Buffa’s on the Esplanade is one of my favorite live music hangouts. Who is Buffa and what is the history of this place?
Vincent Buffa grew up in the French Quarter and opened his eponymous restaurant and lounge on the corner of Burgundy Street and Esplanade in December 1939.
The building was vacant at the time, but was once home to the Villere Pharmacy. In a 1983 Times-Picayune profile, Buffa told writer Bunny Matthews that when he bought the building, he fixed up the apartment upstairs and started his business downstairs.
“If the restaurant isn’t doing well, the apartment helps, and vice versa. Well, both have done well over the years,” Buffa said.
While the place has become a landmark on the fringes of the French Quarter, for Matthews’ 1983 story, Buffa questioned why it even deserved attention.
“There’s nothing interesting about this place,” he said at first. He later agreed to be interviewed, Matthews wrote, but only if the interview took place “in the solitude of a back room” away from the bar.
Matthews wrote about Buffa’s jukebox and ballroom behind the lounge, calling it “one of New Orleans’ interior design secrets.” He added: “Its most prominent feature is the Art Deco grille, which depicts reindeer on the edge of the ceiling. When the ballroom is open, the reindeer are illuminated from behind by chartreuse lights.”
Speaking of lighting, the neon signage in the lounge and the clock affixed to the building have been a part of Buffa for decades. The clock was a gift from George A. Nami Sr, owner of a nearby jewelry store.
Vincent Buffa died in 1995. His son, Vincent Buffa Jr. Frank Buffa, still owns the property and has leased it to various club operators in recent years, including Chuck Rogers since 2010.