Shell’s Bistro

Swinging standards resonate through the walls, providing the best acoustics of any jazz spot restroom I’ve visited.  On the bluish green walls hang a couple miscellaneous pieces of art that look like they might have been found at a garage sale, but the music playing as you take care of business has class.  Though the trash can’s rusting exterior is uninviting, the toilet handle’s weighted action and sink faucet’s retro charm are agreeable.  Reach higher than usual to turn the doorknob, and step out of the restroom to come face to face with the band.

Shell's Bistro toiletShell's Bistro framed art

Shell's Bistro fancy toilet handleShell's Bistro faucet

Harlem’s newest jazz venue, Shell’s Bistro felt like an old neighborhood hang even though the demographics inside the place looked more racially diverse than outside.  Several blocks North of the main street, it didn’t seem like the venue would turn up as I walked by a deli and a school.  And yet, there it was protruding from the bottom level of a residential building, next to a possibly shuttered thrift shop.

I learned that tourists visit each Thursday, as they did the past Thursday, occupying the front half of the small restaurant.  If I were coordinating the tour, I would recommend the Village Vanguard or Smalls for the compulsory jazz component of the New York experience.  But Shell’s Bistro also checks off the Harlem category and welcomes guests with its cluttered but cozy atmosphere, reminiscent of Wally’s in Boston.  The tour group left around half past eleven, whisked away by the guide who said to the bartender as she left, “excuse me, you need some towels for the bathroom.”

The bartender was kept busy through the night, with tasks ranging from a take-out order for pie to a request to put some jazz on when the band went on break.  Instead, he put on a live recording of Sade on the television in the back corner.  I only recognized the singer with certainty because I’ve been watching her music video “When Am I Going to Make a Living? on replay last week.  The song’s message seems relevant as I continue to contemplate this paradoxical life of unemployment, reading leisure articles on my new macbook air and making plans to go eat delicious goods with friends on my iPhone 5.  Then I think about my dad growing up in developing South Korea, with nothing but tree bark to eat for sustenance.  He used to mention this when I would refuse meat, recalling wistfully the difficulties the tree bark caused for his bowel movements.

Shell's Bistro rusted trash canShell's Bistro has one bathroom.

I’d be willing to check out this place again; I’m curious about their red velvet waffle and it’s only a thirty minute walk East from where I live.  The musicians seemed friendly though leader/bassist Curtis Lundy hardly said anything during the sets except to yell out instructions to drummer Chris Beck while pianist Paul Odeh soloed.

Sunsila from Nepal tells us how to say our usual phrase in Nepali —

Ka cha toilet?