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Baker's Keyboard Lounge. - COURTESY PHOTO

  • Courtesy photo
  • Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.

Smooth jazz, cool cash, and fried chicken are on the menu at one of the world’s oldest jazz clubs — and one of Detroit’s most beloved treasures.

This week, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation named 87-year-old Baker’s Keyboard Lounge as one of the nation’s small and significant spaces owned by an underrepresented group.

Located at Livernois and Eight Mile, Baker’s is just one of 25 restaurants in the U.S. to receive this designation, which also awarded each of the spaces with a $40,000 preservation grant to keep things up and running, including potential exterior upgrades, establishing/expanding outdoor seating areas, and utilization of online business tools. The restaurants will also receive assistance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation on how to make the best use of the grant funds.

“Historic small restaurants are cultural treasures that strengthen their communities and carry their legacies and traditions forward in deeply meaningful ways,” Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer, National Trust said in a press release. “These restaurants have demonstrated their resiliency for decades, and even while dealing with the financial impacts of the pandemic, they have continued to support their communities in many ways. We are honored to partner with American Express to help these landmarks write the next chapters in their amazing stories.”

Baker’s was established in 1934 and has been host to performances by icons like Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and comedian Lenny Bruce. But it hasn’t always been an easy road for Baker’s, where performing here has been called a rite of passage by many Detroit jazz players.

Following the club’s 75th anniversary in 2009, then-owner John Colbert alluded to possible closure due to economic decline. Last year, amid the pandemic, Baker’s pivoted to a carry-out-only format to stay afloat. Currently, Baker’s is open for indoor dining as well as carry-out service.

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