Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

Blues and Jazz Clubs

by Elaine Sosa

Jazz and blues. Even the words are smooth. They conjure up images of the 20s, 30s and 40s -- prohibition, speakeasies, smoke-filled rooms where the gentlemen are dashing and the ladies elegent. San Francisco is a city of varied musical tastes, and most every musical form is amply represented. Jazz and blues are no exception and are hotter than ever. From classical jazz to Mississippi delta blues, you can find it in the City by the Bay.

For casual jazz, a good choice is the New Orleans Room at the Fairmont Hotel, where jazz has been the focus since the 60s. Located at the top of Nob Hill, the hotel is a continual buzz of activity. However, when you step into the New Orleans Room, things slow down. The seating is theatre-style, with several rows of chairs and a sprinkling of cocktail tables between the rows. Drinks such as the Cajun Martini and the Bayou Swizzle keep to the New Orleans theme. The jazz is provided by a house pianist. One gets the impression that a lot of hotel guests just happened in from the lobby, yet locals would be wise to seek out the New Orleans Room as well.
New Orleans Room at the Fairmont Hotel, California and Mason Streets, San Francisco, 772-5000
Pianist plays nightly.
Wines by the glass $5.50-$9; specialty drinks $7.50; appetizers $6-$15
Cover charge: $3
Crowd 30 years old and up

Another fun choice for the blues is Lou's Pier 47. It is located in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf, not where one would expect a legitimate music club. Lou's was opened in 1988 by Laura (Lou) Gillespie, who satisfied two of her great loves at once by placing a restaurant downstairs and a blues club upstairs. This was a lifelong dream for Lou, who grew up surrounded by some of the great stars of the music world. Freddie Martin, who started Capitol Records, was a neighbor in LA when Lou was a little girl, and he would often bring Nat King Cole over to the house to visit with Lou's dad. Lou has a thorough knowledge of music in general, and the blues in particular. Her club hosts a blues festival called "Lou's Blues" every September, with 45 bands in 15 days. The rest of the year they have music seven days a week. On weekends, the music starts at noon and goes on until 1 am. The decor is simple and functional -- small tables scattered throughout the square room, with an L-shaped bar off to one side. The walls are cluttered with memorabilia as well as black and white photos of the luminaries who have played here, among them Etta James and Charlie Musselwhite. The floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of the room let the sun shine in, making this an excellent spot to listen to music on a weekend afternoon. Lou's also has an exemption which allows her to have kids in the club from noon till 8 pm. No babysitting expenses, and the kids will learn a thing or two about the blues. A winning combination.
Lou's Pier 47, 300 Jefferson Street, San Francisco, 771-0377
Live music 7 days, with 3 sets Friday-Sunday from Noon-3 PM, 4-8 PM and 9 PM-1 AM
Beer $2.75 and up, well drinks $3
Cover charge: $5 Sunday-Thursday, $8 Friday, $8 Saturday
Crowd is all ages (children allowed up to 8 PM)

For blues with a southern flair, the place to be is at Biscuits and Blues. Owner Regina Charboneau, who has a restaurant around the corner, opened this venue in January, 1995. It was her goal to open a blues club that also had good food, as opposed to a restaurant that also did the blues. The difference is key. The bands which the club books have to have at least one CD in release, making for a nice mix of original music and covers of old standards. The music is strictly blues and runs the range from Mississippi delta blues to Chicago-style blues and Rock blues. Some months focus on a specific aspect of the genre, such as women in blues or gospel blues. Along with the good music, you get tasty Southern cooking. All of the entrees come with Regina's signature biscuits. Danny Glover helped Regina with the fried chicken recipe, and it appears he knows a thing or two about food. The decor brings Bourbon Street to mind. Votive candles on the tables and lined up on shelves along the walls provide the soft lighting. The sight lines in the room are excellent. Biscuits and Blues is a place for serious blues lovers who also love to eat.
Biscuits and Blues, 401 Mason Street, San Francisco, 292-2583
Live music Tuesday-Saturday 9 PM-1 AM, Sunday 6:30-10 PM
Beer $3 and up, house wines $4, specialty drinks $5, full menu/all entrees $9.95
Cover charge: $4-$12, depending on performer
Crowd mostly 25-45 years old

