Under State Street Part 2: Was there an underground jazz club?

When Jason Stoops asked Curious Coast whether there was a mysterious jazz club on State Street, he was curious about a rumor. He would have been too young at the time to have been to the club, but he had heard correctly.

In 1999, for one very brief year, Santa Barbara had an underground blues, jazz and reggae club called The Cellar. It was located in the basement under the Kingston Island Grill at 26 West Anapamu, now the home of the Fund for Santa Barbara building.

The space had already been home to several restaurants and clubs, including a Tony Roma’s rib joint and a cigar bar, an ill-timed venture that opened just before Santa Barbara initiated a smoking ban.

Chef Brenda Simon owned both those places with her then-husband Robert. Simon recalled checking out the space when they bought it. The previous owners had painted everything black.

Chef Brenda Simon standing where once was her jazz club.

“We walked down there and it was dark and scary and there was a sump pump, and there was this room, and there was a stage,” she said.

Simon repainted the street-level space in bright colors following the Jamaican theme of her restaurant and began to book acts to fill the restaurant and The Cellar, which she kept painted black. Among the acts that passed through were Morganfield Burnett, Little Al, Robert Lowery, and many others. Nate Birkey and his quintet played there at the beginning of his career.

Both the Grill and The Cellar didn’t last long.

“We lasted a whole year,” said Simon. “(The space) was too big. If we had 100 people in there, everybody thought it was empty.”

Brenda Simon still keeps a News-Press photo from her days as a restaurant owner, the only photograph of the Kingston Island Grill.

The Cellar closed its doors on Dec. 31, 1999, holding a blowout, millenium-ending party with an electronic DJ. Simon wondered if, had the club continued, electronic music would have been The Cellar’s direction.

Simon still returns to the property. Now the Fund for Santa Barbara, they often hire her to cater events. She laughs when she walks in the place.

“Your boardroom is where my bar used to be,” she tells them.

Turns out that block of State Street had several underground spaces, including a series of secret music studios. Read about that in part three.

(Note: We have also heard that for a very brief period a space called Matty’s also had music in the basement in 1998, but we can’t confirm if there was any jazz. Feel free to let us know about any other music in basement of 26 W. Anapamu.)

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Curious Coast is a project made possible by the supporters of KCRW and a grant from Antioch University Santa Barbara.