Beloved Hangout, Neutral Ground Coffeehouse, Needs Help Relocating Due to Building Sale

Source: Neutral Ground Coffeehouse

For over forty years, Neutral Ground Coffeehouse, 5110 Daneel Street, has been more than a place to get a cup of coffee. It’s been a social hub for artists and musicians who want to share their craft with the masses. 

The eclectic space has been an Uptown fixture where musicians can work out their latest tunes and play classics for people of all ages. It’s been a community clubhouse where neighbors can gather for intelligent discussions about the latest happenings in the news. Some customers here have been visiting Neutral Ground since it opened its doors in 1977. 

Anyone who frequents Neutral Ground will tell you that this place is unique because it’s more of a gathering place for like-minded artists than a place to get coffee. Sure, coffee is served here, but the patrons are decidedly here for something else. 

It makes sense when you realize the doors don’t even open until 7 in the evening. People gather for the poetry open mics that take place every Thursday, and the open mics for musicians that happen on Sundays. It’s a 40-year tradition that not even Covid was able to stop.

“Even during Covid we did open mics virtually through Facebook,” owner James Naylor said. “As soon as we could, we opened on Friday nights and bands would play outside the coffee house.”

Also, because the coffeehouse doesn’t serve alcohol, it’s become a haven for those who are refraining from drinking, and it’s the perfect spot for “underage” musicians to cut their teeth. All ages are welcome here as performers and customers, making Neutral Ground a vital part of the artistic community.

Now, that legacy is in peril as the shop’s owners, James Naylor and Phant Williams, recently learned that the building is being sold. They are now searching for Neutral Ground’s new home, hoping that their community, which has become so much like family, will help them raise the money to fund the shop’s relocation.

“The landlord warned us a month ago that he was going to sell the building,” Naylor said. “He’s been a great landlord and hasn’t raised rent for the twenty years I’ve been associated with Neutral Ground. He’s ready to retire and move on.”

Neutral Ground Coffeehouse’s story starts in 1974 on Maple Street, where Greta Lee, lovingly called “the patron saint of the Neutral Ground”, opened a spot named the Penny Post. According to Neutral Ground’s website, the Penny Post “was in an old building with several rooms that favored a variety of activities including live music, card games, chess, and ample conversation,” and served pastries, coffee, and tea to patrons.

After a fire forced the Penny Post to close its Maple Street location, it relocated to Daneel Street, where it shared space with another coffee shop called Borsodi—the two establishments were separated by a wall. The Penny Post operated as a co-op, and members owned and operated the spot that hosted poetry readings and live acoustic music. 

When the Penny Post closed in 1992, it was reworked and reopened as Neutral Ground Coffeehouse. From there, Neutral Ground continued the tradition that the Penny Post had started hosting musicians and open mic nights.

When the shop temporarily closed in 2000, musician Philip Melancon purchased it, and soon Neutral Ground was back to business as usual. Melancon hosted the famed open mics at the coffeehouse and held chess tournaments and round-table discussions. 

In 2020, Melancon decided to close the Neutral Ground and, rather than let such an integral part of New Orleans history fade into the “ain’t dere no more” archives, the business was, once again, saved from the brink of oblivion by James Naylor and Phant Williams.

Naylor and Williams have a history with the coffee house going back years (Naylor was manager of the Neutral Ground for ten years before taking on the role as part-owner). They have continued with the Neutral Ground’s tradition of open mics and hosting those in New Orleans who need an artistic space.

They have started a GoFundMe to raise money for a down payment on Neutral Ground’s future home—Naylor and Williams want to stay in the Uptown area to continue serving those loyal to Neutral Ground.

He said, “We’re looking at one building that’s right off of the Carrollton streetcar line. We want to be accessible to Tulane and Loyola students because they come on a regular basis.”

Naylor has been overwhelmed with the response in just the short time since he announced the news of the building’s sale. He realizes how vital Neutral Ground Coffeehouse is to the New Orleans community.

“It’s a New Orleans institution,” he said. “Some huge artists have passed through our doors over the years. A lot of people will say that the first place they played when getting their start in New Orleans was the Neutral Ground.”

Neutral Ground Coffeehouse is open Thursday through Sunday from 7:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.

You can donate to the GoFundMe here:

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