Clearly, the Dakota Jazz Club has done something right. Since its move from St. Paul to Nicollet Mall in 2003, the club's reputation has only prospered. Kicking off its 25th anniversary celebrations with Sunday's Dakota Street Fest, the Dakota has a winning formula. Here are the Dakota's best attributes:
1. Location, location, location. Moving out of Bandana Square in 2003 was a no-brainer. Only historians and model train buffs now remember that earlier location. "We couldn't have survived," said the club's co-owner, Lowell Pickett. Now, "We're near many hotels, and we're near another great arts institution, Orchestra Hall. And the room itself ..."
2. Treats musicians like royalty. Booker T. & the MGs guitarist Steve Cropper explained last month why the Dakota is one of the few clubs on their itinerary: "They really take good care of us." You don't have to be a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, though. The Dakota has a mostly shimmering reputation among local musicians, too.
3. Treats the food like a rock star. Food is still the main draw in the eyes of a lot of restaurant critics after chef Jack Riebel took over in 2005. A meal isn't cheap, of course, but it often has the same wow value as the performers.
4. Intimate setting. How many times have you gone to a concert and complained about bad sound or not being able to see? I don't think anyone has ever had such a gripe at the Dakota.
5. Not always expensive. You don't have to skip a car payment to enjoy a night at the Dakota. There seems to be one gig under $20 for every two or three pricier shows, plus late-night shows on weekends are always $5 to $8.
6. No longer in a jazz funk. Some jazz purists have balked at the broader booking scheme, which includes such shows as Bettye Lavette (Aug. 9), Aimee Mann (Sept. 13-15) and Nick Lowe (Oct. 10-11). But these jazzless gigs fit the Dakota's idea of American music on the whole.
7. For the love of music. Whatever the style of performer, Pickett said, "We're all nuts for this stuff." The enthusiasm he and other staffers share for certain acts can be infectious.
8. Supports America's most musical city. After Hurricane Katrina, Pickett said, "We've made it a point to have at least one New Orleans act a month." Crescent City talent is on display this week, with Glen David Andrews, Charmaine Neville and Bonerama at Saturday's street fest. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has its first-ever Dakota stint Monday and Tuesday.