James Street Live: Classic venue reopens

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Before it closed in 2000, if you wanted to have a good meal and some drinks while rubbing elbows with everyone from jazz greats like Dwayne Dolphin, Roger Humphries or Jimmy Ponder, to down-home bands like the Blues Orphans, the James Street Tavern on the North Side was the place to be.

And now, it is again.

jazz
JAZZ IS BACK AT JAMES—During the show, from left: on keyboard is Leonard Johnson III; bass Albert “Mouchie” Weir; singing Tim Stevens; drummer Vince Taglieri; and special guest Kenny Blake, popular saxophonist. (Photo by J. L. Martello)

Thanks to music fans and entrepreneurs Adam Johnston and Lisa Saftner, the classic music venue reopened in December, and, as of Jan. 8 has become the new home of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society.

Jazz Society Founder Tony Mowod said the new venue is great.

“It’s tremendous amount of fun,” he said. “They have full houses every Sunday night. The owners are truly jazz lovers and have supported the Jazz Society wonderfully. Jazz fans have been arriving early and have been having a great time!”

The reopened venue also has a new name, the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy. The name not only reflects Executive Chef Alex Johnson’s, scratch-made menu, but also the availability of local craft-brewed beers and the cozy atmosphere in the main floor Speakeasy Lounge.

Recent Pittsburgh Jazz Hall Of Fame inductee Tim Stevens, a 40-year veteran of the local music scene and member of the Jazz Society, played a Pre-Valentine’s Concert in the downstairs pub Feb. 12. He said it really brought back memories, especially when guest artist Kenny Blake joined the Tim Stevens/Leonard Johnson Project on stage.

“It was a real loss when the old James Street closed,” said Stevens. “So to see these young people, Adam and Lisa, who really appreciate the music, take this on—it’s fantastic.”

Johnson said he and Saftner met while working at the Steak House at the Meadows Casino, but had always worked in the restaurant field, and often spent down-time talking about going into business for themselves. In December they did.

“Lisa and I looked all over, East End, on Carson Street, but then we came in here and fell in love with it,” he said. “I’m the jazz person and Lisa’s the blues person, and my brother is running the kitchen. And we’ve been very well received.”

The menu, Johnson said, is as eclectic as the neighborhood, featuring everything from hot wing appetizers to grilled tuna entrees and everything in-between.

As for the music, you can hear live performances Thursday-Sunday, and every other Tuesday is open-mike night. But that may change.

“We have a couple of things set up on Wednesdays,” said Johnson. “Hell, I’d love to have live music every night. Maybe down the road, we can.”

For a look at what’s on the menu and what’s in store musically, you can see the schedule through the end of March at http://www.jamesstreetgastropub.com.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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