By: Kalika Hastings
Tucked away in the basement of 1254 Mackay Street,the Upstairs Jazz Bar is where anyone would want to escape to and hear the sound of live Jazz any evening of the week. In the heart of downtown Montreal, its intimacy sets it apart from the nearby clamor of St. Catherine street.
“These walls have absorbed eighteen years of nightly music…You can feel the ghosts of musicians that have performed here,” said Joel Giberovitch, owner of Upstairs, proudly about the ambiance of the place.
Frequented at all times of the day, the bars welcoming atmosphere provides a venue for hungry regulars during lunchtime and for jazz lovers in the evening, or simply for anyone looking for good food and equally good music.
The menu, orchestrated by chef Juan Barros, ranges from tapas, to burgers, salads, grills and fish: something delicious for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Barros suggests a healthy plate such as fish or salad for vocalists prior to their performance. He believes a healthy diet is like exercise : “You cannot eat a big meal before you start running a marathon, take the time to digest. To be able to sing you have to treat your body the right way.”
As a culinary artist, Barros explains that the sense of freedom at Upstairs is what inspires him the most.
“The greatest thing for you to be able to express yourself through singing, writing, playing, or whatever it is, is for you to have the freedom of being able to do it,” Barros said.
It is no wonder many consider Upstairs a second home, the sense of freedom is expressed not only through the creativity of the performing artists, but also through the casual comfort and intimacy of the environment and staff. With the farthest person from the stage just forty feet away, Upstairs is all about familiarity between the vocalist and the audience.
“We are a great venue that doesn’t seat a lot of people, but we’ve got a big heart. That’s the key to our success,” said Joel Giberovitch.
The place exudes a sense of warmth with its low-ceilings and dim lighting, marked by candles reflecting off the cozy brick wall. Decorated with photographs of vocalists who have performed at the club, the ambience is inspirational to any Jazz lover.
Before a show begins, everyone is asked to turn off their cell phones, leaving the audience attentive and respectful.The quiet of the room compliments the intimate performance, allowing the musician to fully engage with the audience.
From exceptionally experienced vocalists to up-and-coming strong talent, Upstairs enthusiastically welcomes both. As a jazz bar, it shouldn’t surprise that ninety percent of the programming is pure jazz, however in recent times, the club has been experimenting with other forms of music such as their Thursday night Blues event.
“Musicians love performing here because we’ve got a great sound system, a great piano…” said Joel Giberovitch.
When a vocalist is booked, Upstairs delivers a great amount of promotion and exposure for them. Their website has has over 10,000 unique visitors every month, and their live streaming is a hit. Radio advertisements, social media announcements, and exposure to festivals such as the Montreal Jazz Fest all driven by a full time publicist, is sure to get the name out of any visiting artist.
A stay at the Upstairs Jazz Bar won’t disappoint, from the very first curious moment of walking downstairs to enter the bar, the ambiance coupled with tasty food and soulful music leaves a lasting impression.