Andrew Karpan 


Duke Ellington suggests one best tests a proper jazz song by swinging. Nonetheless, jazz is most commonly enjoyed in the 21st century by those sitting down in a bar. Good jazz elevates those nights into remembered moments on the town and doesn’t charge cover. Here’s eight places to go and maybe you’ll get swinging. 

1. Bodeguita

Rie Yamaguchi-Borden. Image courtesy of Yoav Trifman.

Located a few blocks away from the loud hum of the JMZ trains is Bodeguita, a recently opened establishment decorated in Urban Outfitters retro-kink. On Tuesday evenings, the self-taught Rie Yamaguchi-Borden appears prosaically on drums, gathering the week’s band in front of the bar’s decoratively exposed brick. Her aspirations are curiously old school and sometimes she will even sing, full of passionate intensity as the poem goes. But the regular rumble overhead and the cheap beer served by hipsters in florals give the intimate space an improvisational wildness where any note can happen. Tuesdays, 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

6 Suydam Street

2. Brooklyn Cider House

Photo courtesy of Michael Tulipan.

Befitting a bar that considers its signature product–offered in varieties like “Kinda Dry,” “Bone Dry,” and “Raw”– “a gastronomic experience like no other,” Peter and Susan Yi’s ambitious center for cider consumption pairs the fermented apple beverage with a diligently-organized schedule of flannel-wearing jazz bands that put on Americana-inflected songs and dances. They come in names like the Cabinetmakers, the Sweet Tooth Jazz Band, and a fellow named Welf Dorr, of the Underground Horns, all of whom appear regularly. Thursdays, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

1100 Flushing Avenue

3. Queens Brewery

Photo courtesy of Andrew Tobia.

Do you play jazz? Perhaps you have at least thought about it. If so, you may be welcome to join Stan Killiam, a tenor saxophonist who leads weekly open jam sessions at a small stage tuckered into one of the corners of Queens Brewery. He brings out a band as well, for those swinging by Ridgewood’s beer hall with the largest ceiling and which serves a changing variety of drafts and cocktails on tap inside cafeteria-like seating arrangements. Mondays, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

1536 Covert Street

4.  The Seneca 

Courtesy of author.

The Ridgewood bar near the M station of the same name no longer serves breakfast tacos but on Sunday mornings, it has begun serving performances of local jazz freelancers, who play in the corner closest to the door. The Seneca is organized somewhat like a boxcar apartment, so the noise can be largely ignored at the bar’s opposite end. The energetic moving of strings generates a pleasant din for the late-rising morning’ aches and pains. Sundays, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. 

582 Seneca Avenue

5. Bad Old Days

Photo courtesy of Solange Castellar.

A Brooklyn bar’s jazz night will, ultimately, befit the establishment, like a feature growing suddenly on the walls. Bad Old Days, an ornately clumsy vintage store of a bar near Ridgewood’s new Blink gym, puts on an incredibly compelling show of rumpled people performing to the beat of their old hearts. They belong in a bar with bookshelves and a fireplace. Bands generally perform next to the decorative television set. Sundays, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

1684 Woodbine Street

6. Bunker

Courtesy of

Among the neighborhood’s collection of Michelin-listed notables, the place offers a phenomenal happy hour where you can catch bottles of Beerlao or Sagota for under $5. Like the Seneca, it has also begun running programs of jazz musicians on Sundays during brunch hours, though these run monthly. Playing most of these afternoons are the WHQ, who play “contemporary jazz versions of your favorite pop songs,” which feels more old-fashioned, in a way, than more takes on Coltrane. The next showing is Saturday, September 8, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

99 Scott Avenue

7. Father Knows Best

Photo courtesy of Suzanna Heldring.

The winking patriarchy near the Wilson L boasts jazz bands as intense as their Sunday Smoker, a mezcal-based drink. Weekly, the bar-cafe-casual-dine-in lets local jazz bands take the stage away from its adult coloring sessions and stand-up comedy offerings. Unlike Brooklyn Cider House, the show will not make to the patio, meaning that the musically-inclined may have to foreclose a pleasant summer night’s breeze. But winter is always coming. Mondays, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. 

611A Wilson Avenue 

8. The Keep

Photo courtesy of The Keep.

The self-described “trove of eclectic antiques” on the Bushwick and Ridgewood border is also a cafe and also a bar, which hosts a house band that performs jovial group stuff in the tradition of Django Reinhardt. Joining in on the orange-glow of the bar’s galleon-lighting mise-en-scène will feel like inching toward a campfire for the very first time, apprehensive and then just nervous. Another bar where joining in is said to be tolerated for those bringing their own instruments. But it’s lively fun just watching too. “One of a kind,” they say on Facebook. Wednesdays, 10 p.m. 

205 Cypress Avenue

Cover photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash.

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