Black-Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen & Bar by Matt Chasen

With the Blues Schedule on hold, the Bluesbeatnews blog will post about some of our local activities.  I will be beg, borrowing and stealing write-ups to keep you informed about the various happenings.


Matt Chasen is with Brian T. Lee and 7 others at Black-Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen & Bar.

As a musician, music educator, arts advocate, promoter, marketer and the like thereof, there are so many different ways that I can contribute to the betterment of the music scene as a whole, whether that be within The Capitol Region of Hartford, Connecticut, across the United States or around the world.

Many musicians and artists, including yours truly, are wondering what the “gig economy”, and quite frankly the state of the “arts union” if you will, are going to look like when our society slowly beings to return to some semblance of what we knew prior to the coronavirus emerging across all corner of the globe. The truth is that none of us have an immediate answer to that question.

One thing that I do know, is that I was extremely troubled this past week, upon hearing that Hanging Hills Brewing Company announced the permanent closure of their Hartford, Connecticut tap room, which has been located on Ledyard Street in the city’s “South End”/”South Meadows” neighborhoods, just behind Alfred E. Burr Middle School and not far from Bulkeley High School.

Hanging Hills Brewing Company had a substantial following, not merely for the alcohol that they offered, but for the family-friendly, homey, relaxed and inviting atmosphere that they provided. Hanging Hills Brewing Company served as a major supporter of the live music scene in and around the Greater Hartford Metropolitan Region, regularly presenting musical ensembles from every genre, at the incredibly low price of zero dollars.

Knowing that the sudden closure of Hanging Hills Brewing Company is most likely not an isolated incident, I am taking it upon myself to begin creating profiles of local venues within the city of Hartford, Connecticut and around our region, which serve as bastions to live music of all genres, in addition to showcasing my fellow artists of ALL disciplines.

Promotion and marketing are tasks that have never been easier, given the technological resources that are at our fingertips on a moment-to-moment basis. Even if you don’t have a computer at your immediate disposal, chances are you have a smartphone of some kind. That means that you can tap into the wealth of material that is available on social media platforms of all different kinds, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok or others that I may be neglecting to highlight. Sharing a post on Facebook is one of the easiest things that a person could do, in order to shed some light on the artistic offerings of a colleague, venue, record label or the like thereof.

Current world events have led to all of us being encouraged, and in many instances required to stay at home as much as we possibly can. With that being said, we now all have more time on our hands. Let’s use that time in a productive way and promote the living daylights out of our local music and art scenes, so that we stand that much better of a chance of having a thriving community of artists, venues, patrons and the like thereof to return to once these troubled times have passed us by, because as with all other moments in history that have caused us to face some of the greatest adversity that we have ever known, this too shall pass.

The first profile that I am going to do will be on Black-Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen & Bar, a restaurant, bar and performance venue that will be familiar to many of you who live within and around The Capitol Region of Hartford, Connecticut.

Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar is located at 350 Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut’s “downtown” neighborhood. The restaurant, bar and performance venue is conveniently situated directly across the street from the historic, iconic, scenic and picturesque Bushnell Park, while Union Station is barely two blocks north on the aforementioned Asylum Street.

Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar is owned by James Varanoand has been providing some of the very best Southern cuisine, barbecue and authentic Cajun food in Connecticut, and across New England and the Northeast for over twenty years. The prices are exceptionally reasonable with generous portions to boot. The menu offers a taste of something for everyone, boasting tasty choices to satisfy even the most selective of palettes. Service comes not only with a smile, but with an attentive nature that is clearly eager to please, particularly knowledgeable of all aspects of the menu and willing to assist and accommodate in any way that may be needed.

You can ALWAYS count of lead bartenders and MASTER MIXOLOGISTS such as Brian T. Lee and Tommy to wet your whistle at the full-service bar, while servers such as Nikki and “Meech” will make sure that you are well fed and taken care of during your dining experience. Manager Melissa is constantly on the case, as it pertains to making sure that the operation as a whole is running as smoothly as possible, while lead hostess Maron greets you with warmth from the moment that you walk in the door, Seating provides one with the chance to view and immerse him or herself in the music, or to be tucked away in a private corner, should conversation be the order of the evening. Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar is also open during the afternoon hours for business meetings or an impromptu lunch.

