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A jazzy crescendo to a night with buddies

November 17, 2012|Chris Erskine
  • Dining at Daikokuya is a stellar way to begin a late-autumn night exploring the Little Tokyo scene. Another stop: the Blue Whale for jazz.
Dining at Daikokuya is a stellar way to begin a late-autumn night exploring… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

Before I tell you about one of the finest music clubs in the city, and before I tip you off to the best red-bricked little bar this side of SoHo — down a slender alley, a swanky place that ought to have a CIA operative as a bouncer and a guy with a serious scar mixing drinks for rich men's wives — let's talk about Thursday night football for a moment. What a disaster.

Sitting in a sports bar in Little Tokyo as the evening begins, in front of the most expansive big screen I've ever witnessed, watching one lousy team play another lousy team: It should be a blissful moment, for it is a Thursday evening, and I'm with my running mates T-Bone and Paul.

And as I said, this TV is the size of a giant movie house screen, and that means the pompoms are ginormous and quarterback Andrew Luck looks like Prometheus inventing fire. He's scorching the poor Jaguars, as most quarterbacks do these days.

Jacksonville is on the short list of NFL teams that might come to Los Angeles, and all I can think is, "Haven't we suffered enough?" There are enough lowlifes in these parts. We don't need any more Florida rejects.

Overall, these Thursday night match-ups have been huge disappointments. Every time you turn on a game, there's one team you don't care about playing another team you don't care about. If Thursday night football accomplishes anything, it hints heavily that we are reaching the saturation point for pro football.

If anything should be saturated, it should be me. Keep those $2 beers coming, luv.

As I said, T-Bone and Paul are here, and there's still sulfur in the air from the recent election. We harp on that awhile — argue, make snippy comments about politics and each other.

"You never saw me in my prime ... ," Paul starts to say of his past athletic prowess.

"You had a prime?"

That sort of thing.

"Someone should write a Viagra movie," Paul says.

"It should be set in ancient Rome," says T-Bone.

With that, I order a martini — but they don't know how to make one. Where are we, Chuck E. Cheese's? Time to settle up and move on.

At Blue Whale, things are better. We wander into this music club to find Kathleen Grace on the bill. Likely you'd never heard of her till now. Voice like jazzy English church bells. In the higher registers, reminds me of the sound that happens when you ping a wine glass with a small knife.

In the past, I have sat on my very own patio, listening to Grace on the stereo, begging her not to ever stop.

Lately she's been making jazzy interpretations of country music, which seems an odd marriage. Haunting steel-guitar riffs crossed with Grace's jazz-infused interpretations? Pure buttah. And her five-piece band is tight, tasteful and — this night at least — features the terrific Anthony Wilson, guitarist for Diana Krall.

A crowd of maybe 70 sits mesmerized, wondering why 700 aren't here.

"This place changed what it's like to be a jazz musician in this town," Grace says before her set.

Funny spot for a game-changing music club. In a nondescript mall just off 1st Street, Blue Whale is about to celebrate its third anniversary. A five-minute walk from the Civic Center, or the Gold Line, the friendly joint is a must if you love live music at a reasonable tariff ($10). Owner Joon Lee, a musician himself, books progressive jazz five nights a week.

In fact, here's a good late autumn agenda: Steamy ramen at Daikokuya or a buffalo burger at Weiland Brewery (open till 2 a.m.).

Then over to Blue Whale for a set or two.

Close things out at Far Bar (347 E. 1st St.), the kind of secretive place Russian agents used to hang out in and think, "If I just met the right woman, I'd defect."

These days, you're more likely to encounter indie movie producers and the girls or guys who love them. But that's inevitable and somewhat forgivable.

To get to Far Bar, you roll down a skinny brick ally to reach a cozy courtyard. There may be better places for a nightcap, better places to study late-night Los Angeles, but not many.

So there you have it: my guide to a couple of L.A.'s hidden gems. Take three aspirin and tweet me in the morning.

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