There is something about the steamy, sultry south that calls out for mellow jazz melodies. If your vacation plans take you to St. Louis, make plans to visit as many of these excellent Jazz Clubs as possible.
Highway 61 is the road that runs between St. Louis and New Orleans and it is known as the “Blues Highway”. The route is rich in history and the vibrant, soulful jazz and blues that grew from the sounds that slaves brought with them from their home countries and cultures. Along the length of this route, Zydeco and blues mix with new world piano and guitar music and old world sounds and rhythms. Cajun and Creole influences blended with those of the deep south, resulting in a rich, complex mix of food, music and culture that is like no other.
BB’s Jazz, Blues And Soups
Housed in a building that has been around since the mid 1800s, BB’s is a newer club in the middle of an historic setting. The club features a wide variety of scheduled musicians, but the venue is so popular that local performers often stop by after their own gigs to spend the evening in an open jam session. Jazz, blues and R&B echoes through the venue, and video screens ensure that patrons can see what’s going on onstage regardless of where they are sitting.
BB’s is also a full service restaurant specializing on Creole and Cajun cooking, but including a selection of standard American cuisine as well. Artwork adorns the 200-year-old brick walls, creating the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the fine southern food.
Backstreet Jazz and Blues Club
A modern club tucked into Westport Plaza, Backstreet often attracts a younger crowd. Next door to a comedy club, patrons often enjoy the jazz before heading off for some laughs, or show up at the Backstreet after an early evening of comedy.
The acts at the jazz club are powerful enough to attract serious jazz and blues lovers. Look for weekend music with a variety of musicians and twice-monthly events that feature local legend Billy Peek. Peek was a protégé of Chuck Barry and used to play with Rod Stewart. Open jam sessions on Sundays are led by guitarist Buffalo Bob. Twice a year, Backstreet hosts legendary singer/guitarist Johnny Rawls.
With no connecting restaurant, this is definitely a post-dinner kind of place. Luckily there are plenty of nearby restaurants to try out before stepping into this dimly-lit, music-filled club.
Beale On Broadway
The name of the club is taken from the famous Beale Street in Memphis and this small, brick building is packed full of southern charm. The walls are adorned with Mardi Gras masks and an old-time wooden piano invites budding jazz musicians to offer up a quick tune. Music fills the room at all times, but seven nights a week the entertainment is live. The Ground Floor Band plays most weeks, as does Roland Johnson, but weekends are usually reserved for visiting talent from Austin or Memphis.
Southern and American food is served up in the dining area and outside on the spacious patio when the weather is warm. In true sports-fan fashion, Beale’s has extended hours when the Cardinals are in town to give game-goers a chance to get together before and after a game.
A second excellent jazz spot in the Soulard neighbourhood, Hammerstone’s feels like a mix of the best of a French jazz club and an Irish pub. The building was a front for a bootleg liquor operation in the 1880s, before being converted to a fine restaurant and finally the jazz club. Live music is on tap seven nights a week, with two early shows added on the weekends. Regulars include John Farrar who heads up a jam session on most Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons a looser jam session is usually in the works.
The menu offers southern-style bar food with wings, oysters and catfish for the light eaters and pizza and po’ boys for heartier appetites. The enclosed patio is toasty warm in the winter and welcomes well-behaved dogs. A full service restaurant has a full bar, plenty of room and is a calm respite from the hectic world.
When one of the home-town teams is playing, Hammerstone’s offers a free shuttle to the games. Or hang out in the rec room playing pool and catch the game on the TV.
Broadway Oyster Bar
Next to Beale and BB’s, the Oyster bar is the third side of the Broadway Blues triangle. Filled with the atmosphere of the New Orleans’ French Quarter, live music rings through the historic building seven nights a week. Both local and travelling acts are part of the schedule, and music styles range from roots to reggae and blues. Jam sessions are encouraged and you may find that an hour-long concert lasts until three in the morning.
The Cajun atmosphere is complete with Cajun food and spicy, Creole fish and seafood dishes. Whether you’re craving oysters on the half-shell or a big pile of fried alligator, the Oyster bar has you covered. The outdoor patio is open in the summer and enclosed and heated during the cold winter evenings.
1860s’ Saloon and Hardshell Café
Seven nights a week you’ll find live music and incredible food in the heart of the Soulard area. The Saloon emphasizes the boisterous, guitar-driven blues favoured by Jimmy Lee and Soul Reunion. Music is played in a vintage back room with wooden floors, creating that rich, full sound of the old-style jazz clubs. Weekend matinees are a neighbourhood favorite, with Saturdays usually featuring Soul Reunion.
Not in the mood for music? Step into the back room and it’s like walking into an entirely different bar. Play pool or foosball with friends while still enjoying the great beers and tasty food from the connected Hard Shell restaurant. On a warm afternoon, lunch on the outdoor patio is a real treat.
Dinner at the Hardshell before the evening show will put you in the mood with a menu filled with Cajun favorites such as Gumbo and crawfish etouffee. Have a quiet meal in the peaceful atmosphere before heading next door for some jazz. Sports fans will be pleased to know that the Saloon offers free shuttles to all Rams, Cardinals and Blues games.
Highway 61 Roadhouse And Kitchen
Named after the famous route, the Roadhouse embodies the best of the roots of jazz. What was once a lumber building is now one of the premier jazz clubs in St. Louis, offering a variety of live music and blues-themed décor. Zydeco is a favorite here, along with vibrant jazz, lively rockabilly and a good dose of soulful blues. The stage is small and intimate, creating a shared feeling of experiencing something unique. Tuesday’s open mic nights are the perfect opportunity to hear something new or try out your own sultry singing for the crowd.
The food is southern comfort and you will surely feel the hospitality of the Old South as you fill your plate with rich, thick gumbo, pan-fried chicken and spicy-sweet St Louis ribs. A favourite indulgence pays homage to Elvis in the form of a deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwich topped with shaved chocolate and served with an approving smile.