There is something about the talent of musicians in uptown Manhattan that simply cannot be authentically replicated in other New York neighborhoods—and the folks at the Cloak Roam, a relatively new jazz speakeasy in Hamilton Heights, know that.
Taking over the space previously occupied by Hogshead Tavern, which permanently closed during the pandemic, the Cloak Roam opened this past September. Using the lockdown as an opportunity to re-invent, Hogshead Tavern co-owners Tara Wholley and Ady De Luna decided to move away from the structure of the bar that had become a neighborhood favorite and instead honor the musical legacy of Harlem by opening a spot dedicated to jazz.
"We're definitely not trying to be like downtown clubs [like Smalls Jazz Club and the Blue Note]," says the Cloak Room's artistic director Joshua Roberts over the phone. "Because their legacy [is unique]. But we are trying to make this spot accessible to everybody." That accessibility is obvious: the speakeasy-like bar doesn't charge a cover and never requires a minimum.
In terms of decor, the space harks back to a bygone era reminiscent of the 1920s—think dark wood, dim lights, leather seats and tin ceilings.
"The whole space invites leaning in," says Roberts. "We want you to listen."
Of course, the roster of musicians invited to perform on stage is just as fundamental when it comes to grabbing patrons' attention as the interior design choices might be. Among the folks who have performed at the Cloak Room: Giveton Gelin, Russell Hall, Anthony Hervey, John Miller, Kelly Green and Misha Piatigorsky (the force behind Daddy Rabbit, another underground jazz speakeasy destination in the city).
Although clearly a jazz haven, the Cloak Room seeks to appeal to a wider audience than the one that the genre is usually associated with, which is why certain nights are dedicated to Latin jazz, for example.
Overall, inclusivity and an honoring of tradition reign supreme as a way to celebrate a musical form that, for many, has entirely shaped the neighborhood. "I hope the Cloak Room serves as a salute and tribute to jazz being Black American music and the area being steeped in that tradition and the history around it," says Roberts. "I hope it serves as a respectable tribute to that legacy."