London can do jazz too! The search for the best jazz bars in London ends here. Rachel Dyer discovers the bars that do it best…
The best jazz bars in London
The Night Jar, EC1
This is not a jazz bar per se; first and foremost it is a small, speakeasy-style cocktail bar, and one of the best in the world at that. The interiors are 1920s-esq, cosy and glamorous without the clichés, the drinks have innovative garnishes (but stop short of being gimmicky) and the service is impeccable, without being annoying. It has a lot of class, without a hint of pretentiousness. The music doesn’t disappoint either, with top live jazz and blues playing seven nights a week. Look out for plankton, truffled potatoes, and birch barch – just a few of the surprising cocktail ingredients to be found at the Night Jar.
Like all the best bars, it would be easy to miss Nola – a subtle, relatively new addition to Shoreditch’s growing number of ‘Big Easy’ offerings. The live music isn’t every night, but when it is, it’s the best in jazz and soul. If the quality interpretations of the classic daiquiri and vieux carré don’t slip you into a New Orleans state of mind, the moody lighting, chirpy staff, antique ceiling fans and secret cigar terrace will. nola-london.com
Ronnie Scott’s, W1D
This is the one you’ve all already heard of, and for good reason. It was opened by Ronnie himself in 1959 (albeit in a different location) and has since established itself as one of the world’s most famous jazz clubs, with some of the biggest names in the industry playing alongside hotly tipped rising stars. It isn’t as small as some, but the atmosphere remains extremely cosy and intimate. It’s difficult to list upcoming shows because the majority are sold out (book in advance!) but there is never a quiet moment at Ronnie’s, with performances from the ‘Late late show’ to Sunday lunch…
Vortex has been a renowned jazz hangout since its opening in the late ’80s. However, property developers took over the original premises on Stoke Newington’s Church Street and it hasn’t had quite the same ‘vibe’ since its relocation to the Dalton Culture House in 2005. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all – in 2013 it was winner of the Live Jazz award and constantly tops the lists as one of London’s best music venues. And they clearly know their stuff when it comes to music – they set up record label Vortex Records in order to release the debut album of London buskers Portico Quartet, who are fantastic and went on to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2008. Don’t miss sets from Fletch’s Brew – a rare chance to see them outside of Ronnie Scott’s.
Scotland and jazz music aren’t a traditional combination, but it’s a winning one. The food (and whisky) are Scottish and excellent, and the nightly live jazz music is the best in the business. You wouldn’t expect any less with Jools Holland as the patron of music. There is a cigar terrace, and even a caviar and oyster bar in the Canary Wharf venue. Branches in Canary Wharf, Belgravia and Bishops Gate.
The Blues Kitchen, NW1
London’s own home of BBQ, Blues, and Rock n’ Roll. The Blues Kitchen’s chicken wings, stripped back Wednesday night soul, and Sunday blues jam make this is London’s answer to laid back Deep South living. It’s open late until late on Fridays and Saturdays for the night owls amongst you, but it is also a popular daytime spot, with great brunch and lunch menus. Branches in Camden and Shoreditch and Brixton.
WM Jazz Club, SE10
The huge façade of the 02 Arena isn’t exactly the discreet, low-lit basement we had in mind. But its what’s on the inside that counts, and WM manages to deliver a surprising level of intimacy. What’s not surprising is the top-notch jazz – you wouldn’t expect anything less from ‘the mecca for live music’. It is relatively new to the scene, but has already hosted world-class acts such as the Darius Brubeck Quartet and Andy Fairweather Low.
606 Club, SW10
606 has been one of the busiest jazz clubs in Europe since 1976, with live music every night and over ten artists per week. The stage is reserved exclusively for British musicians, which might sound limiting, especially in the genre, but the longevity of the 150-capacity club speaks volumes. As does Jamie Cullum’s opinion; he describes it as ‘London’s best music venue’.
Jazz Café, NW1
Distinctly more hectic than the rest. It’s not all table dwelling and head bobbing here, as there is a decent sized dance floor, which can get quite raucous at the weekends. A table on the mezzanine looking over the stage is a safe bet, as it means you are in on the action without being overly committed. Music covers a host of genres and the likes of Bobby Womack and Lana Del Ray have graced the stage, but keep an eye on the listings for regular jazz, funk, blues and soul talent.
Pizza Express Live, W1
Before you judge, this isn’t your average Pizza Express: it’s a serious jazz club, with a Sloppy Giuseppe thrown in as a bonus. Some of the world’s very best musicians have taken to the stage, from Roy Haynes and Kenny Garrett, to Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and even the late Amy Winehouse. The sound system is brilliant and none of the tables are far from the stage, which any live music fan knows is of upmost importance. Be sure to check out The Basement, Pizza Express Live’s latest pop-up venue in Spitalfields, September and October’s hub for live cutting edge music featuring Jazz, Latin, Soul, Funk, Reggae, Broken-Beats, Jazz-Dance and World-Dance.