A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published February 15th 2019
and all that jazz
I was excited to recently visit Bird's Basement for the first time. It's a place I've been meaning to visit for ages, but somehow hadn't got around to it.
The iconic Bird's Basement sign
Those with some knowledge of the jazz scene in Melbourne will know that the origins of Bird's Basement lie in Birdland, the renowned New York jazz club. Birdland was the home of jazz saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker, whose nickname was - you guessed it - Bird.
As well as being a venue for 'past, present and future' music legends, Bird's Basement offers a full meal service. It also has two bars, located at each end of the rectangular room, meaning your next drink is never too far away.
One of the bars in Bird's Basement (early evening and things were still quiet)
The doors at Bird's open at 6pm Wednesday to Saturday, ahead of a 7.45pm performance. (On some nights there is also a 10.30pm 'late show' as well.) This means there is time for a leisurely meal or drink, and a chance to chat with fellow guests, before the entertainment begins. We elected to arrive at 6.30pm, and the venue was still quiet. It gave us plenty of time to sip on a cocktail ($19) while scanning the food menu.
What I liked about the menu is that there is a good range of options, ranging from light snacks, like the arancini balls (3 for $12), or the aubergine fingers ($10) to main courses including calamari with rocket and parmesan salad ($25), right through to a 350g t-bone steak ($55). The aubergine fingers made a great starter, and the scaloppine ai funghi ($32) was a generous and delicious meal.
As I previously mentioned, the venue is a rectangular shape, with the stage in the middle of one of the 'long sides' of the rectangle. To the left of the venue is an elevated area, the 'Premium B' section. The 'Premium A' section is directly in front of the stage. I mention this only because a patron's experience will vary depending on where they're located, so it's worth studying the floor plan before you purchase your tickets.
It's also worth noting that if you buy a ticket in a designated 'restaurant' area, you are required to buy food. Also, there is a minimum of $15 spend for all seated tickets.
Some thought has gone into ensuring all patrons have a view of the band, with two screens (either side of the stage) showing a live video stream of the performance.
The performance started promptly at 7.45pm. We were fortunate enough to see outstanding US drummer, Cindy Blackman Santana, performing with bassist Felix Pastorius, keyboardist Zaccai Curtis and guitarist Aurelien Budynek. Blackman Santana (married to the legendary Carlos) is described in the publicity as a 'powerhouse' drummer, and that is accurate! I snuck around to the side of the stage to take some photos, and from there, I could also observe her drumming action, her hands and the drumsticks a blur as she drummed.
Cindy Blackman Santana performing at Bird's Basement
There seemed a strong synergy and empathy between the four musicians, contributing to a compelling and fresh sound. While I found it difficult to look past Blackman Santana (such was her onstage energy and charisma), solo performances from the other musicians confirmed their outstanding musical abilities and ensured a memorable musical experience.
What I liked about Bird's Basement is that it's an intimate one-stop entertainment venue. It offers quality foods, wine (provided by attentive wait staff) and performances, all in the one place. While we saw the very talented Cindy Blackman Santana, there are other performers of a similar calibre playing in the months to come. We're already planning our return visit.
Bird's Basement is located at 11 Singers Lane, Melbourne (close to Flagstaff railway station).