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Ornithology Jazz Club
Photograph: Courtesy of Ornithology

A new vegan jazz club with no cover just opened in Bushwick

It's called Ornithology Jazz Club.

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan

At first glance, the concept behind Ornithology Jazz Club, a new music destination in Brooklyn, sounds like an oxymoron. 

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Found smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood, Bushwick, usually known for its allegiance to EDM music, the only thing odder than its function is Ornithology's menu—which is entirely vegan. 

And yet, a more behind-the-scenes glance at the spot paints a much wider picture. As first reported by Grub Street, the space is the brainchild of Rie Yamaguchi-Borden and husband Mitchell Borden. The couple is no stranger to the jazz lifestyle: Mitchell opened Smalls, arguably one of the most iconic jazz clubs in Manhattan, back in 1994. He also founded Fat Cat, another prominent destination in the West Village, in 2000. 

The duo moved to Bushwick in 2019 and, once the pandemic hit, set up a nonprofit to help jazz musicians find gigs around the city during troubled times and beyond. The Bordens then started organizing weekly jam sessions at local LGBTQ-friendly bar Bodeguita and eventually bought the space. They re-opened it as Ornithology Jazz Club two months ago. 

In addition to the musicians that take on the stage every night (check out an updated performance schedule right here), the destination hopes to differentiate itself with an elevated food menu. Generally, jazz clubs aren't necessarily known for their food offerings—but at Ornithology the fare is meant to be just as exciting as the music.

Patrons can order a variety of sandwiches made by Matt Clifford on Mondays through Thursdays while veggie burgers by Anthony James are on offer on Fridays and Saturdays. On Sundays, the on-premise kitchen gets handed over to a rotating cast of chefs that get to showcase their unique foods to the audience. In here, the kitchen is also a stage.

As exciting as the concept is overall, there are two particular aspects to Ornithology that truly make it stand out: First of all, there is absolutely no cover charge—an almost unheard-of characteristic when it comes to jazz destinations in New York. Furthermore, the stage is up for grabs every night after the scheduled act wraps up his or her set. 

As for the name of the space (ornithology is the scientific study of birds), the Bordens reveal via email that it calls out to "the seekers of wisdom, which include all the artists that are devoting themselves to go deep into the meaning of life."

Although clearly trying to slightly reinvent the notion of jazz clubs, what is mostly thrilling about Ornithology is that it is able to deliver a modern take on the genre while harking back to simpler times, when music really did take center stage. 

"It is a sanctuary of beautiful minds," says the couple about the club. "Many people have told us that Ornithology reminds them of the golden era of New York City, when all the artists congregated to inspire each other."  

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