The jazz club on the hill in Grosse Pointe will be one year older this week. Eleven years ago it was nudged into being by Gretchen Valade with a little help from her friends. Today it is a fixture in metro Detroit’s very alive jazz community. It is a destination for jazz fans, gourmets, revelers and folks with birthdays / anniversaries to celebrate. It is a feather in the cap and a step up the ladder for many local, national and international jazz artists. This upstart venue is now recognized as one of the best jazz clubs in the world. How did this happen? It probably didn’t seem like a good idea considering the economic climate at the time.
The whole world was beginning to experience an economic tsunami in 2008. In our corner of Michigan there was little traffic on the roads and even less traffic in upscale stores or restaurants. For most of us the mention of the year 2008 still sends chills up our spine. It was exactly at this moment in one of the hardest hit places in the world that the idea of a creating a jazz club in an upscale neighborhood was born. How it came about is such a good but sort of crazy Detroit story.
THE STORY OF THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
If you have been to the Dirty Dog you already know how the story ends. Most jazz artists proclaim that this is the best jazz club in the country and perhaps in the world. Customers try to keep it a secret so that they will find a place at a table or a seat at the bar the next time they come. It has become a symbol of excellence in the delivery of music, food, service and smiles.
In 2019, after 11 years of respecting both the musicians and everyone who comes in the door they have established a refuge for kindred spirits. Here in a posh neighborhood where they consider a 60 foot elevation a hill sits a giant magnet bringing in all kinds of folks to hear America’s music, jazz. With its humble roots jazz still has the power to inform our souls. It has complexity and intensity and its appeal is growing. Jazz is uniquely expansive, difficult to play and it thrives in the hearts of the curious.
The Dirty Dog Jazz Café remains the home for those seeking good jazz and good ideas.
DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ’S FIRST MENU FEBRUARY 13, 2008
So where did the DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFE get its name? Is there a deep meaning behind the name?. Is there an underdog story here? Probably the only honest answer will come from knowing proprietor Gretchen Valade and understanding that her response to such a silly question would be, “Why not?”.
The Dirty Dog required a lot of “why nots” on its journey to success. For many people the very existence of a jazz club on the Hill in Grosse Pointe would be considered a long shot. However, Gretchen Valade had a conviction that everything is possible. Let’s just do it! With limited space but with unlimited will, Gretchen gathered the people necessary to create one of the world’s great spaces to hear jazz. It would be the best! And so it was built with first class acoustics, warm lighting, a great kitchen, and good sight lines for the guests, along with a green room for the musicians. Oh, and while they were at it, they included a meeting/waiting room.
Andre Neimanis Willie Jones
In 2008 Gretchen Valade had to decide what to do with a piece of property. She checked in with a friend, Tom Robinson, who was helping her with some construction and shared Gretchen’s interest in music. Sometimes they wrote music together. No one remembers Tom saying, “Start a jazz club.” No one did. Gretchen, however, didn’t hesitate to fulfill her passion to have her favorite music just down the street. She thought about the possibility of having her empty building serve good food and good jazz. Her answer was, “Why not?”. Gretchen as usual thought about what it would mean for others. This directive continues to keep the Dirty Dog moving in a positive direction. Tom has made Gretchen’s ideas work. Tom took care of all the how tos while Gretchen concentrated on the why nots, like why not give a jazz joint an English pub feel? Against all odds with trust and patience they have together stumbled on a pretty good plan.
Gretchen and Tom began their task of converting a toy store into a jazz club. Construction was started and the job of assembling the right people began.
Success sometimes comes to those who just stumble on it.
Gretchen , once she had the vision for her place, had to make some key hires. She didn’t waste time. Why not get her favorite sous chef from down the street, Andre Neimanis. With Andre on board she would need someone to run the front of the house. Andre had recently worked with a pretty square guy for only two days. Those two days were enough, and Willie Jones, one of the city’s most respected restaurant managers, soon got the call to come and talk to two people who had a dream.
He remembers his meeting well. Gretchen, hoping to give the project credibility, asked Willie if he knew about Mack Avenue. He thought that this was a curious question. He lived close to Mack Avenue. He said, “Of course I do.” Gretchen was referring to her jazz label, Mack Avenue Records and liked the answer. He was hired. Trying to find common ground, they found a common road. They have stayed on track ever since.
One of the first hires and one of the first persons that you might meet at the Dirty Dog is the guy behind the bar, Carl Williams.
Carl has an ability to size people up. Long before the internet and government surveillance there was Carl, someone who somehow seems to know a lot about you and your needs. He soaks up info with a glance. He senses when to be there and when not to be. He knows when you need to be understood. When your spirit needs a boost, serious Carl becomes Carl with a smile. Not just any smile. A Carl smile. It can make your day.
Carl can keep a secret and he can share a story. He can listen, and he can appropriately disappear. Carl tends a great bar, keeps the supplies up to date, buses and serves when needed as part of the great Dirty Dog team.
THE PRINCIPLES THE PRINCIPALS FOLLOWED
Do it really well
Respect the music
Treat everyone with dignity
Enjoy the experience
Maybe they knew what they were doing
Throughout the life of the Café, Gretchen’s good natured spirit has guided the management, the staff and the music. Decency, listening and sharing have always been the bulwarks of jazz. Using these strengths the Dirty Dog Jazz Café has becoming possibly the greatest jazz club in the world.
COMING THIS WEEK TO THE DIRTY DOG
February 13 – 16
What a pleasure it is to watch Detroit’s young jazz artists come into their own. Anthony has become familiar to anyone that frequents the Dirty Dog. He seems to be on everyone’s go to list. He will be bringing his trumpet, his ideas and his pure sound for four days this week.