third generation bar owner Baliee Broyard told Nola.com. “We don’t have a lot of foot traffic like a bar in the French Quarter would.”

The pandemic has wreaked brutal havoc on New Orleans bars, with owners finding themselves on the front lines of the public health emergency, forced to close, then reopen for takeout, then forced to close again, and now open for just 25% indoor capacity with more customers allowed to drink outdoors.

The Saturn Bar survived Hurricane Katrina and the death of its founder in 2005. The year 2020 was not so forgiving.

 

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Liuzza’s, a Mid-City icon since 1947

Liuzza’s in Mid-City
Photo by Megan Mackel

Known for serving hang-off-the-plate portions of po’boys, pasta and other Italian specialties, Liuzza’s was the kind of neighborhood restaurant that served lunch and dinner to generations of customers. One of the city’s original Creole-Italian restaurants, Liuzza’s always drew a steady crowd of politicos, business kingpins and neighborhood regulars slurping up seafood gumbo, red gravy lasagna and shrimp remoulade. The red beans and rice was the stuff of legend, Monday and every other day the restaurant’s doors were open.

Currently owned by the Bordelon family, Liuzza’s was first opened by its namesake Vincent Liuzza in 1947. Those in the know never get Liuzza’s in Mid-City confused with the equally popular but unrelated Liuzza’s by the Track in Faubourg St. John. Frank Bordelon’s mother, the late Theresa Galbo, worked at Liuzza’s as a waitress from 1955 until she bought the place in 1981.

Liuzza’s, while closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, hasn’t announced a closing date. Get your Frenchuletta, the restaurant’s signature pressed muffuletta sandwich, while you can.