Nina Simone once said: “Jazz is not just music; it’s a way of life, a way of being, a way of thinking… the new inventive phrases we make up to describe things — all that to me is jazz just as much as the music we play.” Indeed a candlelit table, an orange peel resting on the rim of your freshly made sidecar, and the tremble of a trombone resounding off exposed brick has all the makings of a perfect date, a night out with pals, or a solo night as a lounge lizard. Jazz clubs the world over have also long been the sites of legendary business wheelings and dealings. From The Spotted Cat in New Orleans to Tramjazz in Rome, an inspiring evening with the soulful mood of classical or contemporary jazz is the perfect setting for wooing clients and investors. You can almost feel the history being made over a song and a cocktail.
No one knows more about tunes and tech than CEO and jazz lover Eugene Plotkin. Plotkin is a lifelong fintech enthusiast whose obsession took him from investment banking at Goldman Sachs to launching his startup focused on financial literacy, TechWallet. TechWallet is revolutionizing people’s relationship to personal finance and making technological tools easier to understand than ever. Plotkin’s enjoying life as a CEO: It allows him to fuse his passions and exercise more creative freedom. It also involves a lot of building relationships and meeting with investors. This fintech juggernaut and jazz connoisseur is generously willing to share his top five favorite jazz clubs in (where else?) New York City.
Minton’s Playhouse (Harlem)
“I would have to start with Minton’s Playhouse,” Plotkin begins, “a classic and one of my go-to places to take a potential investor, especially a fellow music history buff.” Minton’s is an important cultural institution in Harlem, known as the birthplace of bebop and modern jazz. It was founded by saxophonist Henry Minton, has hosted greats like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker throughout its storied past, and now has regular Jam Thursdaze and other lively events. “I recommend first having dinner at the Cecil Steakhouse, which is also in the Cecil Hotel, and then going down for some drinks and music afterward. It feels like you’re Don Draper in the 1950s,” Plotkin says with a laugh. “I would have loved to have seen John Coltrane here but I’ll settle for current greats like Denise King. Everyone loves the energy at Minton’s; it’s never a miss. In fact, I’d say it’s required viewing.”
The Django at the Roxy Hotel (Soho)
If you’re looking for a chic, contemporary venue that feels simultaneously vintage and fresh, Plotkin humbly suggests you consider The Django under the Roxy Hotel. “What’s special about Django,” he muses, “is the unique space as well as the music.” The brick interior, high, vaulted ceilings, and red curtains will make your guest feel like they’ve stepped into 1930s Paris. “I took an investor there who said it was one of the most special performances he’d seen in New York, period,” Plotkin shares. They host contemporary acts, as well as big ones like the Grammy-nominated Mingus Big Band, who celebrate and channel the music of legendary jazz musician Charles Mingus. Just don’t forget to reserve your seat! “I’ve made that mistake before, and trust me it’s more fun to get in and see your investor’s face light up with the music than miss out on a deal and a great night,” cautions Plotkin.
Jazz at Kitano (Midtown)
If your looking for an earlier start to your night, a 7 p.m. lounge reservation is probably not the best option, but don’t worry. Plotkin recommends Jazz at Kitano in the famous Kitano Hotel. You can impress your guest with an elegant brunch at this slightly more casual spot (which also serves dinner). In addition to bloody marys and mimosas, they have both traditional and modern jazz, like Tony Middleton. “It’s a little more fusion, and you can sit close to the musicians and really see what they’re doing,” Plotkin explains, adding, “Kitano is also the perfect place to take an international or out-of-town investor who doesn’t spend that much time in New York. It’s right by Times Square and other more touristy Midtown areas where you can show them a good time.” You can also point clients to some excellent nearby shopping after your jazz-infused luncheon.
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club (Upper West Side)
Speaking of jazz clubs that are just as well known for their delicious eats, Plotkin’s next stop on his list is Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on the Upper West Side, a historic boutique venue ideal for all types of meetings and greetings. The club, which is currently closed to the public as it undergoes renovations, is known for its great music every night of the week (like the all-time sax ace George Coleman, who used to play with Herbie Hancock), Plotkin says “the food is just as amazing as the shows. They have beautiful salads and great barbecue entrees anyone will love. The atmosphere is cozy and familiar; I always feel right at home. They’re livestreaming their concert series remotely right now while they renovate, and I can’t wait to go back as soon as they reopen.”
Fun and Games
Cellar Dog (West Village)
Finally, if your potential new investor is a fan of great jazz and great games, Cellar Dog (formerly known as Fat Cat) is your spot. Plotkin says it “has lots of pool tables, table tennis, and board games. It’s a little bit more dark and divey, but for an investor who’s looking for some fun activity, or if you’re going with a group, it’s perfect.” Don’t be fooled, though; it’s not all games. Plotkin insists the live musical acts are top notch, and “it’s not just jazz; they also play Latin and rock, but it’s all excellent. I saw the jazz saxophonist Nick Biello and his quartet there. They constantly have really good newer groups like that. Just a ton of fun.”
Whether you’re a jazz lover or just looking for a great time, trying to land your first deal or catching up with a longtime partner, these classic and contemporary haunts are sure to help you impress and entertain. Who knows, maybe the inventive spirit of jazz will give you your next big idea.