Community Spotlight: Santos Bar, A French Quarter Phenomenon

I initially heard Of Santos Rock And Roll Bar from a friend of mine who declared it, after his first visit, as his new favorite bar.

This, of course, spoke volumes to me, so on Halloween night, when my sister suggested we go to Santos, I agreed eagerly. I was not disappointed but rather wowed by this awesome place with possibly the most elegantly elaborate standing décor I have ever seen in a bar outside of special events. Not a beat was missed in the bar’s interior design nor does their ever-changing lineup of live bands. On Halloween night, the featured band, The Ice Man Special covered the Kill Bill 1 and 2 collective soundtracks, instant favorites to the countless lovers of these films in their own electronically progressive music with its own undeniable unfettered appeal.

Another phenomenon of this first Santos experience, is that while I have attended many live concerts at various clubs and bars around New Orleans, anxiously anticipated by those planning to attend for months, never before, even on Halloween or Mardi Gras, have patrons dressed accordingly as their favorite characters from the epic, including a  Bride and an Elle  Driver (both in Volume 1 costumes) within ten feet from each other. I secretly wished for a reenactment, but that may have led to an arrest and someone missing out on the amazing experience within.

On December 21, I attended Santos’ Xmas Void event. All present were dressed to their highest level of personal evening fashion and equally convivial. The night’s bands were Big Worm, Blue Dream, and Modivibe, all in their own distinct styles, played Ambient style music for a riveted crowd. Ambient style music is a new, increasingly popular musical experience utilizing both on and offstage musical and other audio effects, as well as optical illusions among other aesthetically gripping visual elements, all coming together as a multi-sensual unprecedented performance.

Souls of all ages, genders, and walks of life gathered in an organically convivial fashion. Many “Holy cow!” greetings were audibly exchanged between friends upon encountering each other inside the bar. This is the sort of universally appealing, impeccably stylish spot where one might run into just about any bargoer they know locally. Of course, the upstairs bar area has an enviable view of Decatur St from the adjoining balcony.

My fiance and I soaked up the sights, sounds, and people watching opportunities from a well-chosen booth, centralized near the bar with a great view of the stage.

When I was able to grab the dedicated husband and wife who own and run Santos I asked them a few quick questions about the story behind the bar.

When did you guys open?

Mardi Gras 2017

If you had to sum up the sort of spot Santos is in your own words, what would you call it?

We’re just a good old-fashioned rock club. Divey, cheap drinks, loud rock music, sometimes dance party, Lower D – French Quarter.

What factors, in particular, inspired you to open a club with this ambiance and other unique characteristics?

The building has been so many different incarnations over the years but I think it was best known as the Blue Chrystal. It was the home for all the goths and weirdo kids and we wanted to make it a space that would welcome the outcasts again.  It’s a pretty creepy building anyway. The big arches and the old fireplace and all the people who swear they’ve seen ghosts on the second floor and the bathroom. We really didn’t have to do much to get the “look.” The fangs and lips logo is from our other bar The Saint in the Lower Garden District. The amazing Jac Currie from Defend New Orleans created it and it fit pretty well with our vibe for Santos. The lips and fangs neon on the stage was a gift from G-Eazy who used it as a backdrop on one of his tours.

How has having an owner experienced vastly with the performance side of the music industry been beneficial to how Santos is run as a music venue?

Ya, I was in a band called Supagroup with my brother and we ran The Saint together when we were at home.  We played a ton of clubs in American and Europe. You can tell right away if it’s a decent club by the sound system, the way the bartenders treat you when you arrive if you see your flyers up etc.  We try to make bands feel at home and give them a unique experience playing in the world famous French Quarter. We want them to come back, unless they’re dicks, so we all try pretty hard to make it smooth. Our booker, Matt Russel, is really good at getting the heavy hitters in the club as well. He’s been great.

What, if any, inspirations have effected this amazingly unique spot and everything that makes it Santos?

Well since The Matador closed, which is now the Balcony Music Club on Esplanade and Decatur, the rock club on Lower D has been missing. I missed having that little club that had bands who were on their way up you and you could be right in front of them. It’s different than seeing a band from a distance. You’re right in it with them. It served as an anchor to the scene as well and you’d hang out there even when there was no show. The owners Rio Hackford and Ryan Hessling, who now own One Eyed Jacks, hired me as a door guy and then sound guy when I was a kid, maybe 20. I started to learn the ins and outs of running a club from those dudes back then and then went on to run The Saint. Santos probably wouldn’t exist without that club.

In a perfect world, what would be your ultimate goal for Santos’s future?

I think we’re there. We have a great staff and we love being on Lower D and seeing all the fellow weirdos hanging out again. The scene is really thriving right now. There are 14 bars on our block and they’re all pretty unique. We just want to keep putting on the best shows we can and hope everyone who comes down has a great time and wants to come back. Maybe even when there’s no show!

Now knowing that Santos and its owners are equally stellar, I reluctantly headed home with the solace that Santos will clearly be a part of the French Quarter Bar scene and certainly one standing out among the ranks of the most popular spots. No matter what part of New Orleans and the Greater New Orleans area in which one lives, work, and/ or plays, this is extremely well worth the trip off of the beaten path. Anyone and everyone who enjoys drinks,  music, and good company along with a profoundly impressive Ambiance must check out the full Santos experience for themselves!

Margaret Marley is a regular contributing author for Big Easy Magazine. Be sure to check out her interview with Duke Stewart, as well as her other artist profiles and articles here.

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