Before I talk about Noce, I have to talk about jazz music in Des Moines. Every big city has a place where you can sit around small tables and listen to great jazz music. Movies and books are full of those places. You know the kind of place, joints where the hero or anti-hero has a favorite table, knows the owner, and has an on again, off again relationship with a waitress or singer. That setting provides a cultural centerpoint to almost every good story. The last time I was in New York I dropped by the Flatiron Room in the Chelsea district and took in a great Jazz trio. It was a great evening, and one I will repeat as often as possible. Des Moines now has that sort of place.
It is just my opinion, but I believe that Des Moines has struggled in recent decades to find classy venues for jazz, especially larger ensembles and bands. There are always places where they clear out a space and let local musicians play while people eat and drink (Sam and Gabes or Chucks Steakhouse come to mind). And there has always been a place where serious music lovers can take in some jazz or the local blues scene, but the surroundings can run on the rough side. But if you want a nice evening out where you can just relax and listen to good music with a fancy cocktail it just hasn’t been available until recently. I’m not saying that those venues might not have existed in the ’70s, ’60s, or before, but that predates my time here in this town.
Noce can be many things, but what I think it does best is to serve jazz and cocktails in equally good measures. It does this in a venue that presents itself well and offers a classy vibe. For starters, there is a real stage up front with a real bar in the back. Local impresario Max Wellman is the general manager and entertainment director. He pops onto the stage to announce new acts and watches the whole scene to make sure that things are running smoothly. His passion for jazz music has always been inspiring, but managing a venue as nice as Noce is a great alternative to hunting down venues for shows.
Many Noce shows require the purchase of a ticket online or at the door. This is a different approach than many other venues, where the music is just there or where you pay a cover charge to get in. This is a signal that this is a different sort of place. Whether the show requires a ticket or not, the emphasis is on the music. Des Moines has a strong jazz and blues community and my hope is that Noce will keep it going and even strengthen it.
There is a strong selection of cocktails with Clint Curtis behind the bar. With his credentials stamped by this time at the Lift, you should be in good hands.
Possible weaknesses? There is no real food available other than pre-packaged bar food. I do not know if this is a permanent situation or not. Perhaps this would detract from the emphasis on the performance by the musicians or perhaps it is something more mundane like the lack of the all-important and expensive grease trap in a building that never housed a restaurant before. Still, it would be nice if some basic dishes could be added or at least more choices in the dry bar food category.
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