The last time I had port was at a lengthy dinner party with my cousins in Edinburgh, Scotland, about four years ago. I'm no oenophile, but I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to have more than one glass of the stuff. Of course, you're probably also not supposed to pass out on your hosts' couch in the middle of a conversation, as my roommate Kevin did. At that point, I guess rules are a little pointless.
But I think I'm ready to try port again, and when I do, Green Dolphin Street will be the place. The quiet, classy atmosphere of this jazz club makes it the perfect setting for cigars and port, and perhaps a little conversation about the stock market crash of 1929. It just feels like a different era once you step across the threshold here, and not only because a decent portion of the patrons were probably around for the Great Depression.
While the music here is consistently stellar, it's the atmosphere that makes it a destination. The club is pleasantly dark; a host of candles on the elegant bar and on the white-clothed tables make up for the dim artificial light, and heavy red curtains envelop you in a sort of cocoon of comfort. The warm setting is perfect for Roger De Vito's Intimate Jazz Series on Sunday nights.
On the night of my visit, the Dan Myers Quartet offered up standards from "Our Love Is Here to Stay" to Clare Fischer's "Morning" in tones hushed enough to allow patrons to carry on low conversations, yet sufficiently robust as to elicit rounds of applause at every turn. While I wouldn't classify it as a jazz aficionado crowd, these people knew the appropriate time to respond to the performers, and I definitely saw a few Ella Fitzgerald wannabes among the bunch.
While food can be had (for a much more modest price than the adjacent dining room's upscale menu), the focus is on drinks and jazz. The older couples, most of whom headed home after the first set, sipped on tea and Scotch, while some of the younger people (and here, younger means mid-20s to mid-30s) indulged in martinis, mixed drinks and the occasional beer.
I sat at the end of the bar nursing a gin and tonic next to a man awaiting his dinner and chatting amiably with the bartender, who faithfully refilled his wine glass from a bottle resting in a silver ice bucket with a cloth on top. Everything here seems just right, and it's probably largely on account of the two managers who linger in the back by the old cash register (a sign of times past, it sits inactive while the bartender punches drink orders into a computer), sucking down ginger ale and telling each other to mellow out.
As the mop-haired Myers crooned a modified version of "Almost Like Being In Love" from Brigadoon ("that's not the way I taught it," called out Myers' high school vocal teacher, who was in from Wisconsin to support his former pupil), I realized that this would've been the perfect place to take my parents when they visited a few weeks ago. Not only for the pricey food, which would be a nice change from my current diet of almonds, pasta and kefir, but also because it's a place they could brag to their New York-bred friends about, a real Chicago jazz club with all the right trimmings.
Since I don't think they're going to fly out again anytime soon, I could also just take Kevin along to help me sample the port. But only if he promises to stay awake.
Green Dolphin Street (2200 N. Ashland Ave.) hosts Roger De Vito's Intimate Jazz Series every Sunday night from 8 p.m.-midnight. The Jose Valdes Latin Jazz Trio also plays for no cover every Tuesday evening from 6:30-9:30 p.m. For more information, visit jazzitup.com.
Ben Rubenstein jumps under the covers every other week in an ongoing search for freebie music that rocks. If you know of a no-cover night he should check out, email him.