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Churches aren't the only things in New Orleans that may have to close. Some of the city's neighborhood gathering spots are struggling in the aftermath of Katrina. Today and tomorrow, we're going to visit some of those places. They have been documented in a new book called "Cornerstones." By neighborhood gathering spots, mostly we're talking about local taverns. NPR's Neda Ulaby dropped by a few of them with some of the book's contributors.
NEDA ULABY: "Cornerstones" could care less about the party bars of Bourbon Street.
Ms. SUSAN MADISON (Waitress): The cornerstones are the small towns we create in the city.
ULABY: Waitress Susan Madison has worked for seven years at a plain white wood-sided saloon called Liuzza's By the Track. Liuzza's is the kind of place where neighbors and workers at the nearby fairground catch up and gossip. It's not in any danger of going out of business, but it's still been meticulously documented in the book, with maps, floor plans, oral histories and photographs.
"Cornerstones" is the work of a group called the Neighborhood Story Project in Tulane University. Their comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach demands a question. Why spend time and energy documenting a bunch of bars?
Ms. BETHANY ROGERS (Director, Cornerstones Project): Well, exactly. That's why we're doing it.
ULABY: Bethany Rogers runs the Cornerstones Project. After Hurricane Katrina, she worried that only landmarks deemed architecturally or historically significant would be preserved.
Right now, we're at the Maple Leaf Bar, known for its peeling tin ceiling, world-class lineup of local musicians, and colorful characters.
Mr. ANTHONY DREXEL CASSATT II (Maple Leaf Regular): My name is Anthony Drexel Cassatt II.
Unidentified Woman: Call him Free Toy, Birdman, and (unintelligible)
ULABY: Cassatt is sort of an uber-regular at the Maple Leaf.
Mr. CASSATT II: A building can capture the essence of people, their magic, the music. And for 30 years, all the great musicians have come here to play.
ULABY: Tonight, it's Papa Grows Funk.
(Soundbite of music)
ULABY: Bandleader John Gros says this is not just a neighborhood dive.
Mr. JOHN GROS (Bandleader, Papa Grows Funk): We're here as just an extension of the neighborhood, this neighborhood of uptown New Orleans. I've always said that my whole job as a musician is to either help people forget about life or celebrate life.
ULABY: And that may have extra significance in a city so economically fragile, says "Cornerstones" director, Bethany Rogers. She says New Orleans has more corner bars than any other major U.S. city per capita. Rogers had one more to show me, a well-worn Central City tavern on the corner of Second and Dryad.
Ms. ROGERS: This was the corner, of course, that's so interesting because it's such a humble little building, cinder block, one-story, real low roof. So from the outside, you wouldn't necessarily understand how important this place is.
ULABY: Especially for the city's working-class, African-American social-aid and pleasure clubs. They're best known outside New Orleans for their Mardis Gras floats, but their regular parades, known as second lines, end in a party right outside the Sportsman's Corner.
(Soundbite of music)
ULABY: Architects and city planners would do well to study spots like the Sportsman's Corner, says Tulane architecture Professor Scott Bernard, not for aesthetics, but for function.
Professor SCOTT BERNARD (Architecture, Tulane University): It's very easy to study how its corner entry, how its configuration of the bar versus the table, the different rooms, the way people use those different rooms, how outsiders are treated, how they move through the space.
ULABY: All of these elements merit attention, says Bernard, as New Orleans and other cities grapple with development, what to save and what to build anew.
(Soundbite of pool cue hitting ball)
ULABY: There used to be more bars like the Sportsman's Corner, but many of them have remained closed since the storm. The Sportsman's Corner is now managed by its owner's grandson, Steven Elloie.
Mr. STEVEN ELLOIE (Manager, Sportsman's Corner Bar): With everybody moving back and forth out of town, this home is a stationary home where you know one thing - when you come back, this place here is still standing, and they can come back and see a friendly face, a friendly neighbor.
ULABY: One resident told me that since Katrina, the nightlife has been more intense. It's like Berlin between the wars, he said. You party like you know you're doomed and to remember why you stay. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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