Compared with New York City, which teems with jazz clubs and musicians, L.A. is relatively dry. Luckily, the City of Angels' few serious jazz venues make up for that. For those who want mojitos and steak at a table with their sweetheart while watching Joshua Redman blow his sax, there's the pricey Catalina Bar & Grill. For the younger, hipper jazz heads, Café Metropol offers a trendier vibe, with good food and Rocco Somazzi's lineups. But for the true jazz fans, the ones who roll up to buy a ticket 10 minutes before the show and prefer to nurse a glass of wine while they listen — but don't want to change out of their corduroys and Crocs — the Jazz Bakery stands out as L.A.'s most classic, consistent venue. Nonprofit, open every night of the week, with free parking, $15 student tickets for any show, and a free second set if there's room, the Jazz Bakery is the best of L.A.: cool, casual and comfortable, in one simple, modest room.
When the Bakery opened 16 years ago, founder Ruth Price hoped to create a space that would feature local jazz talents. While the venue is now a place we can count on to see the most prominent jazz cats as they pass through the city, it continues to feature young talents. And the Bakery audience is there to listen. After the show, musicians mingle with the guests over plastic flutes of champagne. No digital-camera flashes or rude whispers, and no waiters interrupting you during the drum solo to remind you of a two-drink minimum. Pick up a hot cup of coffee before the show to keep you happy until you dance your way across the street to the new Father's Office for sweet-potato fries and a pint.
—Erica Zora Wrightson