Zanzibar Blue jazz club to close at the Bellevue

Zanzibar Blue, arguably the city's best-known jazz venue, plans to close April 29 after more than 10 years downstairs at the Bellevue at Broad and Walnut Streets.

Robert Bynum, who owns Zanzibar Blue with his brother, Benjamin Jr., said yesterday that the lease was up and that although he was satisfied with the building and location, "we didn't think it was in our best interests to renew. We'd rather own [our] building than lease."

He said the new lease would have nearly doubled the rent, which he declined to disclose.

The brothers also own Warmdaddy's, the blues club they moved in the fall into RiverView Plaza, across from the proposed Foxwoods Casino in South Philadelphia. That space also is leased, as was Warmdaddy's previous home on Front Street in Old City.

Zanzibar Blue's closing is a blow to Philadelphia's jazz scene, once a hotbed of national acts and audiences who packed such joints as the Blue Note, Pep's and the Showboat.

Counting Zanzibar Blue, "there were only really three clubs left," said Mark J. DeNinno, who owns Chris' Jazz Cafe, about a block away on Sansom Street. He considers Ortlieb's Jazzhaus in Northern Liberties as the third Center City-area club with a full schedule of jazz.

"We have lots of musicians in this area, and it's important they have more places to play," DeNinno said.

"I'll be sad to see it go," said Andrey Myketey, an owner of Ortlieb's, which reopened last month after renovations. Though "we are in the same game . . . their jazz is a little more refined, more upscale. Ours is a little more on the raw side."

Zanzibar Blue began in 1990 in a storefront on 11th Street between Spruce and Pine. Seizing on the impending development of the Avenue of the Arts, it moved into the Bellevue in late 1996, replacing a watering hole named Mick's.

It's unclear where the national acts will play, though some have moved out of clubs and into larger venues such as the Kimmel Center and Glenside's Keswick Theater. Zanzibar Blue, which as a larger club could afford bigger names, drew such people as Lou Rawls, Chick Corea and Chuck Mangione.

Among performers in Zanzibar Blue's final weeks will be pianist Alex Bugnon and vocalist Melissa Walker. The club's last jazz brunch on April 29 will feature Tony Grandberry. That night's entertainment will be the Webb Thomas Project with Michelle Beckman.

Smooth-jazz station WJJZ-FM had broadcast Sunday jazz brunches from the club. A new venue has not been decided, said Michael Tozzi, WJJZ's program director.


Contact staff writer Michael Klein

at 215-854-5514 or mklein@phillynews.com.