Ybor City is known for a lot of things, but restrained, laid-back nightlife is not one of them. If you cruise down the Seventh Avenue strip late on a weekend night, you're liable to run into large groups of rowdy, boozed-up partiers and concertgoers.
There are a few alternatives, though, including the new Ybor City Jazz House.
The Jazz House is a three-level nightclub and concert venue located in a premium Seventh Avenue location, right in the middle of the strip. Before the Jazz House, there was Level III, Tabu and several others. Whereas those businesses blended right in with the dance-club theme that permeates Ybor, the Ybor City Jazz House stands out in its modesty - a straightforward, unpretentious jazz venue and nightclub that offers quality live music and a nice atmosphere.
It's no surprise then, that the clientele at the Jazz House tends to fall into an age demographic a full generation above the typical Ybor club patron, with the majority of the crowd in their 40s. It's the kind of place where people get dressed up to enjoy some live jazz and a more mature vibe than what you'll find elsewhere in Ybor.
The interior ties into this theme nicely. It's plush but tasteful, with smooth, red lights illuminating the long, high-ceilinged first level, accented by gold-toned columns covered in a shiny, swirly pattern. There's a red-velvet curtain as a backdrop for the stage area, matching the high-backed crushed-velvet sofas that line the classic Ybor brick walls. Black tablecloths cover the cafe tables near the entrance, and a server brings drink orders directly from the bar.
The lighting and sound are top-notch; everything looks and sounds great. The large stage on the ground floor is the focal point of the room, perpetually occupied by players in various groups who tend to make repeat visits to the Jazz House on a regular basis.
The recent rotation: On Wednesdays, saxophonist Henry Ashwood's band, the Ashwood Jazz Project, plays classic jazz, followed by a jam session involving other local musicians. On Thursdays, it's smooth jazz with the Life of the Party Band, and on Friday, vocalist and keyboardist Shawn Brown performs a mix of funk-inspired tunes with his group.
All that is just on the first floor. While the Ybor City Jazz Club building has three stories, only the bottom two are used regularly. The second is currently open only on Fridays and Saturdays, with the exception of special events on other days. The big event upstairs is on Saturday nights, where 95.7 The Beat's DJ Sandman holds a residency at the club's Velvet Martini Bar. There's also a balcony, perfect for watching the Seventh Avenue chaos below.
This Jazz Club runs a very professional production in most regards, but the bar itself could use a bit more creativity. There's no drink list, and the selection is somewhat bare bones, though you'll certainly find several quality scotches, bourbons, cognacs, and cordials that a proper jazz club just can't be without. The hot item seems to be the house sangria, which is made with Fireball whiskey in place of cinnamon. It's quite tasty.
Overall, the club is a refreshing change of pace for the Ybor nightlife scene, and surely one that jazz lovers have been waiting for. I say this because on the weeknight that I visited, the place was packed by 10 p.m., and the dance floor was in full swing. That says it all, really.
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Ybor City Jazz House
1611 E Seventh Avenue, Ybor City. (813) 409-4258, yborcityjazzhouse.com.
The vibe: Red lights, plush couches and live jazz, along with DJs upstairs on the weekends.
Specialty: The drink selection represents typical nightclub options and not much beyond that. However, a popular pick is the house-made sangria ($7, or $5 before 9 p.m.), which puts a slightly different twist on the spiced fruit-and-wine classic, subbing Fireball cinnamon whiskey for actual cinnamon. The result is a sweet, surprisingly refreshing drink with a subtle Fireball burn on the finish.
Hours: 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday.