This was Bohemian Caverns, the venerable club that
stands as a memorial of sorts to jazz in this city. Today,
with new owners, diverse shows and an infusion of
young fans, the venue is helping to usher in a new and
vibrant era of music.
We came to the Caverns on this particular night
to hear Malika Zarra, a Morocco-born jazz vocalist.
After descending the long, dark stairwell, we stepped
into a room practically dripping with stalactites. Here,
the only reminder that you’re not in a real cave is the
bandstand and the small tables that run the length
of the floor to the dimly lit bar in the back. And the
patrons, of course—mostly young and diverse couples
Zarra, whose velvety voice fuses French pop with
what she calls “freewheeling jazz rhythms,” was
accompanied by bass, keyboard and drums. As she
swayed on the small stage, surrounded on all sides by
flickering tea lights, it hit me: This very scene could
have played out some 80 years ago. Since that time, in
this room, only the people have changed.
The Early Days
Crystal Caverns sprang up in the basement of a pharmacy in 1926. Like many other venues of that time, it
was an offshoot of the famed Lincoln and Howard theaters close by. The clubs, along with cafés, parlors and
retail spots, made up a bustling stretch that came to be
known by many as Black Broadway.