House Calls – An elegant, intimate jazz club beckons enthusiasts to San Juan Capistrano
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Egan House is a handsomely restored, late 19th century home once owned by a stern judge named Egan. Not only is it a restaurant these days, but also it reverts to a jazz club on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, when sultry songstress Judy Chamberlain is featured. Would the judge approve? One hardly thinks so.
This is one of O.C.’s more elegant venues for jazz: parquet floors, cream-colored walls and beautiful chairs constructed of moss-green wicker. Chamberlain makes her music in the mirrored bar area. The best place to listen is at the green marble bar itself, so close to the musicians that the feel is of being in a small cabaret somewhere on New York’s Upper Eastside.
Chamberlain is a gifted performer with a friendly, seductive voice and no shortage of rapport with the audience. (She wears another hat as a restaurant critic and formerly was host of her own program on a local cable channel.) She is ever so in her element here, warbling in a strong, clear voice tunes from artists as diverse as Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Nina Simone.
Thursdays, the joint really begins to jump as the dinner service winds down. That night, Chamberlain sings with a combo of bass player Luther Hughes and keyboardist Jan Jordan.
Sundays, when the mood is more mellow, she is accompanied by versatile jazz guitarist Steve Cotter. More impressive is the fact that Chamberlain, who also works local rooms such as Twin Palms in Newport Beach and Mistral in Corona del Mar, is the bandleader and does her own sound mixing.
On a recent Sunday, four of us are seated in one of the small downstairs dining rooms, and I am lucky enough to have a direct line of sight to the stage area. Chamberlain is performing a tune called “You Can Have Him,” written by Irving Berlin in 1949, but she soon changes the mood with the George and Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”
The image is almost perfect. The only thing missing is a grand piano for the singer to lean on and a rose to clench in her teeth when the song is over.
Meanwhile, we are eating well on the restaurant’s delicious brioche bread and brunch classics such as eggs Florentine and tagliatelle carbonara, washing everything down with mimosas and oaky glasses of Pine Ridge chardonnay.
As the afternoon winds down, Chamberlain shifts to a livelier, more spirited rendition of “Don’t Mess With My Man.”
Come on Thursday evenings around 9:30, and you will hear the soft jazz milieu metamorphose into skat and soul, genres that elicit a wild audience reaction. San Juan Capistrano will never try to pass itself off as New York City, but Egan House and Chamberlain do their best to bring a taste of the Big Apple to South County.
Egan House, 31982 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Judy Chamberlain performs Thursdays 8-11 p.m. and during Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. There is no cover charge. For reservations, call (714) 488-0409.