The Lee Circle building that houses the long-running dive bar and music venue Circle Bar has been sold. But bar owner Dave Clements says it's not going anywhere just yet. "We’ll be there for the next five to seven years" remaining on the bar's lease, Clements told Gambit.
Oil and gas executive and philanthropist Phyllis M. Taylor bought the building at 1032 St. Charles Ave. for $1.6 million, according to real estate transfers acquired by The Lens. Taylor's purchasing entity 1032 St. Charles Ave. LLC was registered with the Louisiana Secretary of State in June.
Clements said he had 10 days in which to match the $1.6 million offer. "I was a little panicked ... but she couldn't have been nicer," he said. "So far she’s indicated she’ll honor the remaining years of the lease ... As far as that, no future plans."
Taylor is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Taylor Energy Company and President of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, among several charitable organizations and community groups with which she works. She also is a former board chair at the Greater New Orleans Foundation - at 1055 St. Charles Ave., across the street from the bar. The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation's address also is at Lee Circle. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art also maintains the Patrick F. Taylor Library, also near Lee Circle, and Taylor owns the open lot next door to the bar.
The faded ruby-hued building was built in 1883 and is one of the oldest still-standing structures at Lee Circle. According to the bar's history, it was the office of Dr. Elizabeth Magus Cohen, New Orleans' first female physician and first woman in Louisiana with a license to practice medicine. The building remains a patchwork of several architectural styles, creating a dollhouse-like building amid the neighborhood's bleak super structures.
The bar opened in 1999 as a home for rock 'n' roll with a stacked jukebox and an unpretentious, anything-goes venue. Bands huddle around a fireplace in a living room nook opposite the bar, and before renovations briefly closed the bar in 2011, a large K&B clock famously loomed over the performance space.
In a 2004 story, Gambit traced the Circle Bar's beginnings and the life of founding partner and booker Kelly Keller. Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau birthed the Ponderosa Stomp from early concerts held there, and the bar became a go-to venue for up-and-coming touring artists making their first trip to New Orleans, or a rare chance to see bigger names in an unconventional, up close and personal space (in sort-of-recent events: Silver Apples, Cate Le Bon and Vivian Girls).
The bar's current booker Michael Bateman has kept a reliable calendar of downtown punk and garage bands, singer-songwriters, electronic artists, genre-spanning DJs and buzzworthy touring performers.
Clements - who also owns the Uptown dive Snake & Jake's Christmas Club Lounge - says he doesn't plan to close shop.
"I do love the bar and want to see it open," Clements said. "I’m encouraged the business will continue as it is."