Within the buzzing music scene of East London, jazz clubs serve an increasingly growing audience. Young and historical venues provide backdrops ranging from subterranean ballroom to classy chic, where the soundtrack indisputably follows the beat of strings, drums and bass.
The London Jazz Festival will hit out the 25th edition in 2017, with over 2,000 artists, 300 gigs and 50 venues. In a way, this 10-day celebration signals the expansion the jazz scene has recently experienced in the UK’s capital. In East London, speakeasies and live music venues have been relentlessly populating the map, shaping as diverse a scene as this area of the city. For those with a penchant for raucous sounds and swingin’ vibes, the options go all the way from refined cocktail bars to wobbly dancing dens, by way of bizarre diners and cigar terraces. Nobody is to be left out.
Nightjar is perhaps the most faithful of the Prohibition-style speakeasies of London. As such, its seven-day-a-week programme couldn’t do without traditional jazz, swing and blues acts, alongside classic chanson and ball dance music. The cocktail menu is for old-school connoisseurs, who will find their way around the different historical periods: Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition and Post-War. Nightjar signatures and extremely rare vintage spirits are also on the list. A flawless service completes the experience at this time travelling cocktail bar, regarded as one of the finest in the UK. Behind the discreet wooden doors, weekend night gatherings last until late.
129 City Road, London EC1V 1JB
The bohemian Paris is by now just a suggestive myth, the Prohibition-era is long past and there is no circus nearby to account for the need of a sideshow marquee. Yet Jamboree carelessly mixes all that, creating a casual and eccentric atmosphere. The arbitrary décor includes a birdcage, a saber, lampshades and vintage musical instruments. Once a week, newer instruments breathe life into the Golden Era of Jazz night and its swinging vibes. The patrons also enjoy regular folk acts of Balkan beats, Cretan echoes and contagious rhythms from Southern Italy. Better keep an eye on the programme though, which is as exuberant and motley as this place gets when the spirits are high. The Jamboree closes at 11pm or midnight, but it occasionally holds late club nights.
566 Cable Street, London E1W 3HB
Down the stairs and through the thick red curtains, the main room of Oliver’s invites the customers to enjoy live music in a relaxing and intimate environment. The programme features jam sessions and prominent artists of the UK and European scene, who variously present traditional, pop or experimental interpretations of jazz. The well-stocked bar is mostly known for its wines, but the selection of beers and spirits is also worth a look. Since opening in 2004, this little jazz cellar has become a classic alternative venue in Greenwich nightlife.
9 Nevada Street, London SE10 9JL
A bizarre encounter between industrial architecture and Victorian-like décor, matched with the misadventures of Alice down the rabbit hole. When the comfort of the sofa area feels too lethargic, the actual, inevitable looking glass opens a space for music and performance art. Intimate acoustic gigs from Sessions58 and the Speakeasy Blues dances are regulars, but the events listing also includes burlesque nights, DJs and ‘death drawing’ sessions from Art Macabre. On the cocktail menu, signature recipes parade joyfully while coming out from the clandestine ‘Underland’ laboratory, where talented mixologists create home-made syrups, bitters and liqueurs. The chances are they celebrate unbirthdays too.
49 Hackney Road, London E2 7NX
Servant Jazz Quarters
Set in the heart of Dalston, the Servant Jazz Quarters is the place to go for those who are seeking a peaceful refuge from the busy main road. It is to be found in a low-lit, intimate bar on the ground floor, whose sophisticated list of cocktails threatens to take the mind off everything else. Luckily, a couple of discreet speakers remind people that this venue has a rich events schedule covering a wide range of genres, with a special interest for emerging artists. Live jazz is on every Friday night and the entry is free at weekends.
10a Bradbury Street, London N16 8JN
Short for ‘New Orleans, Louisiana’, NOLA opened in 2013 with the firm intention of bringing a corner of the Crescent City to East London. The ambience is inspired by the historic bars of the French Quarter, with a cigar terrace and jazz or blues live music playing regularly every Thursday. The cocktail list is possibly even more authentic, boasting the likes of an award-winning Sazerac and the pyrotechnical Café Brûlot Diabolique, the former being regarded by many as the oldest cocktail in America and the latter dating back to the Prohibition, when sneaking liquor into coffee seemed a good way to get around the law. Hurricanes and other New Orleans classics complete the list.
68 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3AY
Vortex Jazz Club
A world-renowned venue deeply rooted in Dalston’s artistic community. Unlike other leading venues of the London music scene, the Vortex prides itself on programming most of the shows, by “exercising a judicious balance between quality and accessibility”. The varied lineup includes traditional and contemporary jazz, free-improvisation, avant-garde, experimental acts, folk and world music. While regularly featuring top-class artists, the programme of almost 400 gigs a year is also committed to local emerging talents. This not-for-profit, voluntary-led venue has been around since 1987 and is now established as a house of worship for jazz enthusiasts, veterans and novices alike.
11 Gillett Square, London N16 8AZ
Located on the outskirts of East London, Luna has been providing a friendly environment for quality music since 2004. Artists from the UK and all over the world perform six days a week across the two floors of this venue, with live acts spanning jazz, blues, fusion, funk and rock. The diverse programme also includes open mic, movie nights and comedy gigs. On top of that, all events are free of charge. Whatever the night is about, local and guest ales are served in the two bars of the ‘Home of live music’; a name Luna also goes by. Indeed, the fun, casual and easy-going atmosphere couldn’t be described better.
7 Church Lane, London E11 1HG
Dalston Jazz Bar
A free-entry club, a pay-what-you-like restaurant and a bizarre food menu. That’s right: crocodile, frogs, shark, zebra, kangaroo, exotic vegetables and other more ordinary options are regularly served by the Jazz Bar’s kitchen, and don’t come with a set price. Instead, customers pay at their discretion, according to the quality of the food. Needless to say, dinner is accompanied by relentless soulful and jazzy vibes, either played live or by a DJ (including the alter ego of the main chef, DJ Chef Robert). At weekends the ambience heats up after dinner, and the party goes on until late.
4 Bradbury Street, London N16 8JN
Boisdale of Canary Wharf
Rather than focusing only on live music, this two-floor venue offers a whole dining and entertainment experience. It includes a walk-in humidor and vintage cigar shop, a terrace, an oyster bar and a gourmet British restaurant, not to mention the impressive whisky bar with over 1,000 labels on display. The stage at the end of the bar hosts jazz, blues and soul artists every night, or at lunch time on Sundays. As prices range widely and the ambience could be perceived both as casual and exclusive, it’s surprising how the Boisdale doesn’t end up appearing to be incoherent. Instead, it provides an enjoyable supper club experience suitable to anyone’s taste.
Cabot Place, London E14 4QT