The atmosphere within the restaurant is particularly inviting, as the décor indicates the love that Brother Varano has for all things Elvis Presley in nature, on top of his clear affinity for the musical genre that we call “the blues”. The mind-boggling artwork at Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar has changed over the years, because prior to the introduction of “Jazz Mondays” and bassist Michael Palin and “The Other Orchestra“, Black Eyed Sally’s was a performance venue that catered almost exclusively to “the blues”, “rock”, “soul”, “R&B” and “funk”. There were images of “blues” icons such as Muddy Waters, “Big Mama” Thornton, Albert Collins, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and others to be found adorning the walls.

While much of that artwork can still be seen in other areas of the restaurant, Windsor, Connecticut based visual artist Andres Chaparro, a true artistic visionary whose work is primarily inspired by “jazz” music has a number of transcendent pieces, such as images of saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Thelonious Monk, trumpeter Miles Davis and Hartford, Connecticut’s own bassist Paul H Brown (“P.B.”) on display throughout the main dining room, which includes the bandstand where live music is to be heard six nights a week, Monday through Saturday.

In 2020, Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar is truly a gem, because to offer live music every single night that you are open is quite frankly unheard of, especially in a smaller city such as Hartford, Connecticut.

As previously mentioned, Mondays are reserved for “Jazz Mondays” a weekly series that has been going strong for twelve plus years, and which is presented in conjunction with The Hartford Jazz Society and curated by trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer, arranger, orchestrator, bandleader, sideman, music educator and arts advocate Haneef N Nelson.

This event takes place every Monday night from 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., except for during the summer months, when the time frame is pushed back to an 8:30 p.m. start time and 11:30 p.m. finish, in order to accommodate the overflow of patrons who will coming and going from the annual Paul Brown Monday Night Jazz in Bushnell Park Series, which runs from the first Monday in July through the middle of August. There is only one Monday a month where an exceptionally reasonable $5.00 cover charge is required for admission. Every other Monday is completely free, and artists showcased range from local Hartford, Connecticut area legends and rising stars, to regional favorites and international icons who are passing through from New York City, New York, Boston, Massachusetts and points elsewhere.

The “featured artist” and his or her band will typically play an opening set that lasts for an hour to an hour and a half, followed by a brief ten to fifteen minute intermission, and then a second set jam session, which is led by the featured artist. This session is THE PLACE TO BE for all up-and-coming, aspiring musicians within The Metropolitan Area and beyond, because it serves as a laboratory for students to come together with both their peers and established professionals alike, in order to share ideas and learn from one another, with the common goal of continuing to become the best musicians that one another can be. Mentoring environments of this nature are of the utmost importance for the furtherance of any musical scene.

Tuesday nights are reserved for the previously noted bassist Michael Palin and “The Other Orchestra”, a big band that is truly unlike any that you’ve encountered before. “The Other Orchestra” has been in residence at Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar every Tuesday night from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. for over eight years now. This musical aggregation was formed by Michael Palin between the years of 1995 and 1996 at the former Café 880 nightclub, which was located on Maple Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut’s “Barry Square” and “Goodwin Park” neighborhoods, not far from the Wethersfield, Connecticut town line. The band is made up of local musicians, some of whom perform full-time, others who are music educators and play out as much as they can, while still others have a full-time career that has noting whatsoever to do with music, but strive to gig when and where possible. On a given night, this band could run the gamut from “Weather Report” and Jaco Pastorius to Charles Mingus and Stan Kenton. Michael Palin has a library of between 500 and 600 arrangements, many of which are his original arrangements. There is never a cover charge of any kind for “The Other Orchestra’s” performances.

Wednesday nights at Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar are reserved for “The Community Blues Jam”, an event that highlights a local guitarist/vocalist, fronting “The Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar Community Blues Jam House Band”, which features Paul Mason on tenor saxophone, flute, trombone and auxiliary percussion, “Honest” Abe Frohman on keyboard, Tom Petrie on electric bass and Gary Johnson on drums. Featured artists often include the likes of Tim McDonald, “Big” Ed Bradley, Mark Nomad, Tommy WhalenRamon Morant, Gene Donaldson, Ryan Harttand other local luminaries.

