Lagniappe House

The Louisiana French term Lagniappe, pronounced “Lan-yap”, by definition is a small gift given to a customer by a merchant. For owner David Tunnell, deciding on the name Lagniappe House was as fluid as all the other pieces that came together for this Midtown haven. It all started when Tunnell went to New Orleans, where he was completely taken, not only by the people, music, and food, but also by the unpretentiousness of the venues. So inspired, he decided to recreate a slice of the Big Easy here in Miami and drove directly from the airport to Wynwood and Midtown in search of the right place. The right place was an old house on the corner of NE 2nd Avenue and 34th Street, ironically a house once filled with music, as he later discovered it was once owned by local musician Johnny Dread. It was kismet, as all the pieces seemed to fall into place including meeting and falling in love with Rebecca Orsi during the process, a down to earth, New Hampshire native. Together their vision came to fruition. Perhaps it was the melding of the passion and style of these two that makes Lagniappe House the warm and inviting place it is, whatever made it happen, it is beautifully simple and magical.

Tunnell moved from California twelve years ago, employed as an ad man by MTV Latin America. Not too long afterwards he opened Dogma, the notorious hot dog stand on the Boulevard, then Karma, the sustainable car wash, and finally Metro Organic Bistro. Tunnell had intentions of opening only a beer and wine bar with live music after his many years in the exhausting food service business. “But food is what keeps it real and people need to eat, especially when you’re on your third bottle of wine”, explains Tunnell, “so we decided to keep the menu as basic as possible with great ingredients and simple execution…a barbecue grill!” Fresh, basic and deliciously reliable is the menu of either grilled fish, chicken, veggies or churrasco served either with a fresh salad or homemade cornbread. One can also handpick their own plate of gourmet cheeses from the fridge served with olives and grilled bread.

Keeping the overhead low and prices down was paramount for Tunnell and Orsi, as they wanted their place to be a casual, enjoyable spot for friends to gather and share in the rituals of food and libations to the sounds of live music, low enough for conversations to ensue. In doing so, the venue is one of mostly self service and it works. Imagine walking into a friend’s house, through the living room of comfy sofas, opening up the fridge, choosing your cheese (or chocolate), and picking your favorite bottle from the wine rack. From there you take it to the counter for the cheese to be plated and the wine to be corked. Then one takes their coveted bottle, (a wide selection personally chosen by Tunnell), and heads out to the garden strung with small white lights and finds the right spot amongst the mix-matched lawn furniture, all with a clear view of the stage up front and the stars up above. It doesn’t take long to understand how their system works for the place breeds friendliness amongst the guests, and someone is likely to give you the rundown if you have that newcomer look on your face.

“We are now asking for a $2 music contribution,” says Tunnell, “It helps us in our effort to offer live music every night but is small enough to not feel like a cover charge per se.”
Local musicians love playing there as much as the audience love listening. There is music six nights a week, closed Mondays. Many musicians have made their way to the stage including Vincent Raffard & The French Horn, Big Brooklyn Red and Monkey (Red Monkey), Stokeswood, Brendan O’Hara, Matthew Sabatella & The Ramblin’ String Band, Shira Abergel and Johnny Dread.

One visit and one falls in love with this unrivaled, rare, down to earth place, hence the growing popularity. In response, Tunnell and Orsi thrift for more lawn furniture to accommodate all their guests. The word guest seems to fit better at Lagniappe House than customer. Tunnell credits Orsi for the uniqueness of their place, “Without her involvement Lagniappe House would not be what it is today. All the love, warmth, comfort, and authenticity you feel when you walk into the space is because of her. She also showed me the value of thrifting and quite literally dumpster diving. Almost everything at Lagniappe is recycled and reused from either local charities or thrift stores. We hit the salvation stores once a month for glass ware and furniture. It was always the idea but we grew in our conviction as we saw the ultimate value in not ‘consuming’ and adding to the landfills, not to mention they don’t make stuff like they used to.” Being an artist and a do-it-yourself kind of person, she taught him to become a self reliant handyman in the process. Together, they actually salvaged the wooden fence, plank by plank, from a place slated for demolition.

Becca Orsi also oversees the operations of the Lagniappe House Bed and Breakfast Inn. “The idea of turning the upstairs into a Bed and Breakfast came fairly late in the process, and for us really completed the concept. It makes Lagniappe seem even more antiquated…it also gave me a project that I could really call my own.” It is similar to a European style pensione as it is actually a spacious, bright, four bedroom flat with many amenities included such as free wifi, fresh linens and towels, your own set of keys, and a fully equipped large communal kitchen and living area with new wood floors. Rooms can be rented individually as well as the entire flat. Though the Inn is also of eccentric thrift, it is a bit more refined than the downstairs wine parlor and in keeping with the French vintage motif. “Since we launched through Airbnb.com just a few months ago, it has been an instant success,” says Orsi who affectionately adds, “Its been a lot of hard work but such a labor of love and so fulfilling to be able to create this with David. It’s been such a passion for us and rewarding to see it come alive and be so well received.”

About Vala Kodish

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