YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Hot Spots

The Vine St. Bar & Grill--Where It's Always Cookin'

August 29, 1987|MAX JACOBSON

At Hollywood's Vine St. Bar & Grill, a Northern Italian restaurant featuring live jazz performances, the beat never stops. The restaurant began hosting local groups five years ago and the crowds asked for more; one year later, name artists were appearing regularly. Today the club is a metaphor for good jazz in Los Angeles.

Much of the success is due to the expertise of manager Ron Barenstein, a street-smart veteran of the New York jazz scene. He combines a thorough knowledge of the jazz world with solid restaurant experience; everything is in place. An evening in the Vine Street hideaway glides along as smoothly as the vocals of a blues singer after midnight.

We arrive early to watch backup musicians setting up and to eat a slow-paced dinner. The soft, sweet cry of an alto sax calls to us from a speaker mounted on a far wall; its effect is immediate, penetrating and soothing.

We chat with a couple seated at a neighboring table, investment brokers Denetrice Williams and her escort, Mel Foster. They're jazz lovers and good friends; they have come to see Mose Allison, the evening's featured performer, and are longtime fans of the restaurant. It's easy to see why.

The dining room, which doubles as the showroom, is conducive to good music. It's relaxing to the eye: soft pink and burnished gray, with floodlit plants lining the perimeters.

Food is prepared by an accomplished staff, and the emphasis is on the dishes of Northern Italy, with specialties including homemade pastas with light sauces, risottos and veal with spinach. Desserts are on the sumptuous side, such as pudding-like tiramisu and a two-mousse cake, but they are not overly filling. Nonetheless, you'll likely need a strong cup of espresso after dessert. As we were drinking ours, Mose ambled his way to the piano.

Allison is a Louisiana vocalist and composer and his music is more reminiscent of artists from the Mississippi Delta. He sings with an all-knowing, world-weary voice, the kind of performer who's been right to the edge, and he plays with ease and fluidity. The influences of Johnny Fuller and Duke Ellington creep into a few measures of his original compositions, and he even kicks off his set with an old standby by Ellington, "I Ain't Got Nothin' but the Blues."

Seated across from me is Darrell Coleman, a jazz guitarist from Kansas City who has recently come to Los Angeles to study jazz. He watches intensely as Allison takes him to school, and his eyes follow the stand-up bass and the steady thump of the drummer as it all fuses into meaningful sound. The audience is mesmerized.

If you want to hear performers at Vine St. Bar & Grill such as Joanie Sommers, Etta James and George Shearing, then it's wise to call ahead for a reservation. It isn't necessary to go for dinner, though, because they have a bar at which you can stand and watch the show. There is a cover charge that varies by agreement with the artist.

Vine St. Bar & Grill, 1610 Vine St., Hollywood; (213) 463-4375.

Los Angeles Times Articles