An interview with jazz club owner Alex Best

"I don't care for status symbols"

Alex Best was born in New York and lived in Brooklyn until he was offered a job in Munich. In 1993, he opened the bar Mister B’s, the smallest jazz club in the city. We spoke to him about his early days in Munich, his philosophy on life and, of course, his love for a very particular music genre.

Alex Best lives and breathes jazz. For the past 26 years, the New Yorker has run the smallest jazz club in Munich, Mister B's. The club owner is always well dressed, often in a suit with a matching waistcoat. Apart from the musicians, his club is therefore quite the one-man show. He mixes all the drinks himself – his diploma from the American Bartenders School is proudly displayed on the wall behind the bar – serves the guests and books the musicians. The 20-square-metre club at Goetheplatz is run by him all on his own.

I’ve only ever seen the cosy club with three tables and bar stools packed to the rafters – some guests even have to stand in the entrance area or by the doors during live performances. But right now the small room is empty and Alex Best, wearing a stiffened shirt with a white tie and black waistcoat, is calmly clearing away a few bottles before the doors open in an hour.

Alex, I’ll soon be going on a business trip to New York. Can you recommend a good jazz club?

That’s a tough one. There are so many jazz bars and cultural spots – the city has it all. But just because something is popular today, doesn’t mean it’ll still be there tomorrow. That’s New York. But I’d check out the Jazz Jam Sessions in Brooklyn. It only costs five dollars to get in and you can listen to some amazing musicians.

Was music part of your childhood in Brooklyn?

I’d always listened to lots of music, but jazz only came later. I used to just see it as relaxing background music. But then I met people who knew a lot about music; they’d hand me records and say, “check this out!”. So, I was eighteen when I started listening to artists like Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane. That’s when my relationship with jazz really boomed (laughs).

"Jazz has so much meaning. Many of the songs were written in hard times and you can really hear that. That’s why the genre became my number one – and it still is to this day."
Alex Best

Do you have a distinct recollection of that boom effect?

Oh yeah, when I heard the musicians in the metro and on the streets of New York. And when I realised what the songs really meant. I’d only ever listened to funk, rock and soul – everything that was cool and played in the nightclubs. But jazz has so much meaning. Many of the songs were written in hard times and you can really hear that. That’s why the genre became my number one – and it still is to this day.

You came to Munich to work for the U.S. Consulate. Why did you end up switching careers?

It got to the point where I had to choose whether to return to the U.S. or stay in Munich. I wanted to stay here but try something new – do my own thing. I had absolutely no experience of running a club. But when I went out myself, I sometimes wished there was a place without doormen who decided whether you were allowed in. And you sometimes got funny looks if you ordered water or coffee instead of alcohol. So, I thought I’d just go ahead and create that place myself.

What is so special about Mister B's?

Everyone’s welcome here. It’s a bar where humanity comes first. I don’t care for status symbols; it’s just about spending a nice evening together and respecting one another. And there’s no such thing as a “regular” in my dictionary. People who come regularly are quick to expect preferential treatment. But all guests are treated equally here – regardless of whether I know them and like seeing them here often.

Do you remember the opening night of the club?

Oh yeah. It was very interesting. Lots of people said it wouldn’t last very long and nobody would want to listen to the music. I just thought, “well, if you say so…”.

"All of a sudden, people were saying: “Hey, you need to check out this little bar – there’s a guy who plays great jazz music and it only costs eight D-Mark to get in!”
Alex Best

Did you have live music back then?

Yeah, it’s always been on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. But there weren’t too many musicians back then – I started out with two people every evening and it took time until it was really established.

How do you choose the musicians?

They choose me. They’re either guests themselves or they drop by and ask for a gig. We only hosted American artists at first and the bar was considered an insider tip, although I didn’t really see things that way. Our guests and musicians came from far and wide, including places like Nuremberg, Berchtesgaden and Stuttgart – it took a few years for the locals to catch on. But then an editor from Bayern 3 stopped by and asked whether he could shoot a documentary about me. All of a sudden, people were saying: “Hey, you need to check out this little bar – there’s a guy who plays great jazz music and it only costs eight D-Mark to get in!”

What memory comes to your mind when you think back on the years?

A teacher from a school for disabled children stopped by one evening. She’d just been to the cinema with her class and was wondering where to go afterwards. They ended up in my bar, and they danced and laughed the night away. The teacher was so happy that everyone had a good time, and the children hugged me and asked whether they could come again. There were even a few jazz lovers amongst them – one requested something by Dave Brubeck. It was a really nice and warm vibe that evening.

Where do you like to go in Munich?

To bed. (laughs)

I’m often too exhausted to go anywhere else. I try to stay healthy by maintaining a good work-life balance. I sometimes just go for a walk and wander round without a real plan.

Do you miss New York?

No. My theory is simple: If you miss the place you were born, you should go back. You won’t be able to enjoy another place if you’re only half there. If I ever miss something, I ask myself why. And whenever someone tells me they miss me, I say: “Well, come over!”. I think that’s fair. (laughs)

It seems pretty simple when you put it like that.

We make everything so complicated, because we live in a stressful world. We make life harder for ourselves through external pressures. But the question is really, “what makes you happy?”

And what makes you happy, Alex?

Two things are important: respect and self-love. If you do that for yourself and others, you’ll take happiness with you wherever you go. It’s not a bad investment, right? It doesn’t cost anything to be nice. That’s why my club is a feel-good place. And I always say, “a man with a smile is a man with style!”

 

You can find more info about Mister B's here.

 

 

Text: Anika Landsteiner; Photos: Frank Stolle

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