Sunday, October 23, 2005

Well I followed her to the station, a suitcase in my hand . . .

The popularity of blues is cyclical. It might be "in" for five years and "out" for eight. But plugging away through the ups and downs are the musicians on the local level, doing whatever it takes to play this authentic American art form that drives them, keeps them going.

Lots of cities have a bar or two devoted to the blues, sometimes it just takes a little searching. You don't have to be a sleuth in St Louis though, there's three blues bars within a stone's throw of Busch Stadium -- now the former home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Two of them are across the street from each other: BB's Jazz Blues & Soups and Beale on Broadway. One block down the road is the Broadway Oyster Bar. The bands that play here are mostly local and a few of them travel from one to the next of these three bars during the course of a week, making a kind of blues circle. Admission is usually free, and in the warm weather the bands at the Oyster Bar and at Beale play outside. Let me tell you, it doesn't get much better than sitting outside on a warm St. Louis summer evening, drinking some of the local brews and listening to someone singing the blues. A particular treat is to hear Kim Massie. She usually plays Beale on Broadway on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and she has a voice that has to be heard. The locals claim she sounds like a cross between Aretha Franklin and Etta James, and they're not far wrong.

Also in St. Louis is Soulard, a neighborhood that's a little off the tourist path but worth catching the bus for. It's a mostly residential neighborhood with some cobblestone streets and a bar on most corners. The bars often have two bands a day, Friday to Sunday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. In recent years the music has changed somewhat, though, to try and attract bigger and younger crowds than the blues usually draws -- that's why sometimes you'll hear music written by Jim Morrison instead of by Willie Dixon or Muddy Waters.

Not just St. Louis of course. San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin, Kansas City, all have a thriving -- or at least, alive -- blues scene.

And D.C? Well, lucky for us, not only do we have a gen-u-wine blues bar but it's on Connecticut Avenue across from the zoo. Not surprisingly, it's called the Zoo Bar, and the music is live Thursday, Friday, Saturday and, just lately, Sunday nights. Sometimes there's some variation but usually, Friday and Saturday nights have the same bands on the same weeks of each month -- in other words, the band that plays on the first Saturday of the month always plays on the first Saturday of the month.

Well worth catching on the first Saturday is The Big Boy Little Band featuring the incomparable guitar playing of Rusty Bogart and on the last Saturday you can see Flatfoot Sam and the Educated Fools, a staple at the Zoo Bar for many years.

Thursday is jam night at the Zoo Bar and my favorite night. The house band, led by Big Boy Little, plays from about 8:30 to 9:00 or 9:30, and then everybody else gets to join in -- in an orderly kind of way of course. This is no usual jam night crowd of musicians, these people know their instruments and their music. It's sometimes close to astonishing to experience the quality
and diversity of the music played by these folks who come into the bar Thursday after Thursday for no pay, just for the thrill of playing the music in front of warm bodies.

There aren't a lot of national blues acts left touring -- Buddy Guy and B.B. King are close to the entire list -- so we have to rely more and more on our local musicians for a dose of the blues whether in the mid-west or D.C. The Zoo Bar is an underutilized Washington, D.C. gem right under our noses. It deserves our respect if only for hanging in there during the ups and downs of blues popularity.

And just so you don't get the wrong impression, I am in no way affiliated with the Zoo Bar, they don't know about this entry or even this blog. I wrote the above statements because I'm a blues fan, pure and simple.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Cleveland Park Bar & Grill Opens For Business

As I drove through Cleveland Park last night on my way home from work I noticed a new "Now Open!" sign above what used to be Bricks and someone was taking down the paper that has covered the windows for the last few weeks. In the interests of bringing the latest news to my faithful readers, I later slogged through last night's torrential storm to the CP strip to take a look. What was Bricks is now the Cleveland Park Bar & Grill. The new owners (three of them!) have made a lot of changes: new wallpaper, snazzy mirrors, juke box, bench seats, wall paneling, flat-panel televisions, re-finished bar, etc., etc.

Friday night was what they called a "soft opening" -- no advertising, just friends and families had been told, but the Strip foot traffic even for such a wet and wild night helped to fill the place. I guess a lot of locals have missed the Park Bench and Bricks. Incidentally, the word is that the Park Bench will reopen in a couple of weeks as the Uptown Tavern.

The menu is far from complete but there's still the wood burning oven for the pizza, plus there's now a "Dinner Menu" involving steaks, burgers, salmon, and some Italian stuff. OK, so I'm not a restaurant critic. The opening night free pizza was fine but the crusts were consistantly burnt -- seems like the kitchen staff needs a bit more practice with the oven. But let's not forget, it was free.

Starters include Italian cold cuts, pizza bianca, bruschettas and salads. The desserts are listed under the heading of "Sugar," so do with that what you will although I noticed it involved such things as ice cream, tarts, brownies, and more ice cream.

Lots of wines available. The usual lineup of beers on tap including Guinness but unfortunately, no Bass so there go the black-and-tans.

Anyway, it's good to see the place back in business, and all you lost souls that have been roaming the area all summer with no place to go -- the Cleveland Park Bar & Grill is here for you.