BEST JAZZ CLUB/BEST RENOVATION - 2004
Our perennial winner in the "Best Jazz Club" category has strengthened its status by moving to elegant new digs in downtown Minneapolis. We actually miss the beleaguered Zinc--we loved the spacious bar, bitter Bastille cocktails and tangy lemon tarts. But now with the Dakota moving in, we feel like the movie version of Bridget Jones--getting to sleep with Hugh Grant, but ending up with Colin Firth. Moving from strength to strength, people! With the right proportion of polished wood floors to steel cables, and rich custom upholstery to artfully camouflaged ductwork, the new Dakota strikes a rare and wonderful balance between avant-garde industrial and unpretentiously plush. And our fears that the tony locale would force a change in bookings that values more highly commercial acts like Harry Connick Jr. over relatively obscure masters that jazz die-hards crave have proven to be unfounded. Ticket prices may have bumped up a little, but you can still catch glorious gigs by such unheralded gems as Bettye LaVette, or Barbara Morrison backed by Junior Mance and Houston Person, not to mention living legends like McCoy Tyner and Roy Haynes. The new space is gorgeous, with wine rack windows, tasteful, autographed portraits of jazz greats, and ceiling-to-floor curtains. But the hip, cozy new space doesn't ignore the important details that made the Dakota one of the premier jazz clubs in the country. The sound system remains impeccable, and the sight lines, which were excellent to begin with, are now superb. In many other metro areas, quality clubs like the Artists' Quarter, Brilliant Corners, and Rossi's Blue Star Room would be worthy choices in this category. But here, the Dakota has to get the nod. It remains, as poll-winning trumpeter Roy Hargove says, "the most comfortable jazz club in the world for musicians and audiences."