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Bringing jazz back: Late-night destination Emma Rue’s adds more live music to its menu of coffee, food, desserts and craft cocktails

Emma Rue’s owner Aaron Hein, right, and jazz singer and consultant Heather Villa are photographed at Emma Rue’s in downtown Spokane last Wednesday.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

When owners Aaron Hein and Alyssa Agee officially opened Emma Rue’s in downtown Spokane the first week in January, they brought coffee (Emma Rue’s soft opened as a café in November), craft cocktails, food and desserts served late into the night to the culinary scene.

Then it was live music in the form of jazz on Thursdays in February and Rose Throw, a trip hop and chill jazz DJ, on Fridays in the space of the former Observatory and Blue Spark at 17 S. Howard St.

With late-night-hour and live-music success in place, Hein, with the help of local jazz singer and consultant Heather Villa, is now expanding live jazz music at Emma Rue’s to Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, as well, from 7-9 the three nights, with Tuesdays focused on college musicians (both students and instructors) and crowds. The Wednesday jazz night premiered on June 1.

“When we built this place, I always envisioned jazz as what we did. If we were going to do music in here, it was going to be jazz. And now I want jazz back here in Spokane,” Hein said at Emma Rue’s on Friday afternoon. “Most jazz clubs aren’t big, so I thought that we could embrace it here at Emma Rue’s.

“I’m a musician by trade and have been involved in the music community most of my life and wanted to continue that. There hasn’t been a home for jazz in Spokane since Ella’s Supper Club closed many years ago. And coming out of the pandemic, people are really hungry for a way to connect – a way to engage. The idea is to bring people together with the focus on jazz.”

Hein had first seen Villa perform at the top of the Paulsen Building and was blown away by her, so working with her at Emma Rue’s was a no-brainer, as Villa also is a longtime performer with deep connections in the community, and the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday jazz night offering was born.

“We have a lot of passion for the same things,” Villa said of Agee and Hein. “I’m a native of Spokane, I’ve been here my whole life, and I’m super passionate about jazz. Ella’s was the place I went to as a young jazz singer, and it was amazing for me, everything about it. Ella’s was a community, and we want to create that community here.”

The first night last Wednesday was a strong start. “We packed the place,” Hein said. “It was amazing and absolutely packed to the gills,” Villa added. “Many of the performers we had last Wednesday were recent graduates of the jazz program at Whitworth.

“My band Villa Blues and Jazz has been playing Thursday nights since February, and it has been really wonderful to have a place to perform and tell people to go and connect with the community.”

Hein has seen a strong interest in jazz at Emma Rue’s, and it’s not just the older generation.

“There are a lot of people interested in jazz, including the next generation of musicians and performers, and there’s no place to experience it in Spokane,” Hein said. “We’re also working hard to make this a safe space for everyone, where everyone can feel comfortable.”

Hein is excited about Emma Rue’s new Happy Hour, which is 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays (all spirits are 20% off during Happy Hour, and Emma Rue’s boasts the largest absinthe collection in Spokane), and is toying with the idea of specials and themes on the jazz nights.

“People don’t realize that we have food. We’ve become a dessert and cocktail destination, but we have substantial food so that you’re not just drinking,” said Hein, who is expanding the dessert offerings at Emma Rue’s, including gluten-free and focusing on more French dessert items.

Hein and Villa encourage everyone to become a part of the jazz scene – and especially jazz trios and quartets – at Emma Rue’s, which is busiest from 7 p.m. to midnight, said Hein, who also appreciates the support of other businesses in town.

“It has been the weirdest part of my life not being able to perform,” said Villa, who plays the ukulele. “It has been an emotional roller-coaster for a lot of us. To be able to be in front of a live audience again … we thank Emma Rue’s for offering a live-music venue again. It has been a long time, and I feel creative and inspired by the audiences again. It’s really wonderful.”

Once-a-month jazz nights on Saturdays are also on the calendar with David Larsen, with room to grow. “If a city is going to embrace culture and bring more diverse culture into it, it needs to have a jazz scene,” Villa said. “It’s a really important element because it brings so many other cultures with it.”

Brunch at Emma Rue’s

My first cocktail bar brunch at Emma Rue’s included bourbon maple dressed eggs (bacon jam, pickled onions, bourbon maple glaze), smoked salmon canapés (creme fraiche, arugula, walnut pesto, lemon jus), the cocktail the Neptune (gin, lemon juice, simple egg white, absinthe and green chartreuse), the caffe corretto the Vatican (one shot of espresso, creme de cacao, brandy, black Irish cream, whipping cream), an orange pomegranate madeleine and a blueberry earl grey financier.

I loved all of it, and Emma Rue’s is a fabulous after-dinner and pre- and post-show spot – and now a great location for Happy Hour and live jazz music, as well.

More jazz in Spokane

Friday night offered another jazz outing, as fellow Gonzaga University alumnus Garrin Hertel and his Zonky Jazz Band performed an exceptional and sellout Mildred Bailey tribute concert featuring Bailey’s niece Julia Rinker, celebrated clarinetist Ken Peplowski, singers Olivia Brownlee and Liv Tracy, clarinetist and arranger David Larsen and more at Montvale Event Center. Let’s hope that live jazz music continues to be alive and well in Spokane.