All That Jazz – Gulfshore Life
While dining is an experience at many of the area’s fine dining restaurants, some places are stepping up a gear by engaging all five senses. In these meeting places of the empires of hospitality, live jazz, piano, country or blues are the main course, with dinner and a show under a marquee.
The London Club, Naples
Entering through a hallway adorned with a cheeky Princess Diana installation at the London Club at Bellasera Resort, diners feel like they’ve stepped into a big city underground jazz club. U-shaped high-back booths along the back wall provide a sense of privacy, while rows of tables are positioned closer to the stage where a red velvet curtain serves as a backdrop. The room is decorated with metal suspensions and mirrors with golden frames. “We wanted a look that wasn’t the Naples stereotype,” says Peter Tierney, owner of Bellasera with his business partner, Dr Bud Negley.
The London Club, which opened in 2019, is both a dining experience and a jazz club, offering two evening seats, each featuring different musicians, such as renowned jazz singers Carter Calvert and the composer Neil Berg and Broadway talents Danny Zolli and Alex Santoriello. The acoustics have been methodically planned. “We put a lot of effort into the design, placing the stage in the middle of the room and balancing the sound so that very little amplification was needed,” Tierney explains. To accompany the night’s live music, tours of chilled lobster, Gulf shrimp, and east and west coast oysters are taken upstairs to Claw Bar, Bellasera’s elegant seafood restaurant. Nearly 30 wines are served by the glass, including Reverie Hall, Tierney’s house-brand cabernet franc rosé produced in Mendoza, Argentina.
Ben Allen’s backyard grill & Pub, Naples
When Ben Allen made the top five of season 19 of The voice, NBC’s popular song contest, the rest of the country discovered a talent that many locals already knew, including Todd Brooks. The restaurateur met Allen shortly after founding Brooks Burgers in 2010. “He was singing in a cabana bar and I tracked him down to perform in our restaurants,” says Brooks. In June, their ten-year friendship turned into a business partnership with the rebranding of the location from Brooks Burgers in East Naples to Ben Allen’s Backyard, combining knowledge of men’s restaurants with a sense of entertainment.
As The Club Room and London Club become jazzy and sultry, Ben Allen’s Backyard is pure American fun and laid back. The outdoor space is anchored by a stage, surrounded by bistro lights, foyer tables and a bar. A second stage is located inside the restaurant and a built-in audiovisual system allows music lovers to see and hear the action wherever they are seated. The menu includes eight of Brooks’ most popular burgers, comfort food from scratch, 24 draft beers and even more whiskeys, some of which are mixed with decadent milkshakes.
Allen plans to take the stage several times a year and Brooks says, “You never know when he might stop. Even on a Monday when the mike is open. Allen recently shared the stage with songwriters Gary Hannan and Wynn Varble, who wrote hits for country superstars Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson and Brad Paisley. He also courted the other competitors of The voice to come and play informal acoustic sets and energetic concerts in his “backyard”.
The Barrel Room, Fort Myers
When Steve Hollister and his wife, Denise, opened Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers 10 years ago, “all the jazz and blues venues here were gone,” he recalls. The couple traveled to festivals across the country to get their fix of music, making friends with musicians along the way. With The Barrel Room opening five years ago, in the space adjacent to Twisted Vine, these friendships have proven essential in ensuring that award-winning talents like guitarist Brandon Miller and native blues star Crystal Shawanda, stop to play in Miami and Tampa. .
The design of The Barrel Room is inspired by clubs in Chicago, Memphis and Nashville. Reclaimed barn wood covers the walls while hammered copper covers the bar. The stage is warm, the lighting is dim and there is just enough space between the tables for dancing. Friday and Saturday evenings are dedicated to blues groups; jazz is in the spotlight on Wednesdays, Thursdays and at Sunday brunch.
In season, the kitchen reopens with a focus on shareable plates; until then, Twisted Vine’s full menu is served until midnight most evenings. And that’s a good thing, considering the bar has one of the largest selections of small-batch spirits in Fort Myers, including around 60 whiskeys and bourbons, as well as cask-aged cocktails.
The Club room in Campiello, Naples
For 22 years, diners have been drawn to Campiello’s Tuscan-inspired courtyard on Third Street South for sophisticated Italian cuisine. In 2020, after acquiring a neighboring space to increase the seating capacity and ambiance inside the restaurant, owner Richard D’Amico added another element: live entertainment.
Campiello’s Club Room, which debuted last season, carries on the Italian swagger of its parent restaurant. The walls are finished in eggshellplant in Venetian plaster, accented by moss, gold leaf trim, reclaimed wood ceiling, and black and white checkerboard flooring. A curtain of light bubbles hangs behind the small stage, where nightly live music was conducted during the inaugural season by acclaimed jazz pianist and recording artist Benny Weinbeck. Special guest singers may include Emily Wade Adams, Rebecca Richardson, and Vanessa Trouble. “We envisioned this space as a melodic oasis from the jazz era,” explains D’Amico.
The menu features Campiello classics as well as a rotation of modern plates created especially for The Club Room, which is slated to reopen in January. After dinner, waiters are known to roll out the Cart del Salone, filled with premium spirits and liquors, for an elegant finish.