Port City Flavor: Easy on the ears

Port City Flavor: Easy on the ears
Rockin’ Pneumonia is one of the many acts that has graced the Light Horse’s stage for a night of live music. (Photo/The Light Horse)

By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

While some people like a quiet ambiance for their dining experience, others enjoy unobtrusive live background music with their evening repast. Still others seek out lively pubs or follow favorite local musicians to the restaurants and bars where they perform. Alexandria is fortunate to have numerous music venues within city limits that are known first and foremost as restaurants or bars. These gems also feature live music for those wishing to enjoy a euphonious evening along with their meal or drinks.

Here are some places where you might consider elevating your dining experience with a musical backdrop of contemporary jazz, soft folk, pop-rock, or a combination of all three.

Blackwall Hitch holds Sunday Brunch every week, featuring the stylings of jazz musician Rodney Kelley and occasional guests. (Photo/Blackwall Hitch)

Blackwall Hitch

Blackwall Hitch, located at 5 Cameron St., is an American, coastally inspired restaurant with various seafood options and an oyster counter. But it also offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights, generally from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.

The restaurant features a bevy of local artists such as Ryan Forrester, Bravenoise, Black Coffee and Merlon Devine. On Sundays Blackwall Hitch offers a regular Sunday Brunch experience, which usually includes the stylings of jazz musician Rodney Kelley and occasional guests.

General Manager Erik Concoby said that artists like Ryan Forrester and Black Coffee bring their following to their performances.

“We see a lot of their fans showing up for them,” Concoby said. “Bands know a lot of people, so they let them know where to be, where they’re gonna play, so we see those people show up, which is really nice.”

Owned by Titan Hospitality Group, Blackwall Hitch Alexandria is one of five restaurants by the same name – all of which offer live music on weekends and Sunday Brunch. According to Concoby, the restaurant is in the process of securing more bands to add to the rotation.

“It’s a lively event. A live show always gives people a little more energy and makes things more upbeat,” Concoby said. “… It’s definitely worth the investment just to change the atmosphere. It adds a lot of energy to the room. We get people standing up and doing some dancing, whether it’s couples or just by themselves sometimes. It’s a lot of fun.”

Augie’s Mussel House

Inspired by St. Augustine, Augie’s Mussel House & Beer Garden offers traditional Belgian cuisine with a modern twist. The restaurant, located at 1106 King St., is perhaps best known for its creative mussels, apple bratwurst and outdoor patio – which holds live music on weeknights.

According to Chad Sparrow, Common Plate Hospitality managing partner, Augie’s offers music from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Although there is some rotation, patrons can usually expect to hear musician Mike Richards, who performs acoustic covers of popular songs.

The decision to add live music came about several years ago as a way to more fully maximize the outdoor patio space.

“We have the space and the indoor/outdoor vibe, where people are moving around. So, we added to the sound system where you can hear the music all throughout the restaurant basically, through our speakers as well,” Sparrow said.

Since adding live music, many people have begun stopping by regularly solely to hear the tunes, Sparrow said.

“I think [adding music] is very valuable,” Sparrow said. “It’s very interactive. It makes the guests feel like they’re at more than just a restaurant; they’re at a venue.”

Patrons can eat, drink and listen to live music on the Augie’s Mussel House patio from Monday through Thursday. (Photo/Augie’s Mussel House and Beer Garden)

The Light Horse

Located in the heart of Old Town at 715 King St., is The Light Horse Restaurant, a gastropub and bar with a wide selection of American cuisines, from pan-seared salmon to smoked wings to double-grilled cheeseburgers.

The Light Horse also features local pop-rock bands Thursday through Saturday night that play “uptempo, party cover music,” according to booking agent Duncan Cameron.

“It’s all songs people know and [can] sing along to,” Cameron said. “We don’t do originals because people aren’t interested. They just want to come and sing along.”

The Light Horse consists of two floors open to the public, the first of which is a cocktail and dinner bar and the second of which is much larger and includes a small stage, dance floor and television.

Light Horse Owner John Jarecki said the restaurant has been holding live music since it opened in 2008. Currently, there are about 20 to 25 acts that rotate performing.

“We’ve vetted and worked with and have a great relationship with [them], so we’ve got a pretty good thing going,” Jarecki said.

Jarecki said that the free live music is what has kept people coming back throughout the years.

“They love it. It’s what has kept us going through some hard times,” Jarecki said. “They may not know the act, they may not know who it’s going to be, but they know that we always have quality in there and that it’s going to be a fun band.”

Bistro Sancerre

Bistro Sancerre, located at 1725 Duke St., might be popular for its French bistro fare and steaks, but as of a few months ago it can also add live music to the roster.

The motivation stemmed from a desire to incentivize patrons to stop by the restaurant, which is located slightly out of the way.

“We’re not right on that downtown part, like right by the water, so [we added music] to get people to come up to our side of town,” Thorpe said.

Now, Bistro Sancerre offers a rotating list of musicians on Thursday nights from 6 to 8 p.m., sometimes on the patio if weather permits. One of the regular artists is vocalist Dian Wilson, who specializes in rock, soul, R&B and jazz.

“[The music is] usually contemporary jazz, or easy listening, Frank Sinatra kind of stuff,” Thorpe said.

According to Thorpe, the reception has been warm. Since the addition of the live music, Bistro Sancerre has seen a mixture of regulars as well as fans of the local performers.

“That worked out well,” Thorpe said. “It makes for a really nice night. Instead of just eating, the music makes for more of an overall experience.”

Other restaurants/bars that offer live music:

-Laporta’s Restaurant

-Two Nineteen Restaurant

-O’Shaughnessy’s Pub

-Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub

-Daniel O’Connells