Best Dixieland Swing
129 8th Avenue, near 16th Street
In a city where a single jazz ticket can often cost as much as a full CD box set, The Cajun has been showcasing some of the best big-band jazz in the country and charging no cover at all. A favorite of nostalgic old-timers like Mel Brooks and R. Crumb, this cluttered Chelsea restaurant (a pitch-perfect New Orleans imitation, decorated with cheap bead necklaces and faded Mardi Gras posters) serves spicy jambalaya and blackened catfish to complement an infectious mix of nearly forgotten twenties and thirties jazz classics that you won't hear anywhere this side of a Woody Allen film soundtrack. Vince Giordano's gleeful, expert Nighthawks crowd the tiny stage and burn through sheet music on Mondays and Thursdays, while a cast of devoted lesser-knowns giddily perform every other night. "This is one of the only places in the world where you can hear this old music," says one saxophonist and regular. "I mean, where else are you going to go?"