The guest artist will typically play short set with the house band, and then proceed to open the jam session for the remainder of the evening, akin to what transpires on Monday evenings for “Jazz Mondays”. Once again, the age and ability level of musicians who sit in during the jam session is all over the map, which guarantees that one never knows what a given Wednesday may hold. Jam sessions are critical to the continued development, proliferation and success of any musical scene, because this is where young musicians learn some of the most invaluable lessons that will ever be given to them, and all next to both peers and seasoned professionals alike. Often, veterans will find themselves reminded of the things that they need to continue to practice, learning a great deal from their younger and perhaps less experienced counterparts. This dichotomy is truly a beautiful thing indeed.

Thursday nights belong to Bucharest, Romania native and Hartford, Connecticut resident hero for twenty-five plus years, drummer Liviu Pop, as he presents “Liviu’s Invitational Series” from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Liviu Pop is a gem if ever there were one. Each week, he brings in the very best talent across “the blues”, “rock”, “funk”, “R&B”, “fusion”, “soul” and even “jazz” from time to time. These musicians come to play every week, particularly because of the immense respect, regard and reverence that they have for Brother Liviu. The artists in question are playing for the skill, love, dedication, commitment and vision that Liviu Pop brings to the table in curating and hosting this series week in and week out. Liviu is undeniably one of the most in-demand drummers in the Greater Hartford, Connecticut region, with many a visiting artist, particularly within the aforementioned “blues” and “rock” genres calling upon his services when passing through the area. Liviu has hosted his Invitational Series at Black Eyed Sally’s for over three years now, after moving from J’s Crab Shack, a venue located on Park Street, just above the West Hartford, Connecticut town line in Hartford’s “Parkville” neighborhood.

Friday and Saturday evenings at Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar feature regional and nationally touring artists, typically from within the aforementioned “blues”, “rock”, “jam band”, “soul”, “funk” and “R&B” genres. Admission can range from $10.00 to $20.00, with shows beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar is closed just one day of the week, and that is on Sunday.

This is just one example of a venue that means everything to the “musical universe” that pervades across The Capitol Region of Hartford, Connecticut. I am encouraging ANY OF YOU AND ALL OF YOU who may be reading this post to share it far and wide across Facebook and the Internet as a whole. There is a strong possibility that you might enlighten someone who has never heard of Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar to what a delight this venue truly is on all levels. We want to spread the word, so that these business, eateries, watering holes and performance venues can re-emerge stronger than ever before, once our society calms down and things begin to quietly recede back to that semblance of normalcy.

Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar is not currently offering takeout or delivery services, which is another reason why it is even more important to keep their presence strong with the lexicon of our daily conversation. Every mention of these venues is imperative to keeping them alive and giving them the chance to thrive again.

Stay tuned for my first artist showcase, which will feature the previously noted curator of “Jazz Mondays” at Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen and Bar, trumpeter and flugelhornist Haneef Nelson.

Love, health, happiness and safety to ALL!

About bluesbeatnews52

Blues columnist writing a weekly column dedicated to the Blues. The only column of its kind in a commercial (paid subscription) newspaper. Column appears in the Middletown Press, Bristol Press, Torrington Register-Citizen, and the New Britain Herald. Forcella has served on the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation representing the Journalism constituency. Served on the Board of Directors Connecticut Blues Society as Past President and Past Editor of newsletter. Recipient: Keeping the Blues Alive award in Journalism from the Blues Foundation. Has contributed both writing and photos to nationnal blues publications.

One response to “ Black-Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen & Bar by Matt Chasen


    Thanks Dom, for posting this outstanding article by Matt Chasen. Kudos to Matt for his comprehensive article. I would also like to add the Special Sunday shows that James has booked – including the Connecticut Blues Society Band Challenges (scheduled during March, but cancelled due to the virus). Also the Black Eyed and Blues Festival, scheduled for June, in Bushnell Park.

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