Opinions vary about Jazz Café, in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro. For some, it is an authentic live-music venue and student hangout; others call it an overpriced bar with ideas above its station. However, there is no doubt that since its opening in 1999 the venue has proved to be one of the city’s liveliest, filling up almost every night with a diverse crowd.
Understandably, therefore, the opening of a second location on the upscale west side of town is big news. Jazz Café Escazú opened its doors for an invitation-only preliminary inauguration Feb. 6, and The Tico Times was there to see what all the fuss was about.
Well, there is the building for a start. Jazz Café partners spent approximately $900,000 on the new venue, but the multicolored corrugated zinc sheeting of the exterior is not exactly what you might expect of such a large investment. According to spokeswoman Ana Beatriz Fernández, the design is a tribute to the architecture of the turn of the 20th century, though she acknowledged that the color scheme is “a bit of craziness.”
“It is a very classical building but with modern elements,” said Carlos Sequeira, one of the owners. “It is like jazz – a classical style fused with other things.”
Some might say the purpose-built structure is more reminiscent of a jack-in-thebox than a tribute to old coffee money, but there’s no denying that the place has a charm all its own.
Inside, the decor is stylish without being ostentatious, with a smooth concrete floor, dark wood paneling on the walls and a rough, red brick bar. The wrought-iron seats with crimson suede cushions ooze sophistication. The layout and design are equally impressive. Unlike in San Pedro, every table in the house has a view of the stage, really putting the focus on the music. The busts of late Costa Rican bolerista Ray Tico and seven other renowned jazz musicians, sculpted by Andrea Brenes, look down approvingly from their niches on the back wall.
Of course, this being the grand opening, it was hard to get a genuine sense of the place. This was a night to be seen, to shake hands, to blow kisses away from cheeks. The chill, blue mood lighting lost some effect in the glare of television cameras and the flash of press photography.
Organizers’ efforts to ensure a spectacular opening included an impressive array of circus artists performing for guests. Outside, a squad of jugglers, unicyclists and stilt walkers looked like Alex’s droogs in “A Clockwork Orange,” while inside, troops of interpretive dancers in skin-tight, monotone bodysuits entertained freakishly. The air dancers of Danza Aérea were spectacular, performing complex routines while suspended from drapes hanging from the roof.
As for the music, the honor of playing the first set at the new venue fell to leading Costa Rican group Malpaís – not surprising, considering that band member Iván Rodríguez is one of the three partners in Jazz Café. The band showed off its abilities in an impressive show, with Gilberto Jarquín’s drum solo being the highlight of some outstanding performances. DJ Bernal Monestel and Tico rock group Las Tortugas also performed.
Though there are bound to be differences between this location and the original in San Pedro – the fancy cars in the venue’s parking facilities, for example – Fernández insisted that, as far as possible, they would be sticking to their trusted formula, running a similar schedule with performances every night.
“We want to be just the same as in San Pedro,” she said. “We’ve had success there and want to achieve the same in Escazú, so people from the west side can enjoy Jazz Café without having to travel all the way across town.” Sequeira agreed. “Music will again take the lead role here,” he said, fingering his doublebreasted jacket. “This has been our dream for many years and we are very happy it has finally come together.”
Jazz Café Escazú was expected to open to the public this week pending permits, according to Fernández. A phone number for the new venue was not available by press time, but inquiries can be made by calling the San Pedro location at 253-8933.