With a small, poky entrance adjoined to the Sandringham Hotel on St Mary Street, at first glance Café Jazz does not look as swanky as its name suggests.
Walking into the bar on a Monday evening as the American swing band is setting up and performing sound checks, the lighting is dimmed and the bar empty.
But manager Agnieszka Kwiatkowska said despite the nightly gigs the bar puts on, the audience numbers varies depending on the day. “From Tuesday till Thursday it is just jazz so the audience is mainly older, but Saturdays are our most popular night. We have a DJ playing and it’s a disco for all ages.”
One of Cardiff’s few jazz blues swing venues, Café Jazz offers more than just live music from local musicians. The restaurant menu is varied and reasonably priced at £15.95 for three courses or £12.95 for two, and offers warming comfort food like beef stroganoff or a fool proof bread pudding for dessert. Its 2014 Valentine’s Day menu, at £19.95 a head, looks delicious with something for all tastes.
Drinks are also reasonable with a bottle of house wine setting you back less than a tenner, ideal to enjoy against a backdrop of soft jazz. Other wines on offer reach over £30, and the bar also stocks the usual selection of beers, lagers, ciders and spirits.
Perhaps what is missing is a range of cocktails. Competing with many of the other bars in Cardiff’s city centre is not easy, and the bar could do well to develop their jazz branding into their drinks menu too.
Donnie Joe Sweeney, one of the American swing artists who regular performs at Café Jazz, said the recession has hit the bar hard.
“When I first moved here from Seattle in 2003, on a Monday night this place was heaving. A house band drew in a lot of the crowd because it was so good.”
“In 2008 when the economy fell out it was really tough, especially on the musicians and the lesser paying gigs, the gigs like this. But things have just been picking up slowly and surely. Local enthusiasts and local fans will come in but they don’t all come in at once. It’s kind of a small community and everybody knows each other.”
As well as Café Jazz, Mr Sweeney, 40, said Dempsey’s, opposite Cardiff Castle, is the city’s other main venue popular with jazz enthusiasts.
Throughout the evening audience numbers did pick up, but an overall total of seven proved manager Kwiatkowska right that the bar’s popularity varies from night to night.
As a venue, Café Jazz has flair and is ideal to host small, intimate gigs with local and touring bands. As a bar, however, perhaps Café Jazz falls down on its lack of creativity in drinks.