Like listening to jazz in an old shoebox but in the best way.
Sometimes dive bars take on “fancy” names with unique monikers like ‘yacht club’ in a landlocked city or ‘lounge’ when no padded seat can even be found, but Indianapolis dive bar Chatterbox Jazz Club is exactly that, a divey jazz club in one of the city’s core entertainment districts. Maybe most impressively, Chatterbox Jazz Club has purposefully endured as a dusty dive bar in an area of Indianapolis that has seen massive modernization over the past few decades, a number of upscale neighbors doing little to influence change within Chatterbox itself.
As the story goes on the Chatterbox Jazz Club web site, the space was purchased in 1982 with the intent to keep it as a real estate investment before owner David Andrichik changed course and decided to continue on with the preexisting bar on the first floor. Adding music felt like a natural next move to coax a few extra hours of drinking out of the typical crowds, a shift in purpose that would come to mirror the shift in the surrounding area. Today, Mass Ave is one of the busier entertainment areas downtown but back in 1982 was more a forgotten part of the city.
Chatterbox is a location that begs to be visited with one look, a hole in the wall that looks even more authentic thanks to some of the more polished options nearby. One of the rarest of dive bar amenities, a good front porch, provides the perfect gateway inside, a small set of low tables providing a bit of overflow seating and a stopover for smokers watching the show inside. Dark painted wood and latticework over the windows provides visual contrast to the polished, clean windowed storefront next door, a faded picture in the window hinting at some of the history to be found within.
Beyond the patio, the music flying out of the front door provides all the invitation needed. Be warned, in very non-dive bar fashion, a cover accompanies many jazz nights, particularly on weekends, but because of the devoted following and the attractive location, the vibe is almost worth the price of admission. Chatterbox Jazz Club is small, a skinny room that isn’t all that long, room enough for a row of tables, the bar itself and not much else. And because of its stature, the experience inside becomes a compressed mixture of heat, music, drinking and people in a very compelling way.
The space inside has been allowed to grow as its organic self, a mixture of aging signs, Christmas lights, floral wallpaper and a Sharpie-covered refrigerator in back. Indiana liquor laws require the availability of food to operate most liquor permits, Chatterbox Jazz Club complying through offering Jamaica Patties which are delicious in their own right but made even better by the compelling advertising behind the bar just above a series of stapled foreign currency. Dollar bills are similarly given their own chance to shine, serving as default wall covering for much of the area behind the bar closest to the window stage.
And that stage is a tiny one, one of those stages that when empty is difficult to envision holding an actual band. But that’s a bit of the theme at Chatterbox Jazz Club, maximizing a small amount of space in a way that creates the best possible experience within. Tightly packed band, tightly packed crowd, aging floor and dark ceiling, drinking here is being packed into a jazz-themed ship hull in the best possible way. When live music is absent, a vintage jukebox that thankfully pre-dates the Internet’s ability to ruin a good jukebox picks up the slack.
Especially around the bar area, the decorations are tightly packed among the dollar bills and string lights, ranging from typical beer signs to framed photos and faded pictures stapled to the wall. Even the stage takes up the mantle of dive bar decoration, playing host to a handful of hand drawn sketches of bands tacked to the wood panel wall that creeps toward the stage. Chatterbox Jazz Club is an Indianapolis dive bar through and through, from stage to fridge, from bench seating to bar.
And beyond the simple contrast of authentic dive bar next to polished clothing boutique, Chatterbox Jazz Club justifies its status as legit jazz dive in a way that supersedes its neighboring businesses. Bought in 1982, the space mercifully still looks like a bar purchased in 1982, using that authenticity to create a vibe inside impossible to replicate with new fixtures and fresh paint. Cover or not, music or not, this is as true a dive bar as can be found anywhere near downtown Indianapolis with objectively high quality jazz adding icing to the dive bar cake.