Jay's on Read hits all the right notes.
Mount Vernon's new piano bar opened about a month ago and is already getting a warm response from the neighborhood. The place definitely deserves it.
"People came, liked it, and brought their friends back," said owner Jay LaMont. "It's growing, and the reaction's good."
Last Saturday night, Jay's, which holds 75, was comfortably full by 11 p.m. A sharp-dressed doorman checked our IDs and let us in. There's no cover charge, which makes up for the semi-expensive drink menu. This kind of place could easily charge $5 or $10 at the door.
A 14-ounce Samuel Adams Oktoberfest served in a tall, thin glass and a gin and tonic came to $10.50, which is pricey, but you're paying for the decor - where Jay's appears to spare little expense.
Leather chairs make up pretty much all the seating inside - even at the bar - and everything is done in wood and brick. Jay's has an elegant, cozy feel and a 1950s atmosphere but doesn't seem dated. And where some high-end bars such as the Havana Club can seem pretentious at times, Jay's is warm and friendly.
Saturday, my girlfriend and two women by the bar were the only females in the place. Gay men made up most of the rest of the crowd. LaMont said that while he's gotten a great response from the gay community, Jay's is not strictly a gay bar. He said he hopes to attract a larger, more mixed crowd in the coming months as theater- and symphonygoers discover the place.
One of the other women there Saturday night was Kendra Holt, one of a couple of resident pianists. She got up on the slightly elevated stage, sat down at the Mason & Hamlin piano and launched into America's "Horse With No Name." The ebony baby grand was made in 1929 and had a rich sound that filled the bar without much amplification.
Holt's voice was a little husky, but it suited the place. You could tell she's had plenty of experience in this kind of venue. She also played some Elton John and, at my girlfriend's request, Van Morrison's "Moondance." She kept the solid performance at a good conversation level, which meant we could still talk and enjoy the tunes.
Jay's doesn't offer food, but a server brought over some Chex mix in a bowl, which quenched our snack cravings well enough.
LaMont said he's been doing a tremendous martini business in the past few weeks. Patrons can pair olives with martinis.
"The martinis are going like hotcakes," LaMont, 61, said.
Before coming to Baltimore, LaMont owned four piano bar/restaurants. Now, he lives on the two floors above Jay's.
LaMont's next focus is building up the cocktail hour and pre-show crowd, he said. Right now, Jays' has live piano music from 5:30 p.m. to close Wednesdays through Fridays and 8:30 p.m. to close Saturdays.
It's good to see a place like Jay's open in Mount Vernon. I hope it lasts there, and after one visit, I can see no reason why it wouldn't.
Jay's on Read is at 225 W. Read St. It's open 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays. There is no cover. Call 410-225-0188.