YORKVILLE — Soulful guitar riffs and toe-tapping bass lines will be on the menu once again at an Upper East Side barbecue joint.
MexiBBQ, at Second Avenue and East 85th Street, will offer a weekly blues open mic every Wednesday evening beginning this week. John Putnam and Used Blues, veterans who have opened for the likes of Bonnie Raitt and John Lee Hooker, will host the event — which encourages audience members to bring their own instruments and join in the jam sessions.
“I’m always inspired by the variety of people who come out to play,” Putnam said. “We’ll get Wall Street heavy hitters, guys who make millions each year, and they’ll come and play with a guy who can barely afford the $10 cover. It’s very touching being involved with this community.”
Putnam expects to draw a crowd of both regular blues enthusiasts and locals looking for a new experience in the neighborhood.
The weekly blues night is a continuation of a tradition started by the space's former occupant, the Mustang Grill, which closed in 2011. As MexiBBQ’s owners worked to open their restaurant in the space in October 2013 — a follow-up to their popular Astoria location — many locals stopped in to offer advice, staff said.
“A lot of people let us know that the downstairs area was a music venue for years and that they would like to see that again in the space,” said MexiBBQ’s general manager, Gennaro Cuozzo. “There aren’t many places to hear live music in this area.”
When Putnam heard that a new restaurant had opened in the space, he approached the owners to try to reestablish his band’s weekly gig. They agreed that a blues band was the perfect complement to the restaurant’s concept: Southern barbeque fare with a Mexican twist.
“It’s great to get some rock n’ roll, blues guys in here,” Cuozzo said. “To me that really fits with the idea of drinking good beer and eating good barbecue.”
Musicians and blues enthusiasts can try fusion dishes like the BBQ Brisket Tacos or the Mexican Cobb Salad, and have plenty of beverage options to choose from with 48 craft beers on tap.
Putnam is thrilled to be back at the Second Avenue spot after stints playing at the nearby American Trash Bar and at another joint on Houston Street. But neither location offered the same acoustic quality as the downstairs space at MexiBBQ, he said.
“One thing that’s really nice about that space — and we don’t know why — but everything just sounds good in that room,” he said.
While the sound quality is the same, the view has changed dramatically, thanks to a gut renovation of both the upstairs and downstairs areas. The space has been outfitted with natural stone, wood and leather finishes for a rustic but elegant feel.
Putnam has definitely noticed a change for the better.
“We liked the space before, and that remains the same,” he said. “Except it’s much cleaner now.”
MexiBBQ is located at 1633 Second Ave. The Weekly Blues Jam begins at 8:30. There is a $10 cover charge.