Newest on the jazz scene is Harry Denton's Starlight Room, opened in September, 1995. Glamour is back here, too, and in a big way. The Starlight Room is high atop the Sir Francis Drake hotel. Spectacular views are matched by the opulent decor. As you enter the club, a long and elegant bar greets you. Tempted as you might be to linger here, it is worth your while to follow the music. The main room is large and beautifully appointed. Small tables are placed throughout the room. Soft leather banquettes line a center wall, and are ideal for larger groups. A cozy seating area consisting of overstuffed, silk-covered couches and chairs is at the back of the room. Pink tulle fabric is draped around the large chandeliers. It is all a feast for the eyes, and the heart as well. If romance is what you want, this is the place. A jazz trio plays from 5 to 8 PM, followed by a nine-piece orchestra. The music and dance floor are at the far end of the room, with windows all around. You are on the 21st floor and dancing among the stars, the twinkly ones high in the sky. As if all this weren't enough, the bartender can mix you a Grasshopper, a Golden Cadillac, or a Velvet Hammer. Owner Harry Denton loves to table hop, and he is easy to spot, a large and jovial fellow animatedly working the room. He tells a couple at a nearby table that the soft leather banquettes are only temporary. They will soon be replaced by even softer red mohair banquettes. Not just red, ruby red. The thought of sitting on a ruby-red banquette sipping a Pink Squirrel is just too good to be true. It soon will be, though, thanks to Harry.
Harry Denton's Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, 450 Powell Street, San Francisco, 392-7755
Live music seven days a week, light jazz 5-8 PM, nine-piece orchestra 8:30 -12:30 AM
House wines $4.50 and up, specialty drinks $6-$7.50, light menu $9.50 and up, desserts $9.50
Cover charge after 7:30 PM only: $5 Wednesday-Thursday, $10 Friday-Saturday
Crowd 21 years old and up

Other good choices for live music include Pier 23 and Cafe du Nord for both jazz and blues, Pearl's for jazz, and The Saloon for blues.

Pier 23
Pier 23, San Francisco,
362-5125 (jazz and blues)
Live music Wednesday/blues and Thursday/jazz 5-8 PM and 9:30-1:30 AM; Friday 10-2 AM; Saturday 4-8 PM and 10-2 AM; Sunday/blues 5-8 PM
Drinks $3 and up
Cover charge: Friday and Saturday nights, Sunday days, $5
Crowd mostly 21-45 years old

256 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
291-8255 (jazz)
Live music Monday-Thursday 9-1 AM, Friday and Saturday till 1:30 AM
Drinks $4 and up, light menu $4-$8.95
No cover charge, 2 drink minimum weekdays, 2 drink minimum for each of three shows on weekends
Crowd 21 years old and up

The Saloon
1232 Grant Avenue, San Francisco
989-7666 (blues)
Live music 7 days 9:30-1:30 AM, also Saturday-Sunday afternoon from 4-8 PM
Drinks $2.75 and up, $2.00 beer during the daytime
Cover charge: Friday-Saturday only, $4-6
Crowd 21 years old and up

Cafe du Nord
2170 Market Street, San Francisco
861-5016 (jazz and blues)
Live music 7 days 9-1:30 AM, also dinner music Saturday 7-9 PM
Drinks $3.25 and up
Cover charge: $3-$5
Crowd mostly 21-45 years old

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

Share this article with a friend:

Free eNewsletter SignUp

Sally's Place on Facebook    Sally Bernstein on Instagram    Sally Bernstein at Linked In

Global Resources

Handmade Chocolates, Lillie Belle Farms

Food411 Food Directory