Call me cynical, but I can't recall a single, solitary example of a good jazz room that served good food in this town. Not one. As a matter of fact, I think there's an inverse relationship between them, a rule of bipolar opposition that says the better the music, the worse the food.
The syndrome didn't start with Sambuca [900 Texas Avenue, (713)224-5299], though that's certainly the venue freshest in my mind. What about those dreadful shepherd's pies lurking downstairs at the Black Labrador [4100 Montrose, (713)522-9621], the closest thing to real foodstuffs at tiny Cezanne? Some people fondly remember full meals at the now-defunct Blue Moon at Bell Park; I am not one of them. I could argue that the tradition of cool jazz and creepy chow goes all the way back to Cody's on Montrose.
You're definitely past your nightclubbing sell-by date if you can remember when Cody's was on Montrose, much less had a kitchen, but it was and it did, a kitchen as ambitious as its skyscraping view of downtown. Seriously stuffy entrées, I recall, brittle winged things of the Rock-Cornish-game-hen persuasion, doused with burgundy sauces, laid like small sacrificial offerings atop heaps of wild rice, beside broccoli lapped imaginatively with melted Velveeta.
Then Cody's scaled back the menu to a happy-hour buffet. Ugh, I remember cheddar cheese squares impaled on cellophane-frilled toothpicks. I remember sailing thin slices of stiff, greasy salami off that gorgeous rooftop terrace; we awarded extra points for pegging Kroger shoppers in the parking lot ten stories below. Maybe we got too good at that game, because food service at Cody's ceased long before the club finally went dark.
Maybe that's why the news that Scott Gertner, who reincarnated the Cody's space as his self-named Skybar [3400 Montrose, (713)520-9688] last May, is talking about food service makes me so nervous. Heck, it makes even him nervous. Cody's stage was the first place he ever performed professionally as a singer and as a jazz guitarist, he says, so he remembers that food well.
"And it's not like I know anything about food service," Gertner is quick to admit. "I don't. I didn't know anything about the bar business either, and was that ever a learning experience! I want to be very, very careful about the whole idea of evolving into a restaurant."
Gertner's starting out cautiously. "We're already offering a very light menu that a number of different local restaurants are catering for me," he explains. Gertner has fired up the happy hour again, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, complete with snacks. No one is tossing salami slices these days; instead, they're dining on Goode Co. barbecue or antipasto from La Strada.
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"I'm also serving food for weekend parties, and in our Martini Room," says Gertner. The old Cody's kitchen is still intact; with a little updating, it would do for more ambitious food prep. "Wouldn't it be wonderful to dine outdoors on that big 3,000-square-foot terrace, under the stars?" Gertner asks wistfully.
Gertner's determined to take a month off from performing on the Skybar stage to learn the food-service ropes. It's more than just a sentimental journey; it's pragmatic.
"After all, we're losing customers without food service," he says frankly. "I mean, people naturally come in later if they have to eat dinner somewhere else first. Or they leave earlier to go get breakfast after the show. Either way, it's worth a try for us to keep people here longer."
Gertner's already got good jazz. Now wish him luck with the food.