After the Dixie Taverne first opened its doors just after World War II as The Lotus Room on Canal Street in Mid-City, Chuck Berry and even Liberace reportedly performed there. But on a recent September night, the unscheduled entertainment is a mohawked guy trying to escape being duct-taped to a pole in the center of the dance floor. Dixie bartender Aaron Sanders and his partner Damian Menas give a wonderfully untraditional, scratch-heavy hip-hop DJ set later on in the evening, but this guy being taped to the pole is much more indicative of the fun there is to be had at The Dixie.
"Yeah, we got that same dude to drink bar mat shots -- the bar mat wrung into a shot glass, with all the black chunks," explains Sanders. The protesting abductee is soon securely fastened down and wrapped up like a squealing punk-rock Maypole.
Monday nights are the only nights you can't catch live music at The Dixie Taverne -- though after his "friends" walk back to their barstools laughing, the angry abductee busts out of all that duct tape with some fanfare that's easily as entertaining as any band. As is Sanders' "MoFo Mondays" DJ set, which is partially drowned out by local metal band Hawgjaw practicing in the apartments directly above the bar's back room.
The other six nights of the week at Dixie, you will see only hardcore punk rock: bands with radio-unfriendly names like Bongzilla, Alabama Thunderpussy, Stupid F--king White Man, and Eat a Bag of Dicks who -- led by Dixie Taverne soundman/guitarist Drew Banton and up to 12 official singers -- are one of the tightest, most fierce and musically ambitious punk bands in the city. Strangely, Dixie is one of the few places in New Orleans that will book them.
Even stranger is that Dixie owner Maribel Piza, the woman who brings them to you, has a master's degree in business from Loyola University, as well as a law degree. Given the exclusive nature of her club's genre-of-choice, it's surprising that Piza prefers listening to WWOZ, and hangs out at Dos Jefes Cigar Bar. When Piza purchased The Dixie in 1994, it wasn't out of desire to bolster the New Orleans punk scene, of which she knew nothing. "At the time I was in the market to buy a business," she admits over the aural sludge of Hawgjaw, now one of her favorite local bands.
In 1994, a business broker led Piza to the tavern, which had ceased as a performance venue four years earlier. She had wanted something more low maintenance, "like a laundromat." But she couldn't resist The Dixie's charm.
When it came time to decide what to feature at her newly acquired club, Piza tried many different musical genres in search of a market niche. Marketing books she used in her Loyola classes told her that the two areas where the New Orleans music market's needs weren't being met were Spanish music, and punk rock. The deal was sealed when one of Piza's bartenders asked to book their friend's band, Eye Hate God. "It was just packed! And just so positive!" Piza recounts with wide eyes. "I was just like, 'When can we book them again?'"
But it takes more than a business head to run a place like The Dixie -- you need heart. Piza talks with the passion of a mother about her employees. She knows and encourages all their many talents -- painting, drama, music -- and reiterates over and over, "I'm young and open-minded about running this business, so I give the staff a lot of autonomy ... the last skill I look for is their bartending."
Then what's the first skill? "At a punk-rock bar ... you need to be able to hold your own," Piza says. A look around the bar backs up her statement. There are spider-cracked windows, kicked-in air vents, spray-painted couches in the back poolroom -- and a number of hobbled, leaning barstools. Says Piza of the damaged chairs, "That was just a phase that one of our regulars was going through ... of course there's going to be slam-dancing."
And while slam-dancing is indicative of a younger crowd, no one under the age of 19 is allowed in The Dixie. "Unless they're performing," Piza says. "You can be any age to perform here, which is another valuable thing about the club, because kids are very limited in what they're allowed to do in New Orleans. I want The Dixie Taverne to be a forum for their self-expression."