Extending into a parklet and teaming up with a local restaurant have kept the drinks flowing at this dive bar, despite COVID-19.
Drive down Franklin Avenue from St. Claude towards the river, and by the time you cross Dauphine, it’s apparent that the street has gotten an upgrade. A few blighted houses have gotten a much needed sprucing. And then there’s Pepp’s, which took over Cutter’s bar at number 706 when bars opened back up in June.
A new parklet for a neighborhood spot
A gradated blue paint job makes the once drab building pop. Thanks to a $2,000 grant from the city to install a parklet, the ugly plastic barriers that outline the parking area are hidden by a hand-crafted wooden outdoor bar strung with lights. Donated labor from neighbors Jacob Hurn, a passionate woodworker, and German Velasco, a prop builder for films, made the project possible and on budget.
On any given day, there’s a steady crowd of neighborhood folks and former Cutter’s regulars who show up to kibbitz and watch sports on the outdoor TV. The owners shuttle drinks from inside the bar, which is currently closed to guests under the city’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Pepp’s is pup-friendly
Lovers of dive bars might mourn the change for a minute, but the couple didn’t fancify the space too much. Instead, they uncovered its original bargeboard bones along with a large front window that had been hidden with plywood. The bar, named for their much-loved pooch Pepper, is uber dog-friendly, an added attraction for doggy barflies and their owners.
Buying a bar by chance & meeting the neighbors
Sam and Kait Wurth bought Cutter’s from the previous owner in January. The couple knew the city well from schooling here and from previous stays. Both Sam and Kait are rolling stones; Sam moving around a lot as a kid with his blues musician dad and Kait, an event planner in the hotel business. The couple lived in Chicago, the Caribbean and California but always knew they wanted to get back to New Orleans. After two years in San Diego, the pair packed their things and came to NOLA in time for New Year’s 2020.
The bar purchase was a happy accident.
“We hadn’t planned on finding a place that fast, but we live close by and the owner told us he was ready to step away from the day-to-day grind,” said Sam, who has been a bartender and manager since he was 19. They’d planned on opening mid-March – then the pandemic hit the new business owners hard.
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“We figured, now there was plenty of time to do the repairs we needed to do,” said Kait, who was furloughed from the Sheraton at the same time. Each day, they’d work at the bar, and drag some chairs out on the street to have end-of-day cocktails. Serving as a liquid pied piper, those afternoon happy hours started drawing neighbors, including Miss Sue, an octogenarian who hangs out on her porch for company and conversation, “Our group of local neighbors just grew,” Sam said. “And everybody helped out – it was like an old-fashioned barn raising.”
Upgraded parklets are nothing new to Sam – they have them in Chicago too. His last Chicago bar also partnered with a nearby restaurant to offered eats to customers, another inspiration for Pepp’s. With the Franklin just a block away, he approached its general manager Will Davis with the idea of a collaboration. From the jump it was a win/win.
A collaboration with the Franklin for food
The to-the-point menu, all under $10, includes a burger, chicken sandwich, grilled cheese and fries from the Franklin’s kitchen. Orders are placed by phone and the restaurant’s back of the house staff delivers and splits up the gratuity – all money stays with the Franklin.
“We wanted to be in the bar business, not the restaurant business,” said Sam. “I think this is a great model for other bars who want to offer food to their customers but don’t have space for a kitchen.”
They’ve petitioned the city to recognize them as a bar serving food with a provisional license, but so far to no avail.
“Just because we don’t make the food doesn’t change the fact that we make it possible,” he said.
Managing COVID-19 regulations for Mardi Gras
Dealing with city regs is an ongoing challenge, including the forced closing Mardi Gras weekend through Fat Tuesday.
“We are all about listening to the health experts and following the guidelines they set forth,” said Cait. “We understand it’s an ever-changing day to day unpredictable pandemic. However, our frustration lies with the mixed messages from officials and the lack of enforcement in other areas of the city. I feel like there could be a more nuanced approach.”
Lumping neighborhood bars in with the nonsense happening on Bourbon Street just doesn’t seem fair, Sam added.
“It’s hard to keep yo-yo-ing between opening and closing,” he said. That said, he knows their community has helped them get through tough times. “We will reopen again on Wednesday and we know our neighbors will be there for us.”
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