Buffa's Bar & Lounge has stood on the corner of Esplenade and Burgundy Street since 1939. Although an easy walk from the high-traffic Jackson Square, it is far from a typical tourist destination. Nestled in a quiet neighborhood stretch, the beloved bar is steeped in the cultural comfort that has long defined New Orleans' vibrant personality.
A true locals' jaunt, started by the Buffa family who still own the lot, Buffa's evokes a “Cheers” bar vibe – with many of its customers living within a few blocks' radius. By day the open-air bar is filled with regulars, their dogs, and passers-by. By night, the back-room stage offers a menagerie of performances by local musicians.
It's the kind of spot that's hard to leave; where you can come in for an afternoon beer or the famous gator balls and end up watching a midnight jazz band performance out back.
According to the owner, Chuck Rogers, Buffa's is meant to be “a place where locals feel comfortable, but also a place that visitors love. We wanted to continue its legacy as an establishment people want to come back to next time they're in New Orleans.”
As a traveling computer consultant from Wisconsin, Rogers would know how to make a visitor feel at home in a town that's not originally his own: He and his family frequented their apartment in New Orleans for years before making the move to the Big Easy in 2010, when they discovered the bar was for sale.
“I don't have a background in the restaurant industry; but my sons do. They worked as cooks and bus boys,” he says. And while that may be true, the last thing you think walking into Buffa's is that there isn't some experience and local flavor behind it.
“The first time I was in New Orleans was 1985, and I fell in love with the city. I didn't have a reason to come back for quite a while but in the 90's I got a client, and got an apartment here and started bringing the family several times a year. It got to the point that we had more friends there than we had in Wisconsin. So we just said, 'let's move to New Orleans'”.
Speaking to the change of ownership, Rogers says, “We just wanted to maintain Buffa's as a destination for people who want to hear live local music and get really good food. That's how we got it. It became a family project...a way for us all to do something together.” Rogers' sons run the kitchen, oversee inventory, and manage day-to-day business, while his wife makes the bar's unforgettably amazing cheesecakes.
“We're consumers ourselves, and with all of the places in New Orleans we wanted to be able to provide a place that people like us would like as well. We try to give tourists the experience of a neighborhood bar in New Orleans without being ostentatious about it...without being touristy.”
After taking over the bar in 2010 the family turned their focus to local music. According to Rogers, “We inherited the Sunday jazz brunch...when we bought the place – that was the only music they had there. We snapped into it by adding a Saturday night, and then a Friday night, and then a Thursday night of music. Then we started a Monday night and opened open mic on Wednesdays.”
“Before Katrina there was a place called Donna's,” Rogers shares. “Every Thursday night you'd go over and hear music from Tom McDermont and other amazing local musicians. My middle son took piano lessons from Tom. When we were tourists, we'd always go down to hear him and whoever he had with him on Thursday nights. And after Katrina, Donna's closed. So when we got to the point where we were ready to open Thursday nights, the first thing we did was call Tom. We wanted to recreate Donna's. Tom loved the idea and has been there almost every Thursday since 2012.”
There is nothing like hearing music at Buffa's: it's like being in a local's living room. And that raw, stripped-down experience is exactly what the Rogers family wanted: “It's a really intimate setting,' says Chuck. “You're not looking up at anyone. They're right there in the room with you. We focus on local first. Local musicians make it all happen.”
You can come to Buffa's for a daytime drink and dish and leave with new friends to call and new bands to listen to. That is where the magic lies.
“We wanted to make it a place where they wanted to come back next time they're in New Orleans.” Mission accomplished, Chuck Rogers. We'll see you at the bar.
More information at BuffasRestaurant.com.