Harry Houdini could pick up pins with his eyelashes. Lichtenstein is the world’s largest exporter of false teeth. And one more surprising fact: St Petersburg is a hotbed for jazz.
While the Russian cultural capital is known the world over for its mastery of ballet and prowess in opera, the city is hardly less infatuated with jazz and blues. These days the jazz bars in St Petersburg, which range from intimate hole-in-the-walls like JFC Jazz Club and 48 Chairs, to the Jazz Philharmonic Hall, host some of the world’s finest players. So, sit back and enjoy the tunes at the city’s seven best jazz bars.
Whisky (more than 30 varieties, mind), live music and an often-packed dance floor – what more does a Petersburger need? At The Hat Bar (no, we’re not quite sure what hats have to do with it), you’ll happily find all three. This isn’t your fusty old jazz bar: instead, performers pouting into trombones and warbling on clarinets are centimetres away from the audience. Arrive earlier in the night to ensure there’s still enough space to dance.
Sultry, snug, and more than a little reminiscent of Manhattan’s finest downtown jazz joints, no wonder moody JFC Jazz Club is ranked among the best jazz bars in St Petersburg. But just because “jazz” is in the name, that doesn’t mean that’s all that’s in store here: the club also specialises in blues, swing, ragtime, bluegrass, and other genres with more than a touch of Americana about them. Musicians do come from stateside – as well as numerous other countries – to play at this respected address.
A jazz lover’s staple since 1989, the Jazz Philharmonic Hall is perhaps the most refined venue on our list. A petite, bi-level theatre, the hall transports guests back in time – the tables, each illuminated by their own lamp, feel straight out of the 1960s. The venue’s also got serious jazz world cred: violinist and composer David Goloshchekin is behind its founding, while the smaller Ellington Hall commemorates one of the Duke’s legendary St Petersburg appearances back in the 1970s.
Named for early 20th century trumpeter Henry ‘Red’ Allen, the Red Fox Jazz Café is one of the cosiest basement jazz bars in St Petersburg. Live music pours from the stage from 8:30pm onwards, each and every evening. Though the venue attracts both local and international musicians, the focus is generally on old-school jazz: think bebop, big band, and other retro revivals..
Though its artfully cluttered, tchotchke-strewn interior looks more like it belongs to an antique shop than a music venue, the aptly named Art Café Sunduk is as much a destination for its whimsical interiors (and its high-quality cooking) as its tunes. While jazz isn’t the only genre on offer, it does make up the bulk of the venue’s calendar. Music kicks off after dinnertime, and is, happily, a daily fixture.
Don’t be misled by the name – there will be no reanimated versions of Purple Haze hitting the stage at the Jimi Hendrix Club. Instead, the name is meant to be an indication that this venue falls on the blues end of the musical scale. In a brick-lined cellar, youngish patrons swig their spirits of choice, while guitarists, saxophonists, vocalists, and other maestros entertain at one of the hippest jazz bars in St Petersburg.
48 chairs has, you guessed it… 48 chairs. That’s not too mysterious then. The allure here is instead supplied by the décor, which pitches the venue halfway between old-fashioned cabaret hall and mid-century fine dining destination. And speaking of fine dining, if you’re coming for the jazz, stay for the menu, which proffers tempting fare like porcini risotto.
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.