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CAFÉ

Review: Jazz Café: Ostentatious decor fails to detract from café's lively feel

Bratislava is no New Orleans when it comes to jazz. The scene is sluggish at best with only a handful of bands to choose from. Most of the loyalists hop indifferently between gigs, booking social functions and playing on specially reserved 'jazz nights' at venues normally serving as dance clubs. The Jazz Cafe is different, serving as the only club in town where jazz musicians and their followers can enjoy a real jazz night out on the town.
Perhaps it's this singularity that leads to the club's excessive decor, apparently to celebrate being the only 'jazz club' in town. Descending the stairs, one is beset by a barrage of photos competing for space on the walls. These nostalgic snapshots revere some of the jazz greats, none of which have likely entered the club. Add to this a score of records glued to the brick interior, and visitors may think they've entered a theme restaurant.


The Vlado Vizár Jazz Quartet frequently plays at the Jazz Café.
photo: Courtesy of the Vlado Vizár Jazz Quartet

JAZZ CAFÉ

Location: Ventúrska 5
Tel: 5443 4661
Hours: Sun-Thu 12:00-24:00, Fri-Sat 12:00-2:00.
English Menu: Yes
Rating: 7 out of 10

Bratislava is no New Orleans when it comes to jazz. The scene is sluggish at best with only a handful of bands to choose from. Most of the loyalists hop indifferently between gigs, booking social functions and playing on specially reserved 'jazz nights' at venues normally serving as dance clubs. The Jazz Cafe is different, serving as the only club in town where jazz musicians and their followers can enjoy a real jazz night out on the town.

Perhaps it's this singularity that leads to the club's excessive decor, apparently to celebrate being the only 'jazz club' in town. Descending the stairs, one is beset by a barrage of photos competing for space on the walls. These nostalgic snapshots revere some of the jazz greats, none of which have likely entered the club. Add to this a score of records glued to the brick interior, and visitors may think they've entered a theme restaurant.

But the Jazz Café maintains some cleverness if one explores beyond the main rooms. Behind the bar is a low-ceilinged, cavernous nook where the arching brick walls have been spared the cluttered adornments of the music area. To get there, go through the club's defining feature - an illuminated tunnel floored with squeaky Plexiglas that oddly resembles the Deathstar bridge where Skywalker and Vader clashed lightsabers in the Empire Strikes Back.

Jazz is invariably played on the weekends and often even mid-week, especially on Thursdays. If you reserve in advance (which is a good idea at this popular venue), the manager usually won't hold your table past 19:30.

The bar serves up four brands of beer on tap, ranging from Staropramen to Murphy's at 35 and 55 sk per half litre respectively. Expect to be served by an attentive, smiling waitstaff, whose members generally speak English.

The menu offers small but excellent fare, and by opening at noon caters to the city centre lunch crowd. Some say the Šopský salad is the best in town and, topped with enough Feta to choke a Greek, it serves as a meal in itself. The most popular dish is the Chille Con Carne, a spicy alternative to the usual Slovak fare at a reasonable 100 crowns. Served with rice and salad, this dish may be the closest thing you can find to authentic Mexican cuisine in Bratislava.

The music starts at around 20:30 - don't expect anything contemporary. At first sight, the quartet (a regularly booked band at the club) appeared to be retired auto mechanics who had substituted their tools for instruments.

But after warming up, the old-timers proved themselves accomplished masters, playing everything from Dixieland to bop with brimming zest and endless stamina. The balding drummer surprised everyone by playing at least five blasting solos, each one receiving a chorus of applause. By the end of the set, the audience had vaulted to their feet to dance to a spicy rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In.

If you're looking for the often smoky pretensions of the progressive jazz scene, go to Vienna. But if you're searching for an honest night of bopping, along with good food and drink, the Jazz Café is the best bet.

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