You park in the big parking lot, past the sign that lists the parking lot rules: No cursing or loud talking. No sitting in cars. No hanging out. Go down the back stairs and enter the small door, bypassing the sign that says you must be a member or have a guest card to enter. You must sign the guest register at the bottom of the stairs, however. This is important—the stated purpose of events at the Elks Neighborhood Kitchen is to showcase this place and its unique atmosphere and history to guests. Members of the James L. Crawford Elks Lodge #322 and Daisy Chain Temple #212, I.B.P.O.E. of W., are often sitting around the bar and may engage you in conversation.
The ceiling over the bar is shiny black plastic with cylindrical red and white lights protruding—straight out the 1960s. There are also booths behind and to the left of the musicians if you want to talk, or you can sit outside on the club’s big porch. Choose a seat, and then go back up the stairs, turn left into the kitchen, place your food order with the cooks themselves, and pay. The food is reviewed on p. 52 so let me just say that the fried chicken is the best I’ve had since I left the South.
Then go back to your seat (they’ll bring the food to you), settle in, and listen to the music. Most Friday nights bring the Tim Haldeman Trio, often with players sitting in; a recent evening brought a visiting Hammond organist. The jazz concerts have the vital feel of a scene that players want to be part of. There’s live music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 6 to 10, with blues and funk sometimes as well as jazz. (Later in the evening there are dance shows with a DJ.)
Saxophonist Haldeman, an Ann Arbor native, plays straight-ahead bebop and post-bop. He studied in Chicago, where he absorbed the crucial truth, so often lost on the coasts, that forward-thinking styles of jazz rest no less than traditional ones on a blues foundation. He has a joyful attitude and a way of adapting quickly and spontaneously to the ways of the musicians who join him on stage.
On top of all this, there’s no cover except for the DJ shows; food and drinks are cheap; and the earrings of one of the regular bartenders are worth a visit all by themselves. It adds up to an unusually well-preserved slice of history, a reminder of a time when modern jazz had organic roots in African-American communities, and a fine evening on the town that’s drawing a hip crowd.