Local restaurants hold off on bringing back indoor live music

Phase three loosened more COVID-19 guidelines in Louisiana, including capacity limits for restaurants and some of the restrictions on indoor live music.

But while indoor performances are no longer prohibited, they still come with limitations under guidance provided by the state fire marshal. Some of those include a 20-foot space between performers and the audience; a strong HVAC system that allows for six exchanges of air per hour; and performers wearing masks when not actively performing.  

So while things appear to be slowly returning to normal, many Baton Rouge business owners and managers say they are still playing it safe and are holding off on indoor performances.  

La Divina Italian Cafe, which had been hosting live indoor music for about five or six years before the pandemic, moved the tunes outside to a tent. The tent went up during the pandemic and allows customers to dine outside and watch local bands and musicians. That’s where the performances will be staying for now, executive chef Erik Lafort says. The restrictions haven’t quite expanded enough to allow for the restaurant to bring music back inside. 

“Even if the restrictions are completely lifted, I think we’re still going to aim for outside,” adds La Divina senior front-of-house staff member Brennan Haggard. “You can take the restrictions away, but that doesn’t mean people are going to be completely comfortable.”

Customers have had a good response to the outdoor dining, Haggard says. The music draws them in, but so does the spacious outdoor space.

“We space the tables out as much as we can outside,” Haggard says, “but people are encouraged to move the tables, and they really like that. They say it makes them really comfortable.”

The focus is still musicians and customers, though, Lafort says. “It gives local musicians a platform, but also brings in customers who may not usually pop in here,” he says. “What’s good for the musicians is good for us.”

Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar‘s managers have made similar decisions. Its live music performances, usually featuring one or two songwriters and their guitars, have been held on the patio for the past few months. That’s where it will continue to be held for the time being, general manager Maxx D’Jorghi says.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse, usually known for its dinners paired with classical piano or jazz, had to put a halt to those performances due to capacity limits. 

Its Ringside space, where musicians usually play, provided extra dining space under protocols that still require spacing out guests, general manager Leighton Carbo says. 

“It definitely hurts,” Carbo says. “Sullivan’s is known for its live entertainment.”

Concert halls remain closed under phase three rules. The Basin Music Hall had to stop all performances in March of last year, but co-owner Brian Ott says the venue hopes to open and do some small events in April. 

“We’ve been getting a lot of requests for smaller events and bands to come back,” he says, “but until restrictions loosen, there’s not a lot we can do.”

However, some of the venue’s booking agents have been getting calls from national bands, Ott says, and he’s hopeful more music and events will be going on this summer.

It may take a while, but live music will come back. If there’s one thing these restaurateurs can agree on, it’s that the music and the artists add to the dining experience.

“It brings in so much energy,” Carbo says. “Live music is just something different that not every other restaurant has.”  

This story was first published in 225 magazine. Subscribe to the free 225 Daily e-newsletter to keep up with Baton Rouge food and events.