The History of Rosy’s
It was 1976 and Rosy Wilson, a twenty-one-year-old oil industry heiress and aspiring jazz singer, wanted her own music club on the Uptown side of town that would bring world class jazz to an intimate and luxurious setting. She found and renovated a 9,600 square foot building at the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Valence Street.
The 19th century brick warehouse turned out to be an enormous renovation, which Wilson financed herself for $1 million. The building had once been a cotton depot, a grocery store and a neighborhood bar called Felden’s that had closed in 1971. She added a second floor balcony to wrap around the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Valence Street. Tall French doors on the bottom floor open up the space for parties to spill out on the sidewalks. But within the building even more splendidly, a magnificent forty-foot tall glass atrium was constructed with two majestic ficus trees, bringing the outside in.
The Times-Picayune called the building “uptown jazz palace” that was “maybe just a little eccentric.” Wilson countered: “But if people didn’t make little eccentric moves sometimes, culture as a whole would be terminated. There would have been no Renaissance, and no jazz for that matter.” Wilson’s eccentric — and expensive — interior design combined Art-Deco, Victorian and Art Nouveau styles with artwork by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauchenberg. It was clear to everyone that the music club was a no-expense barred project for Wilson. To facilitate her dreams of being a jazz singer she added a recording studio. And she enlisted even the renowned New York graphic designer Milton Glazer (who designed the I ❤ NY logo) to create the club’s logo and ads.
Rosy’s brought not just jazz but a broad array of music, including Dizzy Gillespie, Irma Thomas, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, The Neville Brothers, Sarah Vaughan, Bobby Short, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, the Temptations, Bob Dylan, Peter Frampton, the Eagles, the Who, Tom Waits, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Cover charges ranged from $12 to $20, and nightly performances were at 9:30 and 11:30pm. Rosy’s also functioned as a restaurant, serving three course dinners for up to 200. In addition, an oyster bar fueled guests in the late hours.
It was a glorious if brief time, Rosy’s closing in 1979 was attributed to Wilson’s changing interests — she moved to New York to pursue here singing career.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the building’s next inhabitants were a R&B booking agency, a filming location for “The Big Easy” with Dennis Quaid in 1986, and later, a bar. The bar owners changed the name from Rosy’s to Rosy’s Big Easy, and instead of live music the venue became a dance club with a raw oyster bar, billiards room, and sports bar with stadium style seating. This was also short-lived, as the building was sold again in 1998.
Phillip Wagner, Russ Walker, and Steve Zweibaum bought the building in 1998, changing the name from Rosy’s Big Easy to Rosy’s Jazz Hall. The restoration was designed to bring back much of the Rosy Wilson’s 1976 renovation, as a venue with unique areas for private parties.