In Westchester and Playa Del Rey, the memories are fading of the once many piano bars that graced our town. Places such as; The La Marina Inn, The Kings X, The Bar of Melody, The Cavalier, The Sandpiper and Jakes On The Hill; and way back, Inglewood’s own Esther Williams; The Trails.
These were smoky Old School places, with dark paneled walls and large overstuffed booths with candles burning on the tables. The kind of place that The Rat Pack frequented back in the day, and you half expected Robert Goulet to walk in dressed in a tuxedo. You took your mother to dinner at these places on her birthday; after she had her hair done and she sometimes wore a corsage.
During the 19th century, American musicians playing for working-class audiences in small pubs and bars, particularly African-American composers, developed new musical genres based on the modern piano. Ragtime music, popularized by composers such as Scott Joplin, reached a broader audience by 1900.
Jimmy Durante started as a piano bar player, as did Billy Joel. Joel’s classic hit Piano Man is based on his experiences as a piano bar player. Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli also played in piano bars to pay for singing lessons.
Theatre historian John Kenrick describes the piano bar as follows:
A piano bar is a hybrid creature: part performance space, part living room, part cruise-a-thon, and part saloon. The bar is there to sell drinks, the pianist is there to perform, and the crowd is there to sing, listen, drink, eat and socialize. (Wikipedia).
Here in town, perhaps none is more remembered than Bill The Piano Man at the old Fireside Restaurant; now known as Tompkins Square. Well into the 1990’s, the Fireside was the place. Locals and film and Broadway stars would return again and again to take the microphone and croon a tune with Bill.
This was the last of a generation that came in without television and access to modern musical devices; folks that learned their craft sitting around a family piano in the parlor on a Sunday evening, reading the notes and following the words on Irving Berlin sheet music. And they went out with many happy memories at The Fireside.
There is one man has kept the show tunes and ballads alive more than anyone else; Peter Wegener at The Buggy Whip on La Tierja. Try to stump Peter; I dare you.
Opened in 1949 and the home of Green Goddess dressing and world class prime rib, The Buggy Whip Steakhouse continues to draw the crowds in search of a traditional carnivore’s dining experience, with a dash of Stardust and Memory on the side.