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’s is alive. Drummer and Marina resident Martin Diller is leading a tight quartet, and at least half the enthusiastic crowd looks as if they came directly from an Instagram fashion shoot.

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

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

The club is open Wednesday through Saturday with three sets from the same headliner Wednesdays and Thursdays and a pair 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 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. sets on Friday, Jan. 27.)

There are three distinct types of Tipple’s clientele, with a bit of overlap: Some come in 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 led a quintet that performed standards, as well as lesser known compositions such as “Subconscious Lee” by Lee Konitz, in front of patrons enjoying dates, celebrating a birthday and just taking in the group’s terrific interplay and inspired solos.

“It’s a super-fun place to play because Jay lets you stretch out a lot on the bandstand,” remarked Knudson, a resident of Oakland’s Grand Lake Neighborhood, in between the second and third sets. “He doesn’t dictate what the music should be, and the crowds are 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 tech cliché. In 2016, Bordeleau was opening Cadence, a restaurant on the front end of the property, and “(t)he space was great. It was just too big,” he remembered. “We needed 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 outlasting the main businesses. (The front space was sublet to a sports bar and is now vacant.)

Coming out of lockdown, Bordeleau added a cover fee that goes directly to the musicians and supplements the cash and digitally transferred contributions audience members make 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 innately shareable. And it doesn’t take up a lot of table space like pizza,” he pointed out. “We realize we’re not an authentic Chinese restaurant and just try to put our spin on dishes,” including members of the kitchen staff suggesting adding chipotle to hoisin sauce for an extra kick.

Coming up at Mr. Tipple’s is multi-reed specialist Steven Lugerner, bringing his compelling SLUGish ensemble for the first two sets this Saturday. The group’s atypical instrumentation is intriguing, with the bandleader switching between bass clarinet and bass saxophone and his bandmates playing guitar, keyboard, piano, bass guitar/upright bass and drums.

“I’m highly influenced by minimalist music, particularly 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” may 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 sort of blending jazz and instrumental music with the indie rock side of things, for lack of a better term.

Also coming to Mr. Tipples is the James Mahone Quartet. As a member of the 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 gigging in New York and Japan, he’s been in Oakland’s Ivy Hill neighborhood for the past 10 years and splits time between family, teaching, composing and performing live.

“I love that spot. 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 in advance of his Thursday, Feb. 2 date.

“It’s hard for me to really get super-energetic until the second set, going to the third set. So I’ll tend to keep it kind of mellow, at first, just to kind of warm up and stretch out. We won’t be doing anything crazy at first,” he replied, when asked about how he approaches programming and performing three different setlists in a single night.

“Then as the night progresses, you start to hear when the band is starting to hum. I feel like if I can get the musicians in a good place, then the audience responds. The cats that I get are all fantastic musicians, so it’s hard not to pay attention.”

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