Thursday, March 15, 2007

Real jazz at the Excelsior

If you’re looking for straight-ahead jazz, the kind that Bill Cosby always raved about on “The Cosby Show,” then Wednesdays at the Excelsior club is the place to be.

Charlotte’s Michael Porter’s Porterhouse outfit performed to a crowd of about 30 people on Wednesday. The small audience was appreciative and the musicians laughed and enjoyed themselves onstage.

The city has numerous smooth jazz bands who play instrumental versions of hit R&B songs, but finding bands to play traditional jazz is tough. Porterhouse played ’60s-style traditional jazz.

The crowd at the Excelsior is a bit older than what you would find at the Jazz Cafe and at other restaurants that feature jazz combos, but the music is better (I’m not a smooth jazz fan), and the atmosphere is warm.

Good happy hour at Mimosa

In one night, I had two different happy hour experiences. Both taught me the importance of asking questions and not taking no for an answer.

I’ll start with the good experience.

Mimosa Grill is my new happy hour spot. Diners filled the bar area, the booths and the patio. It was so crowded it was standing room only by 7 p.m. on the patio and at the bar.

I chose Mimosa because I heard about its $4.75 appetizer menu from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. They also have daily drink specials. L-boogie and I feasted on generous portions of mussels and calamari. The mussels were delicious, but the calamari’s breading was soft and the dipping sauce had too much mayo.

My favorite item was the $4.75 cheeseburger with Applewood bacon and sweet potato fries. The burger was seasoned well and had a tasty sauce. It was slightly over-cooked, but for $4.75, I didn’t mind washing it down with a beer. My friend ordered the chicken sandwich. She didn’t like the seasoning, and both of us loved the sweet potato fries.

Here’s why I said I learned a lesson at Mimosa. I knew about the happy hour special because I’m on Mimosa’s e-mail list. When we were seated on the patio, the waiter gave us a regular dinner menu.

When I asked about the special, he said he needed to check. He immediately returned with a happy hour menu.

He took our orders and brought the mussels and calamari out as appetizers, and then the cheeseburger and chicken sandwich as entrees.

The lesson I learned was to always ask your server about happy hour specials if you're hanging out afterwork. That was my good happy hour experience.

My bad happy hour experience occurred later Wednesday night at McCormick & Schmick's uptown.

What's your favorite after-hour happy hour spot? Post your replies below.

Bad happy hour at Mickey Schmicks

After leaving Mimosa, I dashed over to a poetry competition at the House of Jazz (Read that blog entry). Then I met some friends at Allure restaurant and lounge. Hardly anyone was at Allure, so I told four friends to go to McCormick & Schmick's for its late-night happy hour, which I’ve always said is one of the best deals in town.

Kitch and I went to the Excelsior Club for jazz night. (Read that blog entry.) After leaving the Excelsior, we met our friends at McCormick & Schmick’s. My friends said the bartender told them there weren’t any happy hour specials.

I asked the bartender, whom I recognized, what was up. He said the happy hour was from 9-10 p.m.

My friends arrived about 9:30 p.m. and said they specifically asked him about a happy hour special. He told them there wasn’t one. Next, I asked if we could order off the dinner menu. The bartender said the kitchen was closed. I didn’t think much about it, so Kitch and I walked to Madison’s for drinks.

Fifteen minutes later, one of my girlfriends calls to tell me that another couple ordered off the menu after we left Mickey Schmick. I was livid.

First off, I recommended my friends go there for the happy hour and they're told there isn’t one. Then I’m told the kitchen is closed, but another couple orders food.

I returned to speak with the manager. He apologized profusely and said the bartender should have offered us the menu since the restaurant was still serving food to other customers. He also said he didn’t understand why the bartender, who definitely wasn’t a rookie, told my friends that there wasn’t a late-night happy hour. (I have my thoughts on that.)

The manager informed me that he comped my friends' meals and offered me a complimentary meal as well to apologize for the bartender’s unwillingness to serve us food.

I appreciate the way the manager handled the situation because such bad service from the bartender left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that night.

The lesson from that experience is if you’re gut tells your that something’s not right, ask for a manager.

What's your favorite late night food spot? Post your replies below.

A hunk of black man

Don’t do crack because you might lose your children.
A hunk of black man is better than a plate of fried chicken.
If a married man says he’s waiting on the divorce to be finalized, don’t believe him.

Those are a few of the lessons I learned on Wednesday night at a V101.9/Power 98 poetry competition. More than a dozen poets (experienced and unexperienced) competed at the event, which was hosted by Charlotte slam master Bluz and held at the House of Jazz.

I was one of three people judging the poets. Several offered uplifting words about being better men and women. Others recited odes to their lovers. A handful were so bitter that one of my fellow judges said the poems read more like journal entries. I agreed, but we all applaud anyone with the guts to get in front of a microphone. It’s not easy.

The final competition is Wednesday. Registration is 6-6:45 p.m. Spoken word begins at 7 p.m. The best poets will participate in the literary cafe at For Sisters Only on April 14 at the Charlotte Merchandise Mart.

Hey, aspiring poets: I know you’re passionate about your words, but consider doing a funny poem. You will stand out. And please, please, don’t read your poem from a sheet of paper or notebook. It kills your delivery and stage presence.