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Live music returns to Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe

The Grosse Pointe Farms club reopened last week with lower capacity and social distancing and sanitary measures to protect guests, staff and musicians

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

As activities like visiting museums and water parks slowly become available again during the ongoing pandemic, live music remains one of the last things to resurface.

Most large concerts won't return until 2021, but some small clubs that are also restaurants can be open and host live musicians. The Dirty Dog Jazz Club in Grosse Pointe Farms is one of the first venues in Metro Detroit gingerly and cautiously bringing back live entertainment, along with cocktails and dinner. 

Playing (from left) guitarist Matt Callaway of Monroe, keyboardist Derrick Benford of Detroit, drummer and band founder Gene Dunlap of Southfield, saxophonist Nick Stone of Dearborn and bassist Carl Holmes of Detroit perform behind clear plexiglass screens to a mostly empty Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe Farms on Thursday, July 9, 2020.

The seating is spaced out and hand sanitizer is prevalent. A Plexiglas barrier runs along the length of the bar to separate the staff from the guests on one of six bar stools. Guests can view the dinner and drink offerings on their phones rather than handling paper menus.

There is also clear plastic on the stage for the musicians that require it. (You just can't play the saxophone with a mask on.) 

Live jazz returned to the stage of the small, intimate venue last week on July 8 with drummer and bandleader Gene Dunlap and his combo. This week, the performances continue with pianist and singer Alvin Wattles, who plays the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller. Jazz guitarist Ron English and his quartet are the house band each Tuesday as well. 

Playing (from left) keyboards Derrick Benford of Detroit, guitarist Matt Callaway of Monroe, drummer and band founder Gene Dunlap of Southfield, saxophonist Nick Stone of Dearborn and bassist Carl Holmes of Detroit perform at The Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe Farms on Thursday, July 9, 2020.

"Wednesday night a lot of the regulars decided to get back into the restaurant and it felt good to be back to semi-normal," said Dirty Dog manager Willie Jones of last week's first set. He said the restaurant has been serving carryout meals for the past few weeks, but it's really about what happens inside the club. 

"We are really known for our live jazz," he said. "We have a great culinary team, we have an amazing menu that we've scaled back since we reopened, but we are known for jazz." 

Jones said the abbreviated menu has entrees like Kobe meatloaf, chicken Marsala, vegetable stir fry, filet mignon and the most popular item, chicken and waffles. 

The best way to get a reservation is to call the club, but Jones also said "do not hesitate" to just drop by if you're in the mood as they may have space available. The club has also added six tables outside where the musicians can't be seen but they can be heard through outdoor speakers. 

The Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe Farms restaurant and jazz club is a haven for local jazz players. The Dirty Dog brought back live music this week with sets by jazz and R&B artist Gene Dunlap. More performances are booked through July.

The Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, which is owned by philanthropist and Detroit Jazz Festival chair Gretchen Valade, is one of the few places jazz musicians can get a job right now with the pandemic shutting down venues, casinos and tours. 

"They can't tour, it's hard to get gigs because there's no consistency," said Jones. "We're fortunate enough that we fit that mold, capacity is cut in half, but we're allowed to offer jazz and we've been so happy to get the bands back to work, the staff back to work and give the community a place where they can enjoy great food, jazz and great spirits."

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe

97 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Farms

(313) 882-5299 or dirtydogjazz.com

$15 charge for Fri. and Sat. seatings, otherwise no cover

Alvin Waddles, 7-8:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.

Ron English, 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays

Nate Winn, 7-8:30 p.m. July 22-25

Detroit Jazzfest All-Stars, 7-8:30 p.m. July 29-Aug. 1