Bay Area Venue Profile – The Ashkenaz

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With a wooden facade that opens out into a historical space that spans up to 5,000 square feet, The Ashkenaz is a multicultural venue that has consistently welcomed arts from various cultures across the world for the last four decades; it’s a part of San Francisco’s vibrant heritage. It’s witnessed diverse musical performances spanning across styles as varied as Brazilian Samba, Bluegrass, Reggae, Blues, Eastern European folk music, Flamenco, African music, Cajun, Balkan, and even East and West Coast Swing. Also on The Ashkenaz’s schedule are music and dance programs for children, workshops, benefit shows, and concerts by both established artists and aspiring musicians. It’s a place for great artistry, and creativity for all.

This venue, with its structure inspired by an Eastern European wooden synagogue, has a past that is as captivating as its present. Back in 1973, David Nadel, a folk-dancer at the Westwind International Folk Ensemble, was moved by the overwhelming experience of listening to musical acts and watching dance performances from other cultures. Driven by a passion to share this experience with others who enjoyed similar interests, and inspired by the growing popularity of international music and folk dance in the East Bay, Nadel converted an inconspicuous warehouse on the San Pablo Avenue into a club that he named ‘Ashkenaz Music & Dance Cafe’, after his Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. The venue opened its doors to arts from all over the world and went on to become the informal cultural nucleus of its community. And two decades after it was founded, The Ashkenaz was designated as a city landmark by the Berkeley City Council.

Three years later, in 1996, heartbreak struck the thriving community that The Ashkenaz had sustained – David Nadel was shot in the head by a drunken patron whom he had expelled from the club. Following this tragedy, the musicians, dancers, patrons, and employees of The Ashkenaz joined hands and bought the club to ensure that Nadel’s beautiful work didn’t die out. And like a phoenix rising from the ashes, The Ashkenaz reopened to the public six months later. This time around, it emerged as ‘The Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center’ – a nonprofit organization focused on breaking down cultural barriers and uniting people through a common love for performing arts from all over the world.

Today, The Ashkenaz has something for everybody, including events and holiday celebrations, benefits for local activists and organizations, and regular live performances every Sunday by local musicians for children in the locality. And with participatory workshops centered around various styles of dance and music, along with movement classes, live music nearly every night, and even a dance studio, a bar, and a vegetarian restaurant, there’s almost never a dull day. What’s even better is that no matter what your preferred style of music or dance is, they’re bound to have something on the calendar that’ll get you excited. And if you’re up for it, you could even try and experience a new musical genre or a style of dance you haven’t seen before, because you may just end up falling in love with it!

Check out their full event calendar HERE.

Photo courtesy of CC/Flickr

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for and, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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