"We really think that Voodoo lends itself to the jazz scene," says Jennifer Kulick, co-owner and managing partner of Voodoo Tiki Bar and Lounge. "We were never going to be a rock 'n' roll venue, and we didn't even necessarily want to become a live music venue, either. But we know a lot of local jazz musicians, and there are so many talented musicians available. All these fantastically talented, classically trained jazz musicians are here, and they've got no place to play."
Kulick and her husband Michael opened Voodoo in the old Johnny Ola's spot in Avondale in late 2004. They both still share weekly managing and bartending duties. Voodoo quickly established itself in West Ashley as a funky venue with a casual feel and retro/lounge style. With red and gold decor, it developed its personality on a cross between a New Orleans' French Quarter style and a tropical tiki bar theme.
"Years ago, I'd travel and find all these great bars that weren't necessarily restaurants — and they weren't sports bars, and they didn't have TVs," says Kulick. "They were geared for people in their mid-20s all the way up into their 60s. They were cool places where you could get a couple of drinks and something delicious to eat — places that were for the college crowd. It was that middle-ground thing that we felt was missing in Charleston."
Voodoo initially lured local patrons with exotic menu items, elaborate specialty drinks, and a few daring culinary experiments. "The idea of taking any ingredient and turning it into bar food can be done," Kulick says. But they started booking unusual musical events as well — from local DJs spinning vinyl records to acoustic jazz gigs, hip-hop events, and holiday theme parties.
Voodoo's increasingly busy jazz schedule filled a void in the music scene. In the mid-2000s, as part of Sermet's Corner at the corner of King and Wentworth streets, the upstairs venue Mezzané offered live jazz music five nights a week. It served as a hip hangout for local musicians and artists, and, for a brief time, it was one of the only legitimate jazz clubs in town. Currently, a handful of restaurants and bars — FIG, Mistral, High Cotton, Tristan, Charleston Grill, Alluette's Jazz Café, Chai's, and others — dabble in hosting local jazz acts. As with Mezzané in its heyday, Voodoo's musical entertainment ideas are necessarily directed toward the younger crowds.
"At some venues, the jazz bands aren't featured; they're more just there to add atmosphere to the place," says Kulick. "That's not the case here."
Kulick says she's often asked why Voodoo doesn't offer live jazz year-round. "There are several reasons, but the biggest and most important one is that we want our jazz series to remain special and unique. By offering a limited schedule, we give something to look forward to without the worry of it becoming stale."
Voodoo's couch-lined side room might be one of the most accommodating and best-sounding spots in town for live jazz music. Sometimes, it's standing-room only at the events.
The club's Winter Jazz Nights kicks off Tues. Jan. 12 with a set from The Gradual Lean, comprised of electric guitarist Lee Barbour, bassist Kevin Hamilton, trumpeter Charlton Singleton, and drummer Quentin Baxter, who helps book and organize the series with Kulick.
On Tues. Jan. 19, vocalist and songwriter Lindsay Holler switched gears from her more alt-country/indie-rock band Western Polaroids to the more jazzy group The Hollerettes. Upcoming acts in the series include The Rudy Waltz, The Pulse Trio, Duda Lucena, Leah Suarez, and a few additional performers yet to be announced.
"I really don't put any limitations on any of the music or art here," adds Kulick. "I don't put any boundaries up. When you do, you take away from what the possibilities could be. Voodoo is a place where we do what feels good, natural, and authentic. If it doesn't feel right, we won't do it. Karaoke doesn't work. Trivia nights don't work. We've never been that bar, and I don't want us to ever be that bar. We're not so focused on getting that high volume in the door. We're most concerned with sticking to what's true to us.
"I really feel that Voodoo is a place that just screams to have cool, funky jazz in there," she adds. "We have the side room — the lounge side — with the lights down low, and all the red walls, and everything being kinda funky ... I mean, how could we not?"