A BA jazz club with a New York twist
Bebop Club is a Palermo jazz bar that started life in the basement of the Moreno Hotel, before moving to its current home on Uriarte 1608. This review was written after a show in its original downtown venue on a chilly August night in 2014.
On the menu that night: expertly-crafted signature cocktails, picada plates overflowing with that famous porteño assortment of smoked meats and cheeses, and a quartet of world-class musicians headlined by the even smokier vocals of Luciana Morelli.
Bebop Club opened its doors in March 2014, just a few months after the death of the city’s first and most iconic jazz promoter, Jorge “Negro” González. With his passing came the subsequent closure of his downtown institution “Jazz & Pop,” removing the oldest contender in the BA jazz club lineup.
It’s hard to ignore the feeling that it was a passing of the baton.
Jazz hotspots Virasoro Bar and Thelonius are quite a bit harder on the wallet than Bebop. Which is not to say that Bebop is a bargain. A visit there will set you back about as much as an upscale dining experience— but one that leaves you full, happy, and convinced you got a good value for the money. So the question remains: does this up-and-comer, which bears a Blue Note seal of approval outside its front door, live up to its self-stated mission to “simulate the experience of a NY jazz club”?
As a native New Yorker and someone who has taken in shows at both NYC’s Blue Note and New Orleans’ historic Preservation Hall, I would argue that it succeeds where it counts: in the caliber of the musicians, and the ability to leave an indelible imprint of the experience.
The small crowd size on this mid-week winter night didn’t befit the massive talent on display at the hands of Morelli and her crew. If perfectly-controlled crooning backed by world class ivory-tickling in an impossibly elegant space is how Bebop celebrates a “slow night,” their bar for entry is high, indeed.
And not just for their musicians. Bebop’s interior designer has painstakingly replicated the Blue Note’s detailing, and then surpassed it. You’ll find the same signature half-moon, velvet-lined chairs, but adorning separate, circular tables rather than boxy, adjoined ones.
The stage is kept low, but the floor is smartly raised toward the back for a better view. The stage is exquisitely in proportion with the room such that the side-dwellers aren’t too far out in left or right field— something the cuddling couples on the plush couches lining the walls will appreciate, and the clubs of New York can’t quite replicate.
Taken together— the lush lounge seating, the shared picada plates designed to “accidentally” tangle up lover’s fingers, and the romance that only a carefully curated array of world-class musicians can muster— Bebop could easily claim to be the best jazz venue in the city for a date. Combined with a pre-show dinner at Aldo’s lavish wine bar and restaurant upstairs, this one-two punch is sure to impress.
Embracing Buenos Aires jazz origins
As for the fidelity to the New York facsimile? To echo and expand on what has already been stated, Bebop succeeds where it counts— and fails where it shouldn’t try. By striving to provide the “NY experience,” Bebop, and all other BA hopefuls, misstep. Yes, every good artist must imitate before they find their own voice, but Buenos Aires has already crossed that threshold, and is now failing to claim its own artistic merit.
To wit, Argentina has produced international jazz icons like swing guitarist extraordinaire Oscar Alemán, master pianist Lalo Schifrin, and free jazz pioneer Leandro “Gato” Barbieri. Their version of the genre has unique roots in the tango orchestras being the first purveyors of its sound, layering on a distinct flavor and giving birth to the important sub genre of Latin jazz.
They even have the great underdog story of overcoming fierce repression, first from a public who decided it threatened their tango music heritage, and then from a dictatorship who banned it for being “imported” music.
Given that the scene only started to revive in the early 2000’s, it should be a mark of pride that Buenos Aires boasts a solid half dozen serious venues and no less than seven yearly jazz festivals. And, although Bebop won’t be a host venue this year in the largest of these— the Festival Internacional de Jazz, held each November— we have a feeling that will soon change. Because regularly playing host to local legends like Art Zaldivar (see video below), Delfina Oliver, Luis Salinas, Jorge Navarro, and Manuel Fraga can’t keep them off the radar forever.
So go enjoy a trago (drink) and the buena onda (good vibes) of an unforgettable evening of jazz, perhaps after a lazy Sunday stroll through the nearby San Telmo Feria— and tell them this Yankee sent you.
Plan Your Bebop Club Visit
Address: Uriarte 1658, between Santa Rosa and Honduras, Palermo Soho
Tickets: Purchase online to reserve specific tables.