Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this RFT Music series, we're beeboping and scattin' our way through notable runners up in a number of categories. This week: The best blues clubs in St. Louis.
1860's Saloon and Hard Shell Café (1860 S. Ninth St.; 314-231-1860) Located in the heart of the Soulard neighborhood, 1860's features music seven nights a week in the front room, with an emphasis on rowdy guitar-driven blues from the likes of Jimmy Lee Kennett and Steve Pecaro. The long-running Saturday matinees featuring Soul Reunion are another weekly highlight. There's also a full menu, a "rec room" filled with bar games, plus an outdoor patio and a quieter back room with another full bar, for those seeking temporary respite from the sometimes boisterous celebrations up front.
Backstreet Jazz & Blues Club (610 Westport Plaza; 314-878-5800) While the Backstreet Jazz & Blues Club seems to draw a good portion of its audience from patrons who are headed for (or have just visited) the Funnybone Comedy Club next door, it does book some acts that justify the trip for the music alone. Most notably, the club is home to twice-monthly gigs featuring guitarist, singer and local legend Billy Peek, a protégé of Chuck Berry and former sideman to Rod Stewart. Guitarist Buffalo Bob leads a weekly open jam session on Sundays, and Backstreet also hosts twice-yearly visits from renowned singer/guitarist Johnny Rawls.
BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups (700 S. Broadway; 314-436-5222) With live music seven nights a week, BB's also serves as a sort of unofficial clubhouse for local blues musicians, who often drop by on their off nights or after their own gigs are done. The club presents local and traveling bands, ranging from solo performers playing acoustic music to full-out electric blues bands, with classic soul, R&B and jazz groups also in the mix. BB's status as a popular after-gig hangout also makes for frequent late-night sit-ins and the chance to hear unusual combinations of musicians. With seating on two levels plus an in-house video system showing what's happening onstage, patrons are never far from the musical action.
Beale on Broadway (701 S. Broadway; 314-621-7880) A home base for some of the city's best blues players, Beale on Broadway is the sort of place where you don't have to check the schedule before you go. The venue's de facto slogan is "Live Blues Seven Nights a Week," and that's usually what you get, whether it's one of the long-running weekly gigs involving the Ground Floor Band, Roland Johnson, or Kim Massie, or a weekend show featuring visiting talent from Chicago, Austin or Memphis. With warm lighting, hardwood floors and a spacious back patio, it's easy to feel like you're drifting south down the Mississippi, no matter who's playing.