Café Brasil. Photo by Vanessa Smith-Torres
Café Brasil opened in November of 1985 as a coffee shop and multi-purpose performance venue on New Orleans’ Frenchmen Street. Owned and operated by Adgenor “Adé” Salgado, Café Brasil was a Frenchmen Street landmark for 20 years before closing its doors in 2006.
Adé Salgado operated a coffee shop, Until Waiting Fills, in the French Quarter in the 1970s and 1980s. Opening at 6:00pm on weekdays, Until Waiting Fills was more venue than coffee shop and would also have live music performances. In 1984, Salgado moved the coffee shop to the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres Streets.
The building at 2100 Chartres Street was the headquarters of a coffee roasting business (White, Timothy. “Latin Jazz& Funky Roll: The Allure of the Big Easy’s Frenchmen Street.” Billboard 8 June 1996: 1+. Google Books. Google. Web.) It was constructed out of fireproof concrete masonry units (CMU) and brick. A second story office and residences were added in the early 1900s. The second story was built using stick frame.
When Salgado purchased the building, he painted a signature bright blue and yellow and subdivided it. The subdivision allowed Salgado to operate a venue and rent out the adjacent spaces. Café Brasil occupied the corner lot at 2100 Chartres Street. The tenant businesses on 2106 Chartres Street and 525 Frenchmen Street have changed over the years.
“[Salgado] meant for Café Brasil to be an outlet for everybody and everything, whether it was a poetry slam, improve comedy, a one-act play, or a red-hot new funk group…” Most commonly referred to a music venue, the first performance at Café Brasil was a play. The Suicide Shoppe, by Luis F. Ortiz, opened on November 7, 1985 (The Times-Picayune [New Orleans] 1 Nov. 1985, Lagniappe sec.: 17. America’s Historical Newspapers. Web.)
To attract a larger crowd, Salgado invited a local favorite band, Tribe Nunzio, to perform. Band member Treffinger recalls how loud the space was. Although not designed as a dance hall, Café Brasil echoed and reverberated. Bodies were needed to absorb the sound. Treffinger and Salgado agreed that in order to fill up the space, the coffee shop needed to start selling liquor (“Jeff Treffinger Interview Pt.2.” Interview by Jonathan Freilich. Jonathan Freilich Presents. 26 Aug. 2011. Web.)
Salgado got a liquor license in the late 80s and Café Brasil transformed itself from coffee shop venue to nightclub. Tribe Nunzio continued to perform there regularly. They were joined by other local favorites such as Soul Rebels and Kermit Ruffins.
Despite its success as a music venue, Café Brasil did not lose sight of being a multipurpose venue. It hosted events such as the Nickel-a-Dance concert series and costume market. Starting in 1994 to celebrate Jazz Awareness Month, Nickel-a-Dance are free Sunday concerts that bring the traditional dance hall experience to Frenchmen Street. This includes the hiring of dance partners for the titular price of a nickel. (“Traditional Jazz to the Forefront in October.” Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) 30 Sep. 1994, LAGNIAPPE: L9. NewsBank. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.) Costume sales started in 1991 with a number of local artists selling costumes for Carnival. The bazaar became a biannual event, occurring again in the fall for The Halloween Boo-tique (Kemp, Jon. “Boo-tique scares up permits for costume sale.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans] 20 Oct. 2011, New Orleans Picayune: B 04. NewsBank. Web.)
At the time that Café Brasil opened, Frenchmen Street boasted few nightclubs and music venues. Snug Harbor and Apple Barrel were interspersed among a number of antique shops. (“Jeff Treffinger Interview Pt.2.” Interview by Jonathan Freilich. Jonathan Freilich Presents. 26 Aug. 2011. Web.) Over the years, Café Brasil and Frenchmen Street became anchors of New Orleans’ musical culture. As the bars and nightclubs filled up, crowds spilled out into the street.
The doors to Café Brasil remain closed. Photo by Vanessa Smith-Torres
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Salgado ignored evacuation orders and stayed in the city. This allowed him to reopen Café Brasil as soon as possible after the storm. Café Brasil remained open for some time after Hurricane Katrina. Slowly, Salgado began to pull away from the bar industry and Café Brasil would only open for select shows or special occasions before closing for good in 2006. Salgado still owns and rents out the other venues in the space. Yuki currently occupies 525 Frenchmen Street. Melange Speakeasy Bar occupies 2106 Chartres Street. The corner lot of Café Brasil remains closed with no sign of being reopened or reoccupied.