Neighborhood Gems

Neighborhood Gems: BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups

“Music is the common bond of all people, and if there’s one thing that’s been our crowning glory, it’s that the community is diverse and the music brings everyone together,” says John May, partner of BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups, a popular downtown music club and restaurant. And it’s true— when you walk into BB’s, it just feels good. The crowd is a mix of ages and races. Some happily dig into a plate of house-smoked ribs, while others come dressed up for a night on the town. The energy is palpable; the beer, cheap; the bartenders, friendly; the music, hot.

Originally founded in 1976, BB’s is named for co-founder Bob Burkhardt, who also founded Broadway Oyster Bar and numerous other local nightlife destinations. BB’s has closed and opened a few times in its history, but has been going strong in its current incarnation since 1996. One thing that’s remained constant over the years: a dedication to St. Louis’ musical roots. “BB’s was always about the music of St. Louis, particularly blues and jazz and all the other indigenous genres, such as rhythm and blues, and even gospel,” May says. The lounge books primarily local acts, but legends, both local and national, have played on its stage.

Different nights of the week usually showcase different genres. Mondays are for jazz, which can include everything from traditional and big band jazz to New Orleans jazz, May says, while Sundays and Tuesdays usually offer more modern acts. “It’s been seven days a week, 365 days a year generating the best music we can provide out of the city,” he says. “We’ve made it a real home for the music community here. It’s honest music, and it never goes out of style.”

The building where BB’s is located has its own colorful history, and its atmosphere contributes a lot to the establishment’s charm. Built in the 1800s, it’s been used as a home, boarding house, reception hall, mercantile, millinary, diner and even a brothel. Future plans include adding a music walk of fame to BB’s outdoor perimeter to honor groundbreaking St. Louis musicians, May says.

Although BB’s now offers a full menu, soups remain a mainstay, with different varieties made fresh daily. “At the very beginning, there wasn’t a kitchen,” May explains. “With the Soulard market nearby, there was a wealth of day-old bread and vegetables you could get cheaply to make great, hearty soups. The clientele wasn’t the Ritz—it was next to the railroad tracks. This allowed them to have a hearty meal without having to leave BB’s, because there was no fast food and very little delivery in the ’70s, when it first opened.”

BB’s has a relationship with the National Blues Museum, set to open in early April, says May, who is on the museum’s board. “We’ve done events to raise awareness about the museum, and we’ll be doing a series of events before, during and after,” he notes, adding that St. Louis is the perfect location for the prestigious museum. “There has been a huge resurgence of awareness about the importance of blues music, and St. Louis certainly has been huge in its history because of its location—we’ve got rivers, railroads, everything, right here.”

when » 6 p.m.-3 a.m. daily
where » 700 S. Broadway
why » To listen to top blues and jazz acts and sample barbecue, Cajun and Creole food

Photo courtesy of BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups