BARFLY ON THE WALL

The Fox Jazz Club delivers funky fun for partiers, jazz lovers alike

There have been occasions in the past that I've driven north on I-275, heading toward Pinellas, and found myself daydreaming instead, realizing seconds too late that I've missed my exit and must drive to Tampa to rectify the situation. I assure you that I'm normally a good driver — this happens to everyone ... right?

Taking the first Tampa exit at Kennedy Boulevard, I've always noticed a peculiar-looking place to my right as I make a U-turn toward the southbound on-ramp: a neon-lit sign depicting a cartoon fox wearing a bow tie, accompanied by the name of the club — "The Fox."

Over time, this motivated me to do some research on the Fox Jazz Club, which I learned to be a popular but polarizing club that racked up outraged and glowing patron reviews in equal parts before filing for bankruptcy and closing down at the beginning of 2010. Toward the end of the year, the Fox regrouped, found new management and reopened, this time to mostly positive reviews.

At the end of a thoroughly exhausting Saturday, after trips to both Sweetwater Organic Farm's Raw Food Fair and the Cajun Café on the Bayou's Beer Festival, I was ready to cool down before the also-busy day to follow. So I took a trip down to the Fox to see for myself what it was all about.

The Fox is located in the Lincoln Center, a West Shore office complex that seems an unlikely spot for any sort of jazz club, much less one with a packed parking lot.

It seems the word is out. Once inside, I was informed that there was a $10 cover, which I reluctantly ponied up. There was quite a bit going on inside the club, and I needed to satisfy my long-standing curiosity, which had grown to at least $10 in relative value by this point.

Immediately, I noticed that there was no seating and equally little standing room. Every stool at the long, winding bar was occupied, and other patrons were seated at the dinner tables and high-tops, with the rest on the dance floor, which was in full swing. A full band was on stage, playing a high-energy jazz fusion set mixed with a few renditions of modern pop hits. I picked up a Canadian Club and soda and ducked into a hallway by the bar to survey the scene.

The Fox was no mystery to the flock of patrons inside — well-dressed and ready for a night out at an elegant, upscale club. The setting was nice, and everyone was having a great time, but I was tired and disappointed that there was no place to sit and relax after my long day of not really working very hard at all.

Just then, my accomplice suggested that we explore the hallway, which I had assumed led to the office complex. I was wrong — at the end was another bar, this one pitch-black, save for a few lights illuminating a jazz quartet performing to a small and intimate audience. The scene was straight out of a noir film, with a lounge singer's silky voice cutting through the shadows of the small room as people seated at tables along the walls sipped cocktails and listened intently.

The band was the Kym Purling Quartet, with Orlando singer Ashley Locheed on vocals. It was so refreshing to hear the quartet's laid-back lounge numbers after such a long day that I sat down at a table near Mr. Purling's baby grand and didn't get up until they wrapped their set around 1 a.m.

In the end, the Fox turned out to be two very different experiences under one roof. The front bar, with its energetic players and bustling crowd, is a great spot for a night out on the town. For a more relaxed vibe, the back lounge is the spot. With live music four nights a week, including occasional appearances by well-known acts such as the Dan McMillion Jazz Orchestra, the Fox is worth a look for jazz aficionados and nightlife types alike.

Fox Jazz Club

5401 W Kennedy Blvd, Tampa; (813) 639-0400; thefoxjazzclub.com

The vibe: A classy, if somewhat swanky, dinner and cocktail club with live jazz in two very different bars.

Booze: Beer, $5-$10; wine, $9-$20; liquor, $7 and up. Happy hour is 4 to 8 p.m. daily, with various beers, wines and liquors in the $2-$4 range.

Specialty: There are a few dessert martinis that would go well with the scene, such as the Ruby Slipper — Ketel One, Grand Marnier, pink grapefruit juice, grenadine and a sugared rim. But nothing goes better with good jazz than a nice glass of whisky; add ice and some club soda on the warmer nights.

Food: Soups, salads, sandwiches and appetizers, $4-$15; entrées, $17-$36; desserts, $8.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday; closed Sunday-Monday.

The Fox Jazz Club delivers funky fun for partiers, jazz lovers alike 04/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:13pm]

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