Buffa’s on Esplanade Avenue is one of my favorite hangouts for live music. Who was Buffa, and what is the place’s history?
Vincent Buffa was raised in the French Quarter and opened his namesake restaurant and lounge at the corner of Burgundy Street and Esplanade Avenue in December 1939.
The building was vacant at the time but had been home to Villere’s Pharmacy. In a 1983 Times-Picayune profile, Buffa told writer Bunny Matthews that when he purchased the building, he fixed up the apartments upstairs and opened his business downstairs.
“If the restaurant didn’t do good, the apartments would help and vice versa. Well, both did well through the years,” Buffa said.
Although the place had become a landmark on the edge of the French Quarter, for Matthews’ 1983 story, Buffa questioned why it would even be worthy of notice.
“There’s nothing interesting about this place,” he said at first. He later agreed to an interview, Matthews wrote, but only if it occurred away from the bar “in the solitude of a back room.”
Matthews wrote about Buffa’s jukebox and the lounge’s rear ballroom, calling it “one of the great secret treasures of New Orleans interior design.” He added, “Its most outstanding feature is the art deco grillwork depicting reindeer which lines the edge of the ceiling. When the ballroom was in operation, the reindeer were illuminated from behind by chartreuse lights.”
Speaking of illumination, the lounge’s neon signage and clock affixed to the building have been a part of Buffa’s for decades. The clock was a gift from nearby jewelry store owner George A. Nami Sr.
Vincent Buffa died in 1995. His sons Vincent Buffa Jr. and Frank Buffa still own the property, leasing it to various club operators in recent years, including Chuck Rogers since 2010.
She released her memoir ‘Witness to Change: From Jim Crow to Political Empowerment’ in 2015.