Hot jazz in a cool club
The Blue Monk on Belmont Street gives folks in Southeast a place to bebop and soak up some sounds
A swinging new club in Southeast Portland should ease old cats' fears about the graying of jazz fans.
The subterranean Blue Monk pulls in everyone from 21 to 65, including an enthusiastic young crowd from jumping Belmont Street, proving once again that jazz music has at least nine lives.
Co-owner Chris Joseph tended bar at Berbati's Pan for seven years and at Cassidy's Restaurant before that, so he brings a wealth of nightlife experience to the club that he runs with fellow jazz head Tim Gallineau.
The split-level, smoke-free Blue Monk presents live jazz five nights a week. The music starts at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Blue Monk has reasonably priced, old-school Italian food (entrees usually are $10 to $14), and the kitchen stays open until 1 a.m.
Beers run $2.50 and up, and well drinks generally are $4 to $7. Prices stay the same during jazz performances.
The timing is right for a jazz club, Joseph says. 'There are only a couple of jazz venues in Portland, and there are so many awesome players in this town,' he says. 'You can bring your parents or grandparents here. No one is going to feel out of place.'
The vibe downstairs is warm and loose. The dark room is up-tempo and friendly and throws a good shadow. Blue candles light the tables for a chill vibe, and small booths line one of the walls. The smell of smoke? Conspicuously absent.
Freddie the doorman flirts with customers.
'You two are aging well,' he says, inspecting a couple's IDs and chatting them up until they find a place to park it. Freddie also tells the curious about the musicians playing that night. Take the Original Cats, for instance: a group of jazz veterans fronted by vocalist 'Sweet Baby James' Benton that played two unswerving sets on this night. The Original Cats also are depicted in a nearby mural that illustrate Portland's jazz history.
This isn't one of those stuffy jazz clubs where people just drink coffee and aren't supposed to talk. Groups stand up and move around, talking and hustling.
'A lot of people are intimidated by jazz,' Joseph says. 'They think you have to be intellectual, and smoke a cigarette and drink cognac to listen to jazz. But we have Pabst Ñ and no smoking.'