In May 1934, Chris Baker opened up a beer and sandwich restaurant on Livernois Street in Detroit. Within months, while the place was still known as a restaurant, it was featuring pianists.
When Baker’s son, Clarence, took over the shop in 1939 at the age of 20, he started to expand the business. By 1954, musicians were playing in the club almost nightly. The local pianist Pat Flowers was so popular that Clarence was making more money in entertainment than in food service and the focus of the club started to shift.
The following year, major jazz acts dominated the stage. As word spread and the club’s prominence grew, more and more famous musicians came to play its stage. Baker’s became a standard stop on the nation’s jazz circuit. As more customers showed up, Clarence installed Italian tile because it had the highest acoustic rating, a seven-foot Steinway piano, and a now trademark piano-shaped bar with mock keys swirling around its edges. It is said that after Liberace saw the bar, he raced home to his Beverly Hills mansion to order a piano-shaped pool installed in his backyard.
Baker’s Keyboard Lounge claims to be the oldest operating jazz club in the world, operating continuously for more than seven decades.
Over the years, dozens of big names have performed at Baker’s. Among them, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Fats Waller. Baker’s maintains a list of many of the famous musicians who have played the club on their website.