What is jazz, really? Is it a genre, or a mind-set? A style, or a lifestyle? In Tampa Bay, jazz can be any of those things, but you do have to know where to look. While the area lacks a single, proper full-time jazz hub, it does have nooks and pockets of activity all over the place. Beyond major theaters like Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Capitol Theatre, the Mahaffey Theater and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, here are some of the best live jazz venues worth checking out.
What separates the Palladium from other performing arts theaters? The Side Door Cabaret, a low-ceilinged basement venue that offers frequent blues and jazz performances, including packed shows by hometown yet nationally known talents like singer Whitney James and guitarists Nate Najar and Selwyn Birchwood. It’s not a speakeasy, but it still feels like a spot insiders know best.
253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 822-3590. mypalladium.org.
Jazz House Supper Club
As the name suggests, it is both a jazz house and a supper club, located in a former Beef ‘O’ Brady’s near Brandon. Since moving from Ybor City to the new location in 2018, owner Eric Fleming has targeted a more mature audience eager to hear a mix of jazz, funk, blues and vintage R&B. The restaurant offers a late-night menu and weekly specials like a Thursday Ladies’ Night and $5 martinis on Mondays.
9331 E Adamo Drive, Tampa. (813) 642-6558. yborcityjazzhouse.com.
It feels like a real gin joint, with the bricked-up backdrop and connection to the cigar shop around the corner. But the music is usually the star here, with a different theme almost every night of the week. That generally includes Funk on Sundays, Hammond B3 soul on Mondays, blues jams on Wednesdays and live jazz on Thursdays — but in the spirit of keeping things loose, they switch the schedule up from time to time, so it’s best to check in advance.
15 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 898-7829. rubyselixir.com.
The cocktails are the real stars at this upscale mixology bar, one of the first to succeed in Tampa Bay. But every Wednesday from 8 to 11 p.m., you can pair your Old Fashioneds and Moscow Mules with live jazz. Bonus: Wednesdays also bring specials on wine and whiskey.
231 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 440-9231. mandarinhide.com.
A casual restaurant in an airport terminal isn’t the first place you’d expect to find top-notch jazz. But the Hangar is home to a long-running Monday night jam session run by the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association, which promotes music education and appreciation.
540 First St. SE, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-7767. thehangarstpete.com.
Originally opened at the height of the Jazz Age in 1927, the historic building was closed for decades before being revived as an upscale boutique hotel in October 2018. The jazz theme is back in full force, with live jazz on a stage in the lobby every day, plus, starting in May, music on weekends at its rooftop HiFi bar. The roster features a number of local acts, and there are plans to bring in nationals, too.
453 Edgewater Drive, Dunedin. (727) 683-5999. fenwayhotel.com.
Of all the Tampa steak houses and Italian joints with pianists plinking out standards in the background, this Hyde Park stalwart might be the best. The restaurant offers live music each Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday, with highly regarded progressive fusion combo Acme Jazz Garage leading the way on Thursdays and Fridays. Always on the menu: handmade martinis and an impressive wine list.
1610 W Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 254-5875. timpanochophouse.net.
Not just one club, but two! In Tampa, the popular beer hall and tavern hosts live jazz on the first Saturday night of each month, with occasional jazz shows Sunday nights as well. Its St. Petersburg outpost has drawn a following to a Sunday afternoon jam session led by trumpeter James Suggs, with occasional Friday night shows by other jazz acts. The fact that both spots have large and diverse tap lists is just a bonus.
London Heights British Pub
There’s a lot going on at this British pub and sports bar, and that extends to its Sunday Jazz Brunch. Keyboardist Allon Sams, a Clearwater Jazz Holiday regular, leads the music from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. as the restaurant dishes out New Orleans cuisine with specials on mimosas, Bloody Marys, Sazeracs, hurricanes and more. It’s billed as dog- and family-friendly, so get the whole clan in on the action.
7701 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa. (813) 231-7200. londonheightsbritishpub.com.
The Blue Parrott
A beach bar slinging Jimmy Buffett isn’t that exciting. A beach bar mashing up Buffett with Sinatra, now, that’s a concept worth exploring. St. Pete Beach’s Blue Parrott (don’t forget the extra T) offers J.C. Unger and Dale Williams doing just that on regular shows, as well as other artists playing oldies. But the biggest draw is the TomKats Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band that packs the place on Monday nights, playing songs by everyone from Count Basie to Maynard Ferguson to Steely Dan.
85 Corey Circle, St. Pete Beach. (727) 368-9619. bluepstpb.com.
Tampa Jazz Club
It’s not an actual club, per se, but the nonprofit organization does play a big role in two celebrated jazz destinations in Tampa. It co-runs the University of South Florida School of Music’s Monday Night Jazz Series, bringing acclaimed local and national acts to the USF concert hall several times a year. And it presents frequent Sunday afternoon concerts in the Mainstage Theater at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City.