From Speakeasy to Findeasy: Taking it up a notch with BLU Plate
words and photos by Lia Pietrolungo
After nearly four years of jiving underground, BLU Jazz+ has “taken it up a notch” with the grand opening BLU Plate’s front door on Market Street.
“We started out as a speakeasy and we didn’t really mind that people couldn’t find us because they’d come here through a friend,” explains Tony Troppe, Creative Director and Proprietor of BLU Jazz+ and BLU Plate. “It was a speakeasy, not a findeasy. So it was really opportune for us when we started growing downstairs to take it up here and put a front door on Market Street.”
Rising from the ashes of the former 3 Point location, BLU Plate has transformed the space through the creative minds of Tony Troppe, Colin Cook, Ian Schwarber, Mike Hamad, and Mike Wyatt. The BLU Jazz Venture reflects their dedication to bringing Jazz back to Akron.
In 2003, Troppe and Cook laid out their plans to bring Jazz back to Akron. It wasn’t until ten years later that BLU Jazz+ came to fruition and opened its doors to the public. But BLU represents more than a color or a mood. “It’s an acronym,” Troppe reiterates before he announces the nightly act, “B-L-U is simply, ‘Below You,’ and that’s something that we have to do. Take it down a notch, get right down to that special groove known as Jazz.”
Getting down with Troppe and Cook’s groove is Mike Hamad, Assistant Manager at BLU Jazz and BLU Plate, and decades-old friend of Cook.
“Knowing the two of them, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to work with them both,” says Hamad. Ian Schwarber, owner of the consulting practice ALTITUDE Strategy and manager of marketing and promotional projects for Troppe (BLU Plate being one of them), shares Hamad’s excitement, as does Mike Wyatt, BLU Brand social media and marketing manager and Vice President of Talent & Events at BLU.
“After my very first walkthrough of the dirt-floored downstairs space,” Wyatt remembers, “I knew that my shared vision with Tony to bring live jazz back to Akron was something I wanted to be a part of.” Although Wyatt curates and contracts musicians for BLU from afar, he remains committed to the BLU vision.
Through full-circle hospitality and entertainment at BLU Plate and BLU Jazz+, this dynamic quintet is revitalizing Akron’s Jazz scene.
Having toured the south to understand both the culture and flavor profile of the cuisine, Colin Cook now uses his knowledge to collaborate with Executive Chef and master of all things southern spice, Lee DiEgidio, on BLU Plate’s menu. Serving up dishes such as Louisiana-style Shrimp & Crawfish Étouffée, St. Louis-style Stuffed Pork Chops and Blackened Catfish, BLU brings taste buds on an authentic tour of southern cuisine.
Sharing a speakeasy-inspired craft cocktail menu between the upstairs dining area and the downstairs club, BLU maintains historical and cultural accuracy in both their ingredients and preparation styles. From classic Sazeracs to the original Maiden Lane, BLU’s cocktail menu is resplendent with innovation and integrity.
Pairing music, cuisine and art, BLU fosters a memorable dining experience with ample room for improvisation. Mirroring restaurant traditions of the 50s and 60s, BLU’s plans to alter the menu with the addition of a daily “BLU Plate Special” through which Chef DiEgidio can demonstrate his on-the-spot creativity and mastery of cooking.
At the heart of BLU Plate’s floor plan is an elevated stage on which a Jazz pianist performs every night. Recorded and mastered by head sound engineer Joseph Scott, music from past performances downstairs at BLU are played both in the restaurant and on the patio.
In bringing the happenings of BLU upstairs, those who have yet to experience the live performances can nibble on an appetizer of the magic that the BLU stage holds. “People are going to hear this music and get this vibe that something’s going on,” Schwarber predicts, “That magic leads you in.”
Paying homage to the spearheaders of Jazz music, BLU Plate’s decor consists of powerful black and white photographs from the James R Newman Collection at Oberlin. Unique to BLU Plate, a custom-made wallpaper of old playbills and concert poster prints dating back to the 20’s hugs an accent wall.
If cuisine, music and art are the “Holy Trinity” of vegetables, then “The BLU Zone” is the gumbo in which their intricacies blend.
“When you’re in that cool, chill state of mind,” Troppe concludes, “you’re open to a whole new place of opportunities, of pleasure, of excitement, the classics, the standards we celebrate.”
In its purposeful approach to hospitality, BLU Plate proves its dedication to providing guests with Akron’s signature interconnectivity of culture and community in a revitalized, thriving Jazz scene.
Visit blujazzakron.com to find BLU Plate’s amazing menu and information on upcoming events.