Ferreting Out Live Jazz in Naples, Florida
By Chelle Koster Walton
Naples Local Expert
Naples is not the first city that comes to mind when talk turns to jazz meccas. But the good news is that the local jazz landscape is improving, particularly with the opening of Alto – Live. Jazz. Kitchen in March 2014. It has considerably raised the quality of music in local bars with consistent, big name entertainment. You see, Naples is more well known for its tropical music, the tunes visitors are looking for to remind them of the winter cold they have left behind. Steel drum bands and Jimmy Buffett covers are much more likely to sound from local nightclubs than New Orleans style or contemporary jazz or even the blues. Outside of the nightclubs, you can find a couple of restaurants such as the Wine Loft Bar & Restaurant at Mercato and M Waterfront Grille in the Village at Venetian Bay that host Sunday jazz brunches and other special jazz events. You can also hear live jazz in special performances, and this list includes them. Given the shortage of true jazz clubs in Naples, many on the list host live musicians, but not always jazz. The list gives priority, however, to those that do regularly feature jazz musicians on stage.
In the heart of Naples' home construction and design commercial district off Pine Ridge Road, this place is a favorite of the local working class. Regulars come for sports TV, pizza, wings, burgers, deli sandwiches, shots of Fireballs, cold beer and nightly live entertainment. It is one of those "where everyone knows your name" kind of neighborhood places. Happy Hour runs daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Most people sit around the bar, especially at the end of the work day. But starting around 7 or 8 p.m., folks gather around the musicians' corner. There's also outdoor seating. (239-597-3333)
You could sum up the fishing town of Goodland in one word: idiosyncratic. Likewise the Little Bar, one of three watering hole restaurants that tourists love as much as the (idiosyncratic) locals do. Many visitors arrive by boat during the daylight hours for some typical Everglades eats such as frog legs and stone crab claws. Come nightfall, the scene becomes more of a local party, with live music and drinking on the bayside porch or indoors. The interior is cobbled together with salvaged wood from a historic boat, pieces of pipe organ, stained glass and various components with an interesting past. (239-394-5663)
Known for its fine Italian cuisine, Vergina restaurant also turns into a hot night spot as darkness falls. The bar plays more Motown style music than jazz, but it draws in fans from 8:30 to close nightly. Crowds spill out in the courtyard between Vergina and the neighboring building. Happy hour is all night Mondays and 3:30- 7 p.m. the rest of the week, featuring steep drink specials. Nightlifers can order from the regular dinner menu or a lighter cafe and bar menu. Butternut squash ravioli is the star on the latter menu. The drink menu lists some interesting, tasty martinis - a Vergina specialty. (239-659-7008)
Bayside Seafood Grill and Bar
This bar's upstairs locale affords patrons incredible views of Venetian Village, the bay and its waterfront homes as they sip their favorite libations. The downstairs Cafe venue is perfect for an early or late supper, and diners have the pleasure of being serenaded by a pianist on Friday and Saturday nights. The Upper Deck Bar affords a casual, laid-back atmosphere in an open-air setting and also features live entertainment every day but Monday and Tuesday. Well-rounded menus both upstairs and downstairs cover all the culinary bases for nightlifers looking for sustenance. The clientele is mostly mature adults, so don't expect late-night revelry. (239-649-5552)
Formerly known as the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, it is dedicated to both visual and performing arts in one architecturally forward location. The Naples Philharmonic Orchestra still calls the center home as does the Miami Ballet. And most Neapolitans still refer to it as "The Phil." Its calendar of events cuts a wide swath of entertainment. A Broadway series runs during the winter season, when the snowbirds flock in. The Artis hosts audiences of up to 1,425 throughout the year for touring orchestras, opera, comedians, modern dance and more than 400 events yearly. It also has a 200-seat black-box theater. (239-597-1900, 800-597-1900)
Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club
Naples Beach Hotel has provided a seaside spot where guests and locals can gather for close to 70 years. And it continues to do so today at its HB's on the Gulf and Sunset Beach Bar & Grill poolside. Both serve food with their stunning views of the beach and setting sun. For nearly 10 years, its wine list has earned the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine, plus the bartenders have a flair for tropical drinks. A solo guitarist often entertains around the pool during the day. During the warm months, June through September, the resort throws a free outdoor SummerJazz concert once a month, and has done so for almost 30 years. (239-261-2222, 800-455-1546)
Bay House Restaurant
Naples visitors looking for live jazz and other genres of music love the Bay House Restaurant not only for its musical selection, but also for its wonderful seafood dishes, polished decor and expansive views of the wild Cocohatchee River and its resident birds. Patrons can hear live music - often tasty blues and jazz licks - every night Wednesday through Saturday. The Tierney's Bar area boasts - as does the entire restaurant complex - tasteful nautical decor, and the tavern has a cozy brick fireplace ideal for a casual evening with friends, cocktails and mellow melodies. (239-591-3837)
Wine Loft Bar & Restaurant
The gorgeous parlor setting at the Wine Loft Bar & Restaurant feels at once elegant and homey. It hosts live entertainment every Thursday, Friday and Saturday plus jazz musicians for its Sunday brunch each week. Of course fine wines are the tipple of choice, but the bar carries a full stock of beers and liquor. The restaurant serves meals until the bar closes, which is midnight on week days and 1 a.m. of Friday and Saturday nights. The menu keeps it light with appetizers, salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, small plates and desserts. Dishes such as crab and spinach dip, strawberry salad, fig and prosciutto flatbread, tenderloin medallions with blue cheese and turtle lava cake pair well with wines. (239-598-5601)
M Waterfront Grille
Naples residents and visitors who love jazz head to M Waterfront Grille for its refined atmosphere, water views, fine cuisine and tasty live music. On Wednesdays, patrons relax in the lounge or on the outdoor veranda for Wine on Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. It features smooth jazz music, wine and drink specials and discounted appetizer specials. The musicians perform from 5 to 8 p.m. The restaurant also hosts live jazz on Friday nights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in season and at Sunday Brunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Guests can dine inside the restaurant or order something from the lounge menu. (239-263-1662)
Alto - Live, Jazz, Kitchen
Hot and new on the downtown Naples' nightlife scene, Alto -Live Jazz Kitchen opened mid-February 2014 in a jazz club atmosphere inspired by the late, legendary Zanzibar Blue in Philadelphia, where co-owner Chef Charles Mereday served as executive chef back in the 1990s. Located at Bayfront Naples, the club opens for dinner and entertainment nightly, including jazz greats and other live entertainment groups of three or more performers. Friday and Saturday nights, the club jams until midnight. They take the dramatically lit stage to entertain during the dinner hours and beyond. Small plates such as fontina bechamel crepes, creative flatbreads and main dishes the likes of porterhouse with Yorkshire pudding hit a high note with foodies who love a side of tasty licks with their dinner. (239-261-2586)
About Chelle Koster Walton
Chelle Koster Walton -- the Local Expert for Naples, Florida and the Caribbean -- has been covering the destination for 30 years. Her top-selling Sarasota, Sanibel Island, and Naples guidebook (Countryman Press) is in its sixth edition. She was contributing editor for Caribbean Travel & Life for 12 years and has written guidebooks on the Bahamas. A veteran travel writer, Chelle has published thousands of articles for Miami Herald, USA TODAY, Latitudes; has written/contributed to a dozen guidebooks, and produces travel shows for the local PBS station.
Read more about Chelle Koster Walton here.