Tropical themed bar Bodeguita officially closed its doors last summer, but the keys were handed down to what is quickly becoming Bushwick’s local jazz hub: the Ornithology Jazz Club at 6 Suydam St.
It’s a small, intimate space with a grand piano, among other instruments, in the center of the first floor room. There are chairs lined across one wall and booths along another. Towards the back is the bar. The upstairs floor has a few tables and chairs, chess sets and paintings on display done by local artists.
Rie Yamaguchi-Borden, who owns Ornithology alongside her husband Mitchell Borden, is a jazz musician herself, having played weekly at Bodeguita over the past year. The two of them are well-immersed in the NYC jazz scene. Mitchell opened up Smalls in 1994, which went through a series of hurdles to keep its doors open, and then Fat Cat in 2000, which has since reopened as Cellar Dog.
Roughly a year ago, after moving to Bushwick from the West Village, Mitchell and Rie also founded the nonprofit Gotham Yardbird Sanctuary in response to the ongoing global pandemic, which hit New York City’s jazz community hard in 2020. Through the initiative, the nonprofit provides jazz musicians and other artists with immediate jobs while providing the public with free access to the shows in local clubs and bars.
Rie explained that the character of Ornithology is set up from an “artist point of view,” which includes not only the musicians who come to play, but also the people they’ve come to know in the neighborhood and other artists who are attempting to make a living doing what they love.
“We’re sort of in line with the older folk music, jazz renaissance in the 60s Village … It’s not such a solitary journey. It’s a community of artists,” said Mitchell.
“Jazz music requires you to be in a place where you can play with other people you want to play with,” added Rie.
With jam sessions happening every night of the week and an open mics every Wednesday, there is always something going on at Ornithology. Musicians are free to try an original piece and to experiment. The idea, according to Mitchell and Rie, is to create a “permissive environment” where music can be explored.
“The musicians run everything,” said Mitchell.
The new Jazz club also comes equipped with an innovative signature cocktail menu, curated by bartenders Layla Kovacevic and Luciano Flor. Aside from the regular beer, mojitos and margaritas, you’ll find “The Green Dolphin,” which shares the story of “a cucumber that died and was reborn as a dolphin swimming in the river of absinthe and mint,” among other creative mixtures.
Ornithology’s vegan and rotational menu also allows the chefs to express their individualities. When asked why they chose to go with an all-vegan menu, Rie, who had previously worked in a kitchen, explained veganism is a practical quality that avoids perishables and eliminates waste, but it’s also telling of their lifestyle.
“I think animals are incredible, sentient beings and they have souls. I don’t deserve to kill anything,” added Mitchell. “I grew up on a farm like that, and we never killed a single thing. All our animals lived till 35 years old. We had a pig that kept getting bigger and bigger. The cow was amazing at 25 years old. It looked like a tank.”
Initially, Mitchell shared he was skeptical of the Bushwick location due to the many EDM and house music clubs in the area, but he has been pleasantly surprised to find that the community has been open-minded and welcoming of the jazz club.
“I’m really proud of the Bushwackers, or whatever they’re called. They’re here and maybe they’re putting aside the other music they’ve invested in. I know for a fact some people who come in have never heard jazz music before,” said Mitchell.
As time passes, Mitchell and Rie expect more musicians to find their way into this small neighborhood gem.
“The word will get out,” said Mitchell. “You get a good piano, a nice bass, a nice set of drums, and the musicians will come. I mean, think about a bird sanctuary. First, it’s just all the local birds and then somehow, the birds migrate a little bit, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I know a great place to hang out’ and then they’ll come from far away.”
Keeping in theme with the Gotham Yardbird Sanctuary, Ornithology is the study of birds, and it’s also the name of a song composed by saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Benny Harris. If you visit Ornithology’s website, you’ll see a quote attributed to Charlie Parker that states: “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom.”
Follow Ornithology Jazz Club on its Instagram account, where weekly events are announced. There’s never a cover charge. You can sit down with some food and drinks while listening to the musicians of the evening.
All images provided by Allie Iliana Herrera unless otherwise specified.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.
Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.