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Jazz fans head west for their favourite bars, cafés, and restaurants

Jazz fans have decided what they liked most about jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau in 2013, in The OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll. These poll results are part of the complete report that OttawaJazzScene.ca is publishing this week.
Find out more about this poll and view all the results.

Favourite Jazz Bar, Café or Restaurant: Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge

Runner-up: Zola's Italian Restaurant and Eatery

How the poll defined this category: “These nominees offered jazz at least once a week throughout most of 2013.”

Just over a year ago, the Options Jazz Lounge at Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata moved to offering jazz seven nights a week. It now has a weekly jazz jam, and has steadily increased the variety of acts it showcases, bringing in more acts from out of town, and partnering with the Ottawa Jazz Festival for both its summer and winter festivals.

An intent audience listens to the Roddy Ellias Trio at Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge. ©Brett Delmage, 2013It's no surprise, therefore, that Brookstreet was well ahead as the favourite in this category.

“Relaxed atmosphere, great music, good acoustics. Very comfortable for serious listening” was one listener's reason for preferring Brookstreet. “Some great talent, just have to buy a drink and enjoy the show,” said another. “The range of musicians is great!” said a third.

“It is [a] beautiful venue! I love the stage and the RED piano. That is so cool. The bar is nice too and so is the food. It is nice to get out of the downtown and go to the suburbs for jazz!”

“Band is accessible, music is always different with interpretation varying on standards as invited guests get up and jam. You never know what you're going to get. NHL players frequent the club regularly. I've seen many politicians as well. It's fun to people watch.”

Jazz every night, the quality of the musicians, and the relative quiet of the venue were important factors for many. So was the lack of cover charge and the free parking: “Didn't have to spend a fortune for a night out.”

Musicians also appreciated it: “Options provides good pay for musicians with an outlet to audiences who might not necessarily look for jazz in Ottawa,” said one. It's “the only venue that pays well for trios/quartets”, said another.

Zola's: a nice variety of jazz in a comfortable surroundings

The runner-up, Zola's, is a longtime, family-owned restaurant, also in west-end Ottawa. The Bells Corners café started gradually offering more jazz over the last five years, and now regularly showcases local jazz performers (and occasional imports) on Saturday nights. It has also offered Sunday jazz brunches, and Friday night broadcasts of concerts from New York City put on by Jazz at Lincoln Centre.

Listeners strongly praised the food, the hospitable atmosphere, and the intimate size. “Zola's brings in a nice variety of jazz in a comfortable surrounding with lots of good food. A restaurant setting is one of my favourite ways to take in a jazz performance, as it mingles jazz with food as well as a social experience with friends and performers alike.”

“Although it's not an ideal listening room, the vibe and support for jazz musicians is excellent. The owner is very excited and supportive about jazz, which makes a huge difference in the community.”

“Zola's is making a great attempt to support local jazz. A friendly atmosphere. Good wine and food selection.”

The responses were not uniform, however. One respondent wrote that “the diners were talking so loud I had a hard time hearing the music”.

Praise for many venues

Each of the venues we listed had its strong proponents. For restaurants, the entire dining experience – the food, the wine and beer selection, the service, and the ambiance – was mentioned as frequently as the music. For bars and lounges, listeners particularly appreciated those (like Brookstreet, the Mercury Lounge, and Le Petit Chicago) which had an actual stage.

Lack of cover charges and reasonable prices were frequently mentioned as advantages. As one listener said about AlphaSoul Café, “a night out didn't have to cost a fortune.”

As with concert venues, location was important. Those restaurants nearer downtown got praised for their central location. Those in the suburbs got kudos for being in listeners' neighbourhoods.

But the variety and quality of the music was an essential factor. One listener's comment on ZenKitchen said “The performers are always astounding, always professional musicians that know how to blend their sound.” Others mentioned the trad jazz – and its strong fan base – at the Kanata Royal Oak. Le Petit Chicago got kudos from one listener for allowing musicians to experiment with new sounds, while another noted that “the music [there] was always exciting with a bit of edge.”

The jams at Brookstreet and Le Petit Chicago were particularly singled out. One respondent described the Thursday night jams hosted by the HML trio at Brookstreet as “very fun to watch and participate in.” Another said that the LPC jam “was an important outlet for me personally to play and network. It was often a reunion of the younger side of the jazz scene, which is essential in maintaining a healthy jazz community as the years pass.” Another noted, however, that the LPC start time was too late for them.

Some musicians – like Johnny Vegas at Maxwell's and Brian Browne at Juniper Fine Dining – have been playing at those venues for years, and the comments reflected the support they've garnered over the years.

In particular, listeners noticed and appreciated locations which liked jazz. We heard that “La propriètaire et les employées semblaient aimer vraiment le jazz” [AlphaSoul]. Or “They provide opportunities to all styles of group and support less known local performers.” [Le Petit Chicago] Maxwell's was praised for its “longstanding support of live music”.

But not for background noise

And what didn't listeners like? “Background noise and chatter is always an unfortunate distraction from the performance,” said one. “Generally I dislike listening to jazz over the noise of dishes, glasses and conversations. For me live jazz is something to be enjoyed up close and personal - not background noise!” said another.

“It would be great if there could be an attempt to sensitize patrons to being quiet and attentive during the performance sets where live jazz is being presented but do understand how difficult a challenge this can be,” said a third.

For younger jazz fans/musicians, age restrictions (particularly in Quebec) could be frustrating. As one listener who just turned 19 noted, “I realize this is a legal issue with the venues being places that serve alcohol, and it generally has nothing to do with the music. However it was unfortunate at times that the only place to see a given group would be at a venue I was not allowed entry into.”

And late jazz hours could be difficult for some: “Never made it to any of them. As a parent of a young child I don't have the energy to go out to shows that start after 9 or 10 pm.”

Several respondents said they missed a downtown jazz location, several of which have closed in the last two years. “After the demise of Café Paradiso, Ottawa needs a bar or restaurant downtown with regular jazz programming!”

“I still feel the loss of the closure of Café Paradiso. [It] was a gathering point of jazz fans, excellent cuisine and some of the best jazz concerts to be heard in Ottawa. This has not yet been replaced.”

The Umi Café (IMOO), Raw Sugar, the Carleton Tavern, and Les Brasseurs du Temps were also mentioned as locations with enjoyable jazz nights. Unfortunately, they didn't offer jazz frequently enough to meet our criteria for this category.

The Favourite Bar, Café or Restaurant nominees

Visit OttawaJazzScene.ca each day this week to see that day's favourites!

   – Alayne McGregor and Brett Delmage

Do you have any comments about this poll or the favourites ? We invite you to share them in our Facebook group, or email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Please refer to “The OttawaJazzScene.ca's Jazz Favourites Poll” when citing or linking to results. On twitter please use the #OttJazzFavs tag. Thank you.

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