Baltimore’s nightlife speaks volumes about the pulse of the city. It varies from laid back lounges to hip clubs to rock venues to Irish pubs. Sometimes rock and pop are just too much to take in and music lovers want something a little more mellow. Although jazz clubs aren’t the first type of nightlife that comes to mind when you think of Baltimore after dark, the city was once a major stomping ground for jazz legends like Billie Holiday, Eubie Blake, and Cab Calloway, to name a few.
Back in the 30’s, Baltimore had its own Cotton Club, its own Ritz, and a bonafide scene that all converged on Pennsylvania Avenue. And although the Royal Theater has been torn down and jazz clubs are a lot different today, believe it or not, they’re still out there.
Institutes like the Peabody and John Hopkins University are playing their part in preserving this piece of Baltimore’s culture and identity, providing venues to support new and established musicians, alike. Bonafide clubs like Caton Castle or Bobby's Jazz Club are strictly dedicated to jazz. Other spots like the 13th Floor in the Belvedere, or the 8X10, though not specifically jazz clubs, dedicate one night a week to honor this musical genre for those enthusiasts determined to keep it alive in Charm City.
Germano's Trattoria isn't the first place you'd think of when you look in Baltimore for a jazz club. However, it turns itself into one, even if just for a night. In memory of Baltimore jazz great, Ruby Glover, Germano's created a cabaret evening. Besides serving up tasty Italian food to locals and visitors, Germano's offers live entertainment in the form of theater, song, classical, opera, and jazz music. The upstairs dining room is arranged akin to dinner theater, with tables and chairs facing a performance space, allowing artists to interact with their audience. Seating is very limited for cabaret nights which run on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. There's a cover for the evening and advance reservations are encouraged. (410-752-4515)
Joe Squared might be a pizza spot but sporadically, a couple nights a week, it turns itself into a jazz joint. Just close your eyes, listed to the music and you'll forget where you're at. One of the best pizza and delivery places in Baltimore, Joe Squared Pizza and Bar is also known for its great daily music. Located in the popular Station North Arts & Entertainment District of Baltimore, the bar features great live music acts including funk, jazz, bluegrass, rock and more. Best of all, the daily shows are free. For arts enthusiasts, Joe Squared often features different art exhibits. Make sure to get to Joe Squared early to grab a prime seat and enjoy a pizza and beer while listening to Baltimore's best music. (410-545-0444)
Cat's Eye Pub
The Cat's Eye Pub is a neighborhood mainstay in Fells Point and lends just as much character to the area as the neighborhood lends to it - a synergistic relationship. If you're looking for jazz on a Monday night, this is where you'll usually find a live quartet playing.
Irish memorabilia, painted paddle boards and an upside-down Christmas tree accent the interior of this bar, which occupies a row house by the harbor. Over 40 beers on tap, including several local craft beers, and an impressive selection of ports and single malt scotches. You won't have to worry about dry mouth or non-entertained ears with the consistent lineup of live bands that rock the night away in the confines of this pub's characteristic red walls. (410-276-9866)
Well-received Gertrude's enjoys a prime location inside the Baltimore Museum of Art. Its name pays homage to chef John Shields' grandmother, who introduced him to cooking, and to Gertrude Stein, who introduced several important artists to the museum. Shields, a local culinary celebrity, produces traditional regional dishes with a contemporary spin. You'll find a healthy fusion of Southern and Chesapeake dishes. Grab a coveted spot on the patio overlooking the sculpture garden and dig into specialties like Chesapeake-style seafood gumbo, fried chicken or grilled rock fish in red pepper butter sauce. Although Gertrude's isn't a traditional at-night jazz club, the Sunday jazz brunch is popular and requires reservations if you want to guarantee your spot at a table. (410-889-3399)
Bertha's has been serving up good food in the Fells Point area for over 30 years. Its well known for its fresh seafood, particularly its mussels, but it also delivers on something else just as fresh. Live jazz. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, patrons can enjoy good food and live jazz music in this quirky atmosphere, filled with historic photos, posters and nautical items. And although Bertha's isn't a dedicated jazz club, it creates that ambiance and sets the stage for an entertaining live experience. The advantage of listening to jazz at a restaurant like Bertha's is the absence of a cover charge. Jazz enthusiasts and local jazz bands are blessed with having one more venue in the city to enjoy their favorite musical genre. (410-327-5795)
Bobby's Jazz Club
Bobby's Jazz club is located in the Washington Village/Pigstown area, not too far from M&T Stadium on Paca Street. It's a perfect nightcap for those sports fans who want to end their evening with a calming bit of jazz. Its doors are open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, however, Fridays are its designated jazz evenings. Patrons can also enjoy a hearty cigar while listening to smooth jazz tunes. This two-story club is separated with a dining area on the first floor and a live stage and bar on the second. Bobby's may not be open much but when it is, the night is filled with great music. (410-545-0610)
Club 347 prides itself as being a premiere stop for live jazz in Baltimore. Its atmosphere and intimate space will surely remind you of a jazz club. One night a week, Mondays, you can sit in on a live jam session or check out smooth jazz on Thursdays. This two level club offers a stage, dance floor, lounge area, pool table, and bar, perfect for customers looking for more than jazz. If you're looking for posh, this is not the place for you. It's unpretentious and understated but this doesn't exclude it from receiving legends through its front doors, happy to step up for an open mic or a live jam session. (443-506-7200)
Most of the faces you'll see at Caton Castle may be peppered with greys but that's to be expected from one of the last traditional jazz clubs in Baltimore. The seasoned clientele that crowds Caton's premises are what keep the jazz scene and Caton Castle alive. The club may not be overly fancy but it's authentic and keeps its focus on continuing to provide a venue for jazz musicians and enthusiasts alike. Food and drinks are inexpensive and because Caton Castle has its regulars, shows tend to sell out quickly. This off-the-beaten-path gem is worth visiting if you're looking for a traditional jazz experience in Baltimore. (410-566-7086)
An die Musik LIVE!
Don't be confused when you walk into a record store where you thought a jazz lounge would be. You're in the right spot. An die Musik makes good use of its intimate space. The top floor is where you'll find live jazz performances from both local musicians and performers from out of town, ranging from Peabody Institute jazz students to seasoned vets. There are a range of events, including jazz workshops and film series in addition to an array of performances such as classical and world music, just to name a few. Bottom line, you won't be bored at An die Musik and you never know who'll grace its small stage. (410-385-2638, 888-221-6170)
The Johns Hopkins Club
The Peabody Institute and Johns Hopkins have joined forces to help preserve the jazz scene in Baltimore by offering a venue for jazz musicians to showcase their talents. Baltimore was once known as jazz hot spot for musicians traveling the circuit between New York and Washington, D.C. Today many of those bonafide jazz clubs where those musicians would play are distant memories. However, the Johns Hopkins Club serves as a venue to keep the lifeblood of jazz flowing in the city. Jazz at the Johns Hopkins Club is a series, featuring live jazz performances from prominent out-of-town artists. The Johns Hopkins Club is an intimate setting providing an ode to the past, celebrating the jazz of today. (410-235-3435)
About Tawanna Browne Smith
Tawanna has had a wanderlust spirit since she was 13. A dozen or so addresses later, she now resides in Maryland with her husband and two sons.
Tawanna is the founder and creator of Mom's Guide To Travel, a family travel blog. She's also a contributor to the Travel Channel.
If she's not traveling somewhere out of state, she's either shopping or searching for the best crabcake or the best cupcake in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Read more about Tawanna Browne Smith here.
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