French Quarter’s last remaining cigar bar faces backlash as it seeks to keep ‘parklet’

French Quarter’s last remaining cigar bar faces backlash as it seeks to keep ‘parklet’

Another fight is brewing over French Quarter business rules, this time over the handful of  “parklets” created to help bars and restaurants during the pandemic.

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday is expected to vote on a measure, proposed by City Council member Freddie King, that would allow the French Quarter’s sole remaining cigar bar, Cuban Creations, an exemption from a parklet ban in the historic neighborhood.

Parklets started during the earlier days of the pandemic. 

At issue is the controversial compromise reached by the city last year over parklets — which are a local version of the outdoor, street-side terraces commonplace at bars and cafés in some other cities.

The city allowed them on a temporary basis during the pandemic, and they sprouted in front of many businesses seeking to keep running while allowing for social distancing. Eventually, the city said many businesses could keep them permanently in areas outside of the French Quarter and a stretch of Magazine Street, where they had to be phased out.

The city extended the deadline to remove unlicensed parklets, and the ones in the restricted areas, several times; the latest expired at the beginning of March.

King’s measure seeks to make a text amendment to the city’s zoning rules that would exempt cigar bars in the French Quarter from the parklet ban. Cuban Creations, located in the 500 block of Toulouse Street, is the only cigar bar in the neighborhood after the 2015 smoking ban was introduced.

King, who represents the neighborhood, is opposed by several French Quarter preservation groups, making it the latest round in a long-running battle between activists and the first term council member over rules for French Quarter businesses.


Last year, under pressure from activists, King abandoned his effort to have a one-year moratorium on enforcement by the Vieux Carré Commission, the city agency overseeing the quarter. He also gave up on an initiative to relax rules protective of historic signs, an effort that seemed aimed at allowing the owner of the property where the old Tujague’s restaurant was located to change the sign to accommodate a potential tenant, the Voodoo Doughnut chain.

King didn’t respond to requests for comment but he has said previously that he is trying to find compromises with preservationists that will ease some of the more stringent French Quarter rules that businesses find overly restrictive.

Preserving the quarter

Activist groups say they are trying to preserve the unique character of the French Quarter and fear that moves such as the cigar bar exemption would be a slippery slope.

“I’m a business owner myself and I’m not anti-business in the slightest,” said Nathan Chapman, president of Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents, & Associates, which has been campaigning against the Cuban Creations exemption.

“The French Quarter has been an amazing success for literally hundreds of years,” Chapman said. “All we want is a fair set of rules that everybody follows. If a parklet is really indispensable to their business then maybe they need to look at their business model.”

Photographer Glade Bilby, president of the French Quarter Citizens neighborhood group, is another opponent. He noted that Cuban Creations is one of four French Quarter businesses still with parklets after the deadline. He said he understands King’s desire to accommodate French Quarter businesses, but he said that the struggle to get street lighting and pavements in the area fixed is a bigger priority, whereas allowing a business to extend permanently into the public street is not.

The City Planning Commission last month recommended that the City Council deny the request to make the change to the city’s zoning rules. City Council members didn’t respond to requests for comment but two staffers who were not authorized to speak publicly said the measure appears to have enough backing from members to pass.

Andrew Wilson, Cuban Creations’ owner, is continuing to operate the parklet in front of his business. He said he had met with opponents of his parklet on several occasions and tried to reach a compromise.

“I’ve been trying to bridge the gap in a mature way but I end up getting attacked personally as a bad operator,” Wilson said, noting that he left behind a hotel management career in Las Vegas seven years ago and invested heavily in the French Quarter.

Wilson, 46, also owns the Pig Out barbecue spot next door to Cuban Creations as well as the Swig and Swine on Bourbon Street.

Zach Smith, the former city safety and permits chief who now represents Wilson and other clients as a land-use consultant, said the exemption is being sought just for Cuban Creations, even though he would rather lift the French Quarter ban altogether.

“It’s not fair that the exception is just the French Quarter when the parklets are allowed elsewhere in the city, including other historic districts,” Smith said. 

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