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Jazz & Martini Fridays at Cafe Waldorf, Reading PA
In the same city as Berks Jazzfest
The Café Waldorf is tucked in the corner of N. Sixth and Oley Streets in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania. This immaculate, comfortable restaurant serves beef, seafood, and chicken dishes and has gained a following for its reasonable prices. It is in the city and neither in the best nor the worst section. Mitigating the location, Café Waldorf has the rare bonus feature of its own well-lit and maintained parking lot. Once inside, one experiences a mild nautical theme in the street level dining rooms and full-service bar. However, to me the draw is the restaurant’s second floor.
Atmosphere from the past
To get upstairs, one must open a heavy door of etched glass. This door served to keep smoke from the former cigar bar upstairs seeping into the non-smoking dining rooms below. (Smoking is no longer permitted upstairs.) As the building is over one hundred twenty-five years old, the door’s décor is in keeping with the turn-of-the-century interior woodwork. One walks up a carpeted staircase with wooden banisters as thick as my forearm. Polished moldings provide a warm ambience. Every doorway and pass-through is surrounded by at least four inches of gorgeous moulding, interrupted by ornamental corner blocks with etched circle. Above old-fashioned wallpaper rests stately crown moulding. Thick red-brocaded window swags complement the even thicker milles fleurs rust-hued carpeting.
Swags, Steins, and Glorious Woodwork
Two rooms, about 15 by 18 feet, bookend the upstairs see-through galley “Martini Bar.” Nick, the ever- faithful upstairs bartender, presides. He is the Master of Martinis. Always wearing a tie, Nick is fit, stylish, and friendly. Furthermore, he is very composed under pressure, which pressure includes running downstairs frequently to procure an aged scotch or a new bottle of Cabernet. All the fixings for martinis, however, are at hand. Therefore, patrons who want the trendy drinks gravitate upstairs and they enjoy the concoctions he creates.
On one side of the bar in the first room at the top of the staircase, one finds a comfortable gathering place with two tables for four. At one corner is the locked door of the former cigar stand. Then, extending beyond the see-through portion, the long bar continues down most of the long wall. Guests can mingle, or go to the eight-foot wide opening to chat with Nick and look through to the other room with the entertainment.
Lounge and Listen
The room to which my autopilot guides me is the other: the music room. Both upstairs rooms are treated to the tunes, but this is the one with the musicians. Two or three high-backed stools kiss the bar and the rest of the room is furnished with a cushy stuffed leather sofa and three easy chairs. (The obligatory sports TV also occupies a low spot but blessedly is always fully muted.) The room’s lighting is darkened to jazz club duskiness with only two Victorian fringe-shaded lamps. Window shades are drawn, the radiators are quiet, and the music is hot. On Friday nights a music duo occupies a corner. Friday night is live Jazz Night.
They take requests
Friday Jazz Night always features a duo. Any combination of local and talented guitarists, keyboard players, sax, bass and others appear. Generally, they perform from 8:00 until 11:00 PM. Downstairs restaurant patrons wander up and a grand time is had by all. The first time I went to a Friday Jazz Night, a sax and guitarist were performing. Then, another sax player sat in. A little later, a trumpeter from a local college joined the fray. One never knows what to expect. And, by the way, there is no cover charge.
A lively spot worth experiencing on a Friday night.
A Meal and a Music Deal
I recommend that locals and musicians give the Café Waldorf a try. It is not the ordinary corner restaurant – it is an experience.
Photos and text copyright 2011 Maren Morgan