A truly great jazz club needs super sound, a stage that everybody can see, and, of course, the charm to lure the best musicians onto its stage. A world-class piano, an evocative atmosphere, and fine food and drink are the finishing touches. What follows are our picks for the five best spots to hear the blues.New Orleans
Having survived the Beatles, hip-hop, and even the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Preservation Hall reopened in April 2006 after a several-months-long hiatus. Today the hall presents much of the same traditional New Orleans jazz that it did back in 1961. There's neither food nor beverage, and seating is limited, but it's only $8 per show, so you can afford to drink and dine elsewhere in the French Quarter. 726 St. Peter Street, (504) 522-2841, www.preservationhall.com
On the ground floor of Target's headquarters, Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant serves some of the finest jazz cuisine in the U.S. Award-winning chef Jack Riebel's art goes on the plate, while Dr. John, Branford Marsalis, and bluesy artists like Marcia Ball fill the stage. The club seats 145, and the adjoining restaurant behind floor-to-ceiling curtains accommodates another 145. Restaurant patrons hear without seeing - and without paying the $5 to $40 cover. 1010 Nicollet Mall, (612) 332-1010, www.dakotacooks.com
Dimitriou's Jazz Alley Restaurant & Nightclub was started in 1979 by a former employee of D.C.'s Blues Alley, and today it presents similarly high-quality music most nights of the week. You enter from an alley in Seattle's Central Business District and pay between $22, for a local funk or R&B act, and $80, to see jazz piano giant Oscar Peterson. The club seats 350, and its menu offers a range of fresh seafood and other Pacific Northwest favorites. 2033 Sixth Avenue and Lenora, (206) 441-9729, www.jazzalley.com
The Bay Area's best jazz venue is the ultramodern Yoshi's Jazz Club & Japanese Restaurant in Oakland's Jack London Square. Every day of the year (excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day), fans enjoy topflight players like pianist McCoy Tyner and crossover star Taj Mahal as well as local acts. The restaurant serves a Japanese-style menu, and covers range from $10 for a local musician's weeknight gig to $35 for a weekend national touring act. 510 Embarcadero West, (510) 238-9200, www.yoshis.com
The nation's oldest continuing jazz supper club riffs in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C. Blues Alley opened in 1965 and has showcased the talents of Charlie "Bird" Parker, Sarah Vaughan, and a host of other jazz giants as well as current up-and-comers. Blues Alley is open seven days a week and seats 125. A cover charge of about $25 provides entry to the club's jazz and creole, steak, and seafood dinners.
1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW, (202) 337-4141, www.bluesalley.com