You will surely notice there is a similar theme when comparing this week’s review with my review from two weeks ago. To save you some clicks, that theme is live, local music (and, of course, cocktails). I think we can all agree that patronizing local establishments that cater to local artists is a mandatory function […]
You will surely notice there is a similar theme when comparing this week’s review with my review from two weeks ago. To save you some clicks, that theme is live, local music (and, of course, cocktails). I think we can all agree that patronizing local establishments that cater to local artists is a mandatory function for a music fan. Without our support, local musicians would be forced to share their work in other, more talent supportive cities and venues. Luckily, Milwaukee is very supportive of its music scene and we are lucky enough to live amongst a large variety of venues that can give us both our melodic and alcohol related fixes in one capacious shot.
Enter Caroline’s Jazz Club (401 S. Second St.), a classic, intimate jazz club. On the night of my most recent visit, Wicked Long Day, featuring Marcia Cunningham on vocals supported by Jerry Weitzer and crew, were entertaining the Saturday night crowd. Burgundy curtains encased the drummer, bass player and keyboardist as the two horn honkers, although detached from the main stage, held their volume and moxie near-by stage right.
The dimly lit bar was quietly chattering. There were a few couples huddling at the bar while a small group of 30-somethings made camp in the back corner at one of the high-top tables.
While being greeted by the commissionaire and fishing through my wallet for a five dollar bill, the music was front and center, greeting your eyes and ears with an appropriately high level of volume and a modest light show as the drummer intersects all who enter with a glance and an unbroken tapping of the hi-hat.
After the welcome party, it was time to gather my bearings and settle in. On this night, my darling-damsel, my brother and our long-time friend and drinking partner accompanied me. We’d been talking about this evening throughout most of the day as we had been traipsing around Milwaukee seeing friends, having drinks and grabbing nibbles. With the moment finally arriving, my brother set precedent and ordered the dirtiest martini in Milwaukee.
Considering the nourishing vibes from the well-dressed bartender (and having my fill of the brown rye for the day) I, too, ordered a martini. The bartender entered even further into my heart when he miscalculated the volume of my glass and announced he had a martini surplus. “Take a quick drink off the top,” he said. Looking back at that moment, I may have misunderstood his directive. With the excitement of the martini overload and the engrossing jazz romping in the background, I took a large gulp, practically taking in an olive off its skewer. After coming to, let’s just say I created ample room for the rest of the martini waiting in the shaker. Delicious.
The small, duo-sized tables in the performance area were topped with small candles establishing either a mood of romanticism for the couples or a small source of heat for those with cold hands. As was the case with the large group hunkering down in front of the horns, these tables are for putting together, sitting around and having a great time (and sometimes cackling louder than the band). It’s great to see a group such as this in a jazz club … but remember, you’re in a jazz club, there is live jazz right behind you, enjoy it before you black out!
Caroline’s is only open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The former does not have a cover charge and usually encompasses a blues jam. Most every Friday and Saturday there is live jazz and/or blues with a measly $5 cover charge. Do note that Caroline’s only keeps evening hours, opening at 8:00 p.m. on days of business. Jazz just isn’t the same at 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. Caroline and friends know and understand this.
Drink specials? I don’t recall, nor do I really even care. I was having such a great time talking with some of the staff, listening to great musicians share their craft and enjoying a few cocktails, me nor my wallet couldn’t have cared less if I paid more or less than the city average. If you want a quality cocktail made with booze pulled from above bar level that’s made by someone with experience, you have to pay for it. You know where to find the UV Vodka and Miller Lite specials … and it’s not here.
It’s a bit lounge-like at Caroline’s, but not in the sense that there are lounge lizards or any crooked types (that I could identify). The musicians were very professional and talented and the same can be attributed to the fine staff, as well. Also, don’t let the cover charge scare you away. If you enjoy jazz then you won’t have a problem…it’s good. As I mentioned before, Caroline’s isn’t necessarily the place for group conversation (especially directly in front of the stage), but don’t think that you can’t have a good conversation over a nice toddy while keeping one eye on your friend and the other on the stage. I did.
As we wrap up another week together, as the nights begin to feel like actual January nights and the mood strikes you for an entertaining evening away from a juke box, house music or that stingy bartender who brings his own laptop to the bar so he can share his complete iTunes library, patronize the local scene. The Milwaukee jazz and blues scene has much to offer, you just have to get out there and drink it in.