It seems that live Jazz is having its second heyday. With long-term stalwarts like Ronnie Scott’s and Vortex still standing strong, and younger venues such as NOLA and the Jazz Cafe proving unstoppably popular, it’s a fruitful time for London’s jazz scene. This could be the reason for the success of Hackney jazz bar, Kansas Smitty’s. Launched in 2015 by a group of jazz-obsessed twenty-somethings - collectively the Kansas Smitty’s House Band - the bar has gone from obscure basement hangout to one of East London’s most exciting venues in just a few short years.
Venue and Atmosphere
Past the scrubbed wood and red neon lights of Kansas Smitty’s ground floor bar - a casual drinkery perfect for people watching over Broadway Market - it’s the downstairs bar where the magic really happens. With just enough space for a handful of tables and a stage, the audience sit knee-to-knee with the performers.
Music happens five-nights a week here, with Wednesday’s Basement Tapes sessions being a chance for the House Band to show off their repertoire. Lucky for us, it’s Wednesday, and on stage tonight is Pete Horsfall, trumpeter for the House Band, accompanied by pianist Colin Goode. The duo lead us through a collection of classics from Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, and a Duke Ellington Medley, alongside a few originals from album Nighthawks, and a powerful rendition of Jimmy Rushing’s ‘Leave Me’. There’s plenty of between-song patter from Horsfall, as he manoeuvres between vocals and trumpet.
The audience are mixed bag ranging from young couples, to slightly older couples, to middle-aged couples; there’s a lot of couples. Dimly lit and and a little flirty, this is a prime date location if you’re looking to show-off how cultured and music-savvy you are.
Offering an interesting and varied drinks menu, cocktails are the order of the day at any jazz bar. With a range of classic cocktails, Kansas Smitty's serves up an eclectic array of house Juleps as well as regular monthly specials.
On the Specials Menu, Dry January is being embraced as the bar offers a number of alcohol-free options, including the curious Grass Is Always Greener (£6), which sees Seedlip 108 shaken with melon, star anise, chilli, feta water and fresh mint. I’m tempted for a moment, then remember that my January is already soaking and cannot be redeemed by the milk of a greek cheese. I opt instead for The Sherry Thought Of You (£8.50). Named for Billie Holiday’s ‘The Very Thought Of You’, I’m immediately vindicated in my decision by the flavour combinations of what is a delightful drink. Mixing Fino sherry, orange, lemon, maraschino cherry and a dusting of winter spices it’s warming and festive in flavour, the dry sherry a counterpoint to the sweetness of the orange and spices. My companion orders the El Manicero (£10), a heady combination of Doorly’s 3yo rum, dry vermouth, grapefruit, lemongrass, coriander seed, ginger. Meaning ‘peanut vendor’ in Spanish, it’s a nod to the old son cubano track, covered by Satchmo himself.
Whether you’re coming for the music or the cocktails, Kansas Smitty’s won’t disappoint. Laid back, low key and refreshingly informal, this intimate jazz bar offers a varied line-up of contemporary jazz musicians as well as a fun and relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy it. Sure, it's great for a date, but for serious jazz fans and music lovers, it's a must-visit location.