Mr. Tipple’s is the platonic ideal of a jazz club and bar/restaurant

It’s the first Thursday of 2023, the early storms of the new year have temporarily subsided, and the late set at Mr. Tipple is alive. Drummer and Marina resident Martin Diller leads a tight quartet, and at least half the enthusiastic crowd looks like they came straight from an Instagram fashion shoot.

“Tipple’s has become one of the most important clubs here in San Francisco,” Diller told The Examiner at the end of the night. “You can count on a good crowd of people listening. But then there’s also a lot of people who might be new to jazz and it might even be their first jazz show. It just has a great vibe and energy that makes it attractive to the new audience as well.”

Located on Fell Street between Van Ness and Polk, Mr. Tipple’s is about half a block from Twitter headquarters. With its simple yet elegant design, it is the platonic ideal for a jazz club, cocktail bar and restaurant. But from its alcohol-free CBD cocktails to its tip-free pre-calculated gratuity policy to its inviting unisex restrooms, it’s also very “now.”

The club is open Wednesday to Saturday with three sets from the same headliner on Wednesdays and Thursdays and a couple of sets from two separate ones on Fridays and Saturdays. Founder, general manager and talent booker Jay Bordeleau draws from the Bay Area’s extensive talent base to program shows and occasionally brings in touring artists such as trumpeter and former local Eddie Henderson or saxophonist Jon Irabagon. (Drummer and San José native Sylvia Cuenca leads her band for the 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. sets on Friday, January 27.)

There are three distinct types of Tipple’s clientele, with some overlap: some come for the music, others for the expertly crafted and carefully poured drinks, and a third group for the dumplings, bao and clay pot rice. Last Wednesday, alto saxophonist Kasey Knudson fronted a quintet that performed standards, as well as lesser-known compositions like “Subconscious Lee” by Lee Konitz, in front of patrons enjoying dates, celebrating a birthday and just taking in the group’s amazing interplay and inspired solos.

“It’s a super fun place to play because Jay lets you stretch out in the stands a lot,” noted Knudson, who lives in Oakland’s Grand Lake Neighborhood, between the second and third sets. “He doesn’t dictate what the music should be, and the audience is always good. The food is good and the drinks are good, so it’s kind of a perfect situation.”

Mr. Tipple’s is an example of a bug becoming the feature, to remix a technical cliché. In 2016, Bordeleau opened Cadence, a restaurant at the front of the property, and “(the space) was amazing. It was just too big,” he recalled. “We had to do something with what was basically a square-foot killer in the back.”

So a cocktail bar with live music was created and Mr. Tipple’s ended up outliving the main businesses. (The front room was sublet to a sports bar and is now vacant.)

Coming out of lockdown, Bordeleau added a cover charge that goes directly to the musicians and supplements the cash and digitally transferred contributions made by the audience throughout the night. The Chinese cuisine, which has become as much of a club signature as sushi is at Yoshi’s, was an inspired choice.

“Dim sum and dumplings are fun, flavorful, and inherently shareable. And they don’t take up as much table space as pizza,” he pointed out. “We realize we’re not an authentic Chinese restaurant, and we’re just trying to put our spin on dishes,” including members of the kitchen staff who suggest adding chipotle to hoisin sauce for an extra kick.

At Mr. Tipple comes multi-reed specialist Steven Lugerner, who brings his convincing SLUGish ensemble to the first two sets this Saturday. The group’s atypical instrumentation is exciting, with the bandmaster switching between bass clarinet and bass saxophone and his bandmates playing guitar, keyboard, piano, bass guitar/upright bass and drums.

“I’m heavily influenced by minimalist music, especially the work of Steve Reich and Philip Glass,” said Lugerner, by phone from his home at the intersection of Nob Hill and Chinatown. Growing up in Burlingame, he started on classical clarinet before switching to saxophone and being introduced to jazz in high school.

“SLUGish Ensemble is basically a vehicle for my original music and arrangements of songs by certain pop and indie rock bands that I really enjoy,” he added. (Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” can be performed, he teased.) “If you look at the trajectory of modern jazz, you’ll find hip-hop as a prominent influence. I’m more interested in mixing jazz and instrumental music with the indie rock side of ​​the things, for lack of a better term.

The James Mahone Quartet also comes to Mr. Tipples. As a member of Southern California-based Generation X jazz super-group Black/Note, alto saxophonist James Mahone was already a presence on the post-Young Lions 1990s scene when he was in his twenties. After living and performing in New York and Japan, he has been based in Oakland’s Ivy Hill neighborhood for the past 10 years, dividing his time between family, teaching, composing and performing live.

“I love that place. I’ve played there a few times so I’m really looking forward to hitting Mr. Tipple’s again,” he said in a recent interview ahead of his date on Thursday, February 2.

“It’s hard for me to really get super energized until the second set, when I go to the third set. So I tend to keep it a little soft at first, just to warm up and stretch out. We’re not doing anything crazy at first,” he replied when asked how he approaches programming and performing for three different set lists in a single night.

“As the night progresses, you start to hear when the band starts humming. I feel that if I can get the musicians to a good place, the audience responds. The cats I get are all amazing musicians, so it’s hard not to pay attention.”