Reed's Jazz and Supper Club: Hail and Farewell
Christmas is a mean season in the restaurant business; it's when the landlords raise the rent.
Reed's closed two weeks ago, on a Tuesday. On the Monday I was at the bar, talking to the friends I've made there over the years, and enjoying a perfect Imperia Vodka martini (up, dry, shaken, with a twist. As it should be.) The next afternoon there was a little sign on the door with the bad news. I saw the whole show; I was at the soft opening the day before Reed (yes, Virginia, there is a Reed) opened the club to the public; I had a drink at the bar on the last night, and I spent many happy afternoons there in between.
Reed's was special in lots of ways. The food was great, the staff was great, the location was great, and the decor was great. But there are other places with those advantages; three things about Reed's really made it stand out for me.
First was the music. Reed's was, as its name advertised, a Jazz club. They're rare everywhere these days, but especially so in Texas. There's only one other good Jazz club in Austin; it's called the Elephant Room. The music at the Elephant Room is first-class, but the club is impractically far away from my house - and there's another thing, too.
A great Jazz club is special because of the music, but also because of the crowd. The crowd can dance, to start with. The crowd tends to drink martinis, and wouldn't dream of ordering a Jagerbomb. The crowd is, to put it bluntly, a little older than the average bar crowd. The crowd has fewer tattoos than the usual bar crowd, but the ones it does have come with interesting stories. Most everyone in the crowd, in fact, comes with an interesting story or two.
And that was the second really special thing about Reed's: it made people tell their stories. The bar was what did the trick. It wasn't a long, straight wooden bar like the ones you'll find at a thousand faux Irish pubs all over the world (and at the real Irish pubs - the ones in Ireland - too). Reed's bar was an enormous stone bar, built like a ratcheted gear. It curved all the way around the ground floor - the bartenders inside a continuous, smooth, concave curve and the customers outside on stools around a series of curved sections like shark's fins laid on their sides one after another.
You couldn't sit side-by-your-neighbor's-side staring sorrowfully into your drink at Reed's bar. The curve and the notches made you look at your fellow man; the martinis helped you get over your shyness and talk to him, and the jazz gave you something to start the conversation with. Strangers talked to each other all the time, and if they kept coming back (which a lot of them did) they became friends.
The third thing that made Reed's special was the light. In the afternoons the sun poured in through the frosted windows and filled the whole place with warm gold light. The lamps - inverted cones hanging from the ceiling above the bar - showered pools of the same gold light onto the drinks and the customers. And the mirrors behind the bar picked up all of this gold and threw it out into the dining room.
The light begged to be photographed. I took thousands of pictures at Reed's. Some of them ended up on the CD covers of the bands who played there; others hung on the walls in the dining room in big 20x24 editions, and still others filled a 2006 calendar I made for the staff and the regular customers. The ones I'm proudest of are hanging in 8x10 frames on the walls of the mothers of the bartenders and waitressess and hostesses.
From time to time I'd ask permission to post a particularly good one on flickr; you can see a slideshow of them here.
The Buddha taught me that the cause of my suffering is attachment to things that change - so I won't mourn the passing of Reed's Jazz and Supper Club. But I will remember. Thanks, Reed, for the memories.