Tucked down Rue Saint Jacques in the 5th is a place where American license plates line the walls, where various languages are spoken, and where some of the city’s top jazz musicians come to perform. This place is filled with a diverse group of artists, international travelers, and a jovial and devoted group of “regulars” who often sing and play on Tuesday night open jam sessions. With a distinctive, international flare, this bar is known for its classic jazz feel, a laid back atmosphere (entry is free with a tip hat for the musicians), and its eccentric owner, Azou. Indeed, Café Universel is indicative of the Paris of a bygone era, a quaint jazz club that relies on musicianship and a devoted clientele to remain authentic in a city that was once the jazz capital of the world.
Not far from the Luxembourg Gardens, Café Universel is not far from the Latin Quarter, another symbol of the nostalgic jazz culture of 1950’s Paris. The crowd here is made up of young artists, students, professionals, and locals who are enthusiastic listening to and playing jazz. The bar’s seating is limited and it is always a good idea to arrive early in order to get a view of the stage, especially on Tuesday night’s “Jam Vocale,” which should not be missed.
On the Tuesday of each week, a wave of amateur, as well as, professional talent arrives, eager to perform in one of the landmarks of the Paris jazz scene. Everyone is welcome to sing or play with the house band (which changes every month in order to give exposure to the many musicians eager to get their name out), simply signing “the list” to perhaps start a singing career, or perhaps simply to demonstrate a secret talent. Regardless of the level of musical ability, the vocal jam is an entertaining event that lasts well into the night (the bar closes at 2am), home to some truly talented musicians. Of course, the bar would be nothing without its famous and jovial owner, Azou.
Always with a smile on his face, Azou discusses and serves drinks to locals, students, and travel-goers who have had the luck of falling upon one of the Latin Quarter’s top jazz venues. Azou is the quintessential bar owner: immediately upon entering the bar one feels at home, and his ear for spotting talent is second to none. A quick glance at the bar’s program – posted each month on www.myspace.com/cafeuniversel – confirms that Azou seeks to bring in talented newcomers to the music scene, as well as, established musicians throughout Paris and the Isle de France.
Café Universel is an insouciant bar where artists and music lovers converge to share a drink and listen to jazz. With a fantastic owner, an international-friendly ambiance, and impressive musical talent, Café Universel should not be overlooked for anyone looking to experience the unique and sometimes hard-to-find jazz culture of Paris past. Fittingly, the café takes a bit of searching to discover: the closest public transportation access is the RER: B metro-stop at Luxembourg, which is then accompanied by a brief walk.
However, the search is well worth it. Arriving at 267 Rue Saint Jacques is accompanied with both a sense of accomplishment – as if something special has been found – and in an odd way the sense that one is home again, surrounded by Americana in a jazz bar that evokes the ambiance of what music once meant for the City of Lights.
Address: 267 Rue Saint Jacques, 75005
Métro: RER B: Luxembourg
Hours: Monday-Saturday, concerts at 20h30 (arrive earlier), close at 2am