The Baked Potato
Undoubtedly one of the most enduring and endearing jazz spots in the Los Angeles area is the Baked Potato. As comedian/musician Brendan Small remarked about the Baked Potato at a recent show, ‘they’ve been serving up the two things people in LA don’t want — jazz and starch — for the past 45 years’, and have somehow managed to stay in business. This small club on Cahuenga Blvd. in Studio City habitually books top talent, both from the jazz world, as well as other musical genres. The club was opened in 1970 by musician Don Randi, whose group, Don Randi and Quest, still plays there. The Baked Potato retains a dive-like ambience, as the room is tiny, and the audience sits close together on rather uncomfortable chairs. The stage is directly in front of the center portion of tables with other tables off to the side and a few steps up in the back. A two-drink minimum is required of each member of the audience, but any sort of drink will do, as will a food order. The menu consists mainly of very large baked potatoes — big enough for two people — outfitted with various toppings of your choice.
The Baked Potato, 3787 Cahuenga Blvd., Studio City, CA, USA, +1 (818) 980-1615
Catalina Bar and Grill
Another enduring Los Angeles jazz spot is the Catalina Bar and Grill. Opened in the mid ‘80s by husband and wife, Bob and Catalina Popescu, it is still run by Catalina (following Bob Popescu’s passing). Originally located on Cahuenga Blvd., it later moved to its current location on Sunset Blvd. The club is elegant: a warm, comfortable L-shaped room. The stage is elevated and the acoustics are excellent. The club attracts major jazz talent, but gives young, up-and-coming musicians opportunities to play as well. A night at the Catalina Bar and Grill tends to be expensive, as one pays for admission to the show, plus a two drink minimum or food. Typically there are two shows each evening, at 8 p.m and 10:30 p.m. Although the address is on Sunset Blvd., entrance is through the back via the parking lot on McCadden, one block east of Highland.
Catalina Bar and Grill, 6725 West Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, CA, USA, +1 (323) 466-2210
Definitely at the high-end in terms of cost is the Vibrato Grill Jazz. The Vibrato is located at the top of Beverly Glen, one of the canyon roads between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. The club was started by well-known musician Herb Alpert in order to give his musician friends a place to play. This venue is a good spot for a romantic dinner with fine food and, of course, good jazz music. Seats are comfortable and the service is excellent – as such, reservations are recommended.
Vibrato Grill, Jazz, Etc., 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel Air, CA, USA, +1 (310) 474-9400
Blue Whale Live Jazz Art Space
On the other end of the price spectrum is The Blue Whale, located in Little Tokyo. There is no drink minimum, and concerts usually run between $10 and $20 per person. Reservations are not taken, except for a few select shows, and seats are on a first come, first serve basis. The shows feature both well-known jazz musicians and up-and-coming types. The menu consists of sliders, fries and other bar food fare. Those looking to imbibe can sample eclectic in-house concoctions like Kind of Blue Whale, Lychee Gin Fizz, and Dublin Mule. There is an adjacent art exhibit space as well. In all, a great way to spend an evening downtown.
For a more informal experience, you can always wait until late spring when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) hosts its Friday afternoon jazz series. Events take place on Friday evenings at 6 p.m., from April until the fall. Admission is free and open to the public.
By Alice Seidman