Brian Sanders, 37, is not a man with a plan. Ten years ago, he walked down Murray Avenue and saw a for sale sign. After a “Hey man, you want to check into this,” with his business partner and owner of Rochambo, Mike Honkamp, they bought The Jazz Estate (2423 N. Murray Ave.). “I keep on doing what I’m doing, keep my eyes open, and everything usually works itself out,” Sanders says of his take-life-as-it-comes attitude.
Sanders grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and then moved to Seattle for a stretch. In 1995, he received his tax return and moved to Milwaukee. Sanders worked at Rochambo on Brady Street where he began to make friends and establish roots here. He worked two other jobs to stay afloat — one as an independent painter. He enjoyed the freedom of working for himself and the opportunity to be outdoors, but Sanders needed something a bit more stimulating.
And what’s more stimulating than The Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken? This is one of the Estate’s regular bands that have played every Tuesday for the last nine years. Sometimes a band member is out of town for a gig, but they’re always covered. “If someone isn’t available, they’ll have someone else step in to kick ass,” Sanders says. This is a good business night for the bar. The band brings in a consistent crowd, usually younger and undoubtedly taking advantage of the $2 PBR special. He usually sells about 10 cases of Pabst a week.
The Estate has been a jazz club since 1977, and when Sanders took over, he had some cleaning to do. He left most of the bar to its original charm, including the bar itself, tables and chairs and, regrettably, some scattered wood paneling. He moved the stage around and got rid of the pool table in the already small space in the back of the club. “The band’s trying to play, and somebody’s playing bumper pool back there,” Sanders says, not understanding the logic behind the placement. But I must interject; bumper pool is awesome.
Black-and-white photographs of jazz and blues musicians from the ’50s and ’60s lend to the bar’s already legendary status. Sanders says he was lucky to book Berkeley Fudge, a local legend, for the bar’s opening night. And over the course of his 10 years in the business, many other greats have passed through, including Dan Nimmer, who plays piano for Wynton Marsalis. Now, Sanders gets calls from New York, Chicago, LA and Europe — people asking to play in this intimate Milwaukee gem. Of course, capacity is limiting for certain musicians seeking a certain price. But that doesn’t limit Sanders’ ability to consistently bring in impressive talent.
His clientele has no complaints, either. Kristina Stanley, 24, sat next to me, and the few of us at the bar eventually began questioning Sanders as a team. Kristina often comes to The Jazz Estate on Mondays after work. Glass of Riesling in hand, she tells me how she enjoys the relaxing atmosphere with a different crowd each night. Sanders agrees and says the crowd is more diverse on the weekends with ages from 21 to 80 — black, white, Latino — always fresh.
Sanders knew Kristina and many of his other patrons by name as they began to fill the bar alongside the billowing smoke. I asked what he thought about the smoking ban because the Estate has a reputation of sorts. Its MySpace page states, “The Jazz Estate is about as dark and smoky as a Tom Waits tune.” If you know Tom Waits, that ought to paint a picture. “I think it will help business,” he says without hesitation. So many people say they love the bar but would only come back when it’s smoke free. “Even as a smoker, it can get so bad, you feel like you can cut it with a knife,” he adds.
The next couple years of business will determine the future of The Jazz Estate and its owner. They’ve talked about the possibility of a larger location or a patio to help summer business, but how do you divert from the already loved, cozy establishment? Although he doesn’t have any plans, Sanders would be more at ease if the bar were profitable enough that he could hire someone to help fill his position. Sanders does everything for the bar; he pays the bills, cleans, does booking and tends bar. “It’s never-ending; there’s always something breaking,” he says. “I’ve actually become a very handy person.” With 10 years of music and repairs, Sanders has only had one or two weeklong vacations. An avid camper and fisherman, he is able to get away for a few days at a time but never long enough it seems.
“What else would I do? Well, that’s what I’ve got to figure out,” he says. “I didn’t think I was going to make it 10 years to be honest.” Where will The Jazz Estate be in another 10 years, who knows? As for Brian Sanders, if he keeps those eyes open, everything will work itself out.
If you’d like to make nice with Sanders, you’ll find the way to his heart through Guinness (he pours an excellent glass) and whiskey. But don’t try to find him on Facebook.
720 N. Milwaukee St.
Friday, Feb. 19
Oh dear. Mardi Gras party at Apt. 720. The girl with the most beads wins complimentary bottle service for a party of 10. How do they get the beads, I wonder? Enjoy complimentary Ketel One cocktails from 10-11 p.m.
Benno’s Genuine Bar & Grill
7413 W. Greenfield Ave.
$1 off all taps, and three sliders for $3.
223 N. Water St.
From 9 p.m.-close, take advantage of $1 slice night.
3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Free tacos from Hector’s, 4-8 p.m., or until supplies last. Also, $4 margaritas and $2 Pacifico and Corona.
2265 S. Howell Ave.
Every Wednesday starting at 5 p.m., enjoy $10 off bottles of wine.
Polish Falcon’s Nest 725
801 E. Clarke St.
Open Bowl on the oldest lanes in town. And it only costs $3.25 a game plus $1 for shoes.
1905 North Ave.
Hey ladies! Free drinks until midnight. Everyone else pays $3 for Stoli drinks. No cover.
Hi-Hat Lounge & Garage
1701 N. Arlington Pl.
Ladies Night: DJs Kid Cut Up and Steve Marxx. Two complimentary drinks for the ladies.
Kenadee’s Ultra Pub
718 N. Milwaukee St.
Bitch Pleeze Fridays: Ladies drink free mixers every Friday from 10 p.m.-midnight. Kenny Perez provides the music. No cover. No dress code.
Brocach Irish Pub and Restaurant
1850 N. Water St.
From 3:30 to 6 p.m., try happy hour: half off all top-shelf Irish and scotch whiskies. 20 oz. pint of Guinness and shot of Powers for $6.25. $5 wines by the glass.
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
1579 S. Ninth St.
Old-Fashioned Cocktail Hour
Bryant’s happy hour is from 5-9 p.m., and includes half-price Depression Era cocktails, including the signature Old-Fashioned.