A staple on Milwaukee's East Side from 1977 until then-owner Mike Honkamp closed it a couple of years ago, jazz fans can now check out the reopened Jazz Estate, under new ownership. (Owner John Dye also manages Bryant's Cocktail Lounge on the South Side, open since 1938.) Dye took a year to reopen, and the wait is worth it. Jazz trios or quartets set up shop on the sunken stage in the middle of this intimate venue, performing everything from blues to Latin every Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. (Pro tip: arrive early to grab a seat and know that the venue often features a line out front when it's filled to capacity.) Since opening in November, acts have included Jeff Morrison Quartet (a tenor saxophonist from Chicago), the Mike Kubicki Quartet (on the Steinway piano) and Grammy winner Brian Lynch. Cover is $8 before 11 a.m. and drops to $5 after 11 p.m.
Cozy up with your date--or your best buds--in a leather booth or sit a few feet from the sunken stage. Waitresses don cabaret-style black-and-red dresses and many patrons like to dress like eras past with headbands for the ladies and brim hats for the men. Even if you can't make a Thursday or Saturday night for the live jazz, consider dropping in any other night when, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., the bar is open. One of the initiatives Dye wants to launch is local DJs spinning their record collections, for a deeper, more intimate dive into jazz and soul music. On Nov. 23, he'll kick off the series at 9 p.m. with "ThanksgivingEve Soul Spin with Kid Millions."
Just like at owner John Dye's other watering hole--Bryant's Cocktail Lounge on the South Side, where there is no printed menu, just a mental log of 400-some cocktails--drinks ($9-$10) carry a classic twist. With the help of bar manager Jeff Kinder, you can dial it back several decades with the "What's Old is New Again" category on the drinks menu, featuring '70s-era highballs, Wisconsin Old-Fashioneds and "Swamp Water," a cocktail with green Chartreuse, pineapple and lime juices, seltzer, orgeat, Broker's London Dry gin, Milwaukee's own Bittercube's Corazon coffee-cocoa bitters and nutmeg . And yet there are riffs on drinks that you can only find at The Jazz Estate, such as "The Jazz Estate Old Fashioned" (Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Averna Amaro and hometown roaster Hawthorne Coffee Roasters' coldbrew coffee and Angostura Bitters) and "Heart Leaf," named for the back room's wallpaper (with Vida mezcal, Nux Alpina walnut liqueur, Gifford Banana du Bresil liqueur, pineapple, lime, lime zest and turbinado sugar).
Or keep things more current with a glass of wine or pint of Wisconsin craft beer. The bar is open nightly from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., regardless of whether or not there is jazz.
Is there any place more romantic than a dimly lit jazz lounge for a date? Whether it's the first date or a special anniversary, The Jazz Estate caters to couples, in part due to its relaxing setting, dim lighting and cozy environment (check out the leather booths for cuddling or the tables with two chairs pushed together). Once you're seated, there's no rush to leave, and you're encouraged to kick back with some drinks and listen to the live jazz (Thursday and Saturday evenings only).
Drinks and a Show
In this day and age, it can be challenging to find a bar or lounge convenient to an entertainment venue (movie theater or play, etc.) but by going to The Jazz Estate you park the car just once. Live jazz performances are at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday, leaving plenty of time to grab an early dinner on the bustling East Side where options within a few blocks' radius range from vegetarian, farm-to-fork Beans & Barley Market & Cafe to an all-you-can-eat sushi and seafood buffet at Fushinami Sushi & Seafood Buffet.