Anthology: Beyond the Blue Drapes
Once-sleepy San Diego is making a bid to lure big-time jazz into the city-and to give the 35-and-up crowd its own venue. Freelancer Allie Strauss took a trip to India Street for dinner at one of the area's most innovative new clubs.
It's 7:30 p.m., and I'm late. The show has started, dinner may have already been served, and I'm stuck in traffic. As I sit in a standstill on Interstate 5, I scramble into my going-out finest (well, going out for San Diego)-a black lacy skirt and white top. Between impatiently waiting out the stop signs on Kettner and drumming my fingers against the steering wheel, I apply the requisite powder, eyeshadow, eyeliner and bronzer. At the light to turn onto India Street, I smoothe on a final coat of clear lipgloss. I make the right into the valet lot, glance into the rear-view mirror for a once-over, and stow my flip-flops in the back. The attendant ambles over to my door and grabs the handle as I slide into red heels moments before my feet hit the pavement.
There I am, standing before San Diego's latest foray into becoming an international hot spot. The sounds of a strumming guitar and a piano chord waft onto the street, exhorting a crowd of fellow tardy concert-goers and diners to hurry. We huddle beside a blue velvet rope beneath the looming stainless-steel framework of real estate developer and newly established restaurateur Howard Berkson's latest downtown contribution: the MetroWorks building-and more importantly, his restaurant/concert hall occupying the two bottom floors.
Above the tinted blue and clear glass door, a neon blue shadow highlights the fluorescent signature of the name: Anthology. I'm greeted by a bouncer checking tickets and by a closed royal blue velvet curtain, which is shimmying in the breeze and emanating music. Beyond the curtain is another world. Overhead hangs a horseshoe-shape shimmering white bar with hanging lights and glass droplets. Angular stairways lead to the mezzanine tables and the second-floor lounge. Beyond the foyer, there's a brushed-cement runway with semicircular booths hugging surfboard-shape tables. I choose the rich walnut pathway leading to the main dining room and weave my way through the lines of brown-and-black zebrawood tables, ivory chairs with dark trimming, pairs of eyes gazing straight ahead. Everything from the white candles on the tables to the vases of flowers on the banisters accents the bright lights at the heart of the restaurant: the stage and the music.
As I take my seat at a corner booth, a dark figure sidles over and slides in beside me. Brad Randall, director of restaurant operations, checks the placement of the glasses on our table and gives me a rundown of the club while singer Janiva Magness begins with her band.
"It's a supper club," Randall tells me, his eyes flickering from the stage to the table. "Our version of your grandparents' supper club. You know, when they got nice and dressed up in their tuxes and dresses and they went out and the big bands were playing and they danced and ate."
As if on cue, the menus arrive, the wine appears, and the band blasts into full swing. Anthology is an old-time supper club with a twist of up-and-coming. Although ball gowns and tuxes are certainly lacking in favor of heeled sandals and khaki pants, a warm sophistication surrounds the guests. In a city where the revival of the Gaslamp Quarter is aimed at twentysomethings and their R&B and hip-hop tastes, Berkson's vision for Anthology is to "serve an under-served market." The real-estate developer tells me in the outdoor lounge, "People 35 and older today have been locked out of entertainment in San Diego. We wanted to create this New York/Chicago experience for older adults to come out, have a nice, relaxing, fine-dining experience and see the best music around."
Magness' voice and rhythm ricochet from the stage, resonating through the main floor, to the upstairs and even outside the restaurant. The music isn't just heard-it's seen and felt. It comes alive. And its reminders are everywhere: The menu in my hand is covered in premium wood from Taylor Guitars. The stainless-steel lattice covering the wall behind the stage evokes the microphone heads, while the brushed-silver wire railings of the two upper floors look like guitar strings waiting to be strummed. A silky cream-colored sheath cascades over the 30-foot wall to the left of the stage, slightly swaying and reflecting a golden hue. In the VIP room above the stage, custom-made Taylor guitars hang on the wall for the diners' playing pleasure and rock-star fantasies.
Over the backdrop of Magness' blues-flavored jazz, I place my order and set out to explore the 225-seat, 13,000-square-foot venue. On my way up the stairs, I catch black-clad waiters and waitresses stealing glimpses of the show from the bar area or from the entrance to the kitchen. On the second floor, concert-goers, drinks in hand, watch the stage from railing-side tables or from a standing spot in the back. Loungers out on the patio sink into plush couches beneath the heaters, their eyes fixed on the plasma screen in the corner broadcasting the show.
The restaurant claims every seat is within 50 feet of the stage and boasts consistent music quality no matter where you sit or stand, lounge or dance.
"All the materials are used to achieve perfect acoustics," executive chef Jim Phillips tells me. "Behind the curtain on that big wall, there's this amazing gridwork of cement and thick black pads. The system has been engineered and dialed in just perfectly."
And it's noticed. The state-of-the-art equipment, complete with two 48-track Yamaha mixers, is revitalizing-nay, is establishing-the city's music scene. The club's chief visionary officer, Patti Judd, tells me over lunch one day that jazz musicians have traditionally considered San Diego a "black hole" for their music. But in just its first month, Anthology enticed noteworthy musicians Chick Corea and Ramsey Lewis to town.
I move downstairs to a plate of new American cuisine by the internationally acclaimed Bradley Ogden and locally renowned Phillips. Throughout the evening, our table overflows with steamed duck dumplings, grilled lamb chops and lemon-crusted halibut-all bright, fresh, smaller dishes in Anthology's signature farm-to-table style.
"Everything is freshly flown in or picked up daily. The menu changes every day," Berkson informs me. "It's all about ingredients and the plate presentations. We have small plates so people can try a lot of foods instead of getting one large thing that's their experience for the night. You can go through three or four different plates here and get a full meal."
The final note eventually rings through the restaurant, the last cleaned plate is cleared from the table, and the lights rise to show us the way out. It's time to leave "the trifecta," as Berkson affectionately dubs the interplay of food, music and ambience. I zigzag through the tables, past the bar, beyond the blue velvet drapes-now drawn open-and back onto India Street.
"If you think about the most significant musicians," Judd mused during our conversation, "they have had an anthology of some sort. It's a gathering, a collection. And it might be the greatest, and it might just be some unknowns that are still the best on another level. An anthology is just a collection of the best."
See and hear Anthology for yourself. Log on to www.anthologysd.com or call 619-595-0300 to make reservations.