Tired of taking dates for wings and Bud Light at T.G.I. Friday's before catching the new David Spade flick? Burned-out on cover bands at B.J. Knocker's Pub at the end of the strip mall? Are there, perhaps, a few servings of class missing from your entertainment diet? Take note of this: The jazz supper club is likely the most elegant form of evening entertainment to originate in this country.
It should come as no surprise that when Prohibition ended in 1933, Americans were ready to get their drink on. Despite the fact that the Great Depression couldn't get any worse, large, ritzy nightclubs featuring dinner, dancing and top-shelf music and comedy acts were all the rage. Patrons sipped cocktails in formal dress at candlelit tables while former vaudevillians like Jimmy Durante flexed their shtick. Just before World War II, smaller, more intimate clubs came into fashion, and jazz ensembles with fewer members were in high demand. At the time, New York law required that establishments serving alcohol also serve food, and the supper club was born. These often-seedy clubs were the height of fashion and elegance, and many of jazz's legends got their start on this circuit.
The jazz supper club has come a long way. To prove it, Jazz at the Bistro (3536 Washington Avenue in Grand Center) is launching an incredible 2003-2004 season on Thursday, September 18, with the Bruce Barth Trio. Other notable appearances this season include The Yellowjackets (pictured), Avishai Cohen, Kenny Garrett, Cyrus Chestnut and ageless harmonica player Toots Thielemans. The ambience doesn't get any snazzier than at this joint, bub, and they've got a full menu of excellent grub that's rumored to include an outstanding braised lamb shank. If you're looking to impress a date, consider getting gussied up for a romantic evening of cocktails, conversation, dinner and inspired music in fantastic acoustics by jazz's top performers at Jazz at the Bistro. For a full list of performances this season, visit www.jatb.org or call 314-531-1012. -- John Goddard
Your Stepshow Of Shows
Gateway Classic marchdown
If Spike Lee's School Daze is the closest you've been to a real, live stepshow, you don't know what you're missing. Stepshows, also known as marchdowns, feature folks representing various Black Greek organizations in matching outfits, moving in tight choreography, often to music, while chanting and rhyming about the glories of their house. "It's not really dancing," explains Gateway Classic Weekend stepshow coordinator Robin Carey, but the choreographed movements are just as intense. Carey says she sometimes wonders, "How did they manage to squeeze those ten combinations into five seconds?" Check out a judged stepshow with cash prizes, sponsored by the National Panhellenic Council of East St. Louis, at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Pavilion (1 Broadway, $15-$20, 618-482-4317). -- Byron Kerman
Fret It Be
Guitars are sexy beasts. Sure, sure, those mass-produced pressboard-and-nylon six strings are homely, but even they have their charms if you squint a little. But a handmade guitar, buddy, those things are art you can fondle. That silky neck, a generously curved upper bout, a coquettish f-hole -- master luthiers craft seductive, enticing guitars that just beg to be put over Daddy's knee for a good plucking. The Great Midwest Guitar Show at the Sheldon Concert Hall (3648 Washington Boulevard, 314-533-9900) features guitars for both dilettantes and the aficionados, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, September 27, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, September 28. A two-day pass is $10. Call 314-533-9900 or visit www.sheldonconcerthall.org. -- Paul Friswold
Just South of Heaven
For those who'd argue that the South Side has no taste, let the thirteenth annual Taste of the South Side convince them otherwise. The party includes an auction, which this year, says coordinator Alana Butler, features a glut of Pope memorabilia commemorating his 1995 Gateway City visit. Sweet!
Munchies from such South Side eateries as McGurk's, Joanie's Pizzeria and Alexander's come with the $15 entrance fee, and the whole shebang benefits the DeSales Community Housing Corporation and its non-profit work with the Fox Park and Tower Grove East neighborhood associations.
The Taste happens from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Five Church Older Adult Center, located at 2832 Arsenal Street. Purchase tickets at the door. -- Rose Martelli