Nineteen ninety-nine. That’s pretty much the last time the local and national zeitgeist felt convivial enough for me to share an intimate, alcohol-infused musical experience with complete strangers.
From the story:
Martuni’s is a dimly lit, two-room cubbyhole at Valencia and Market on the ground floor of a building housing a tattoo joint, massage parlor, and laundromat. On a night like tonight, the crowd’s blissful state is spurred by more than good songs sung well and stiff drinks served big. There’s a vibe among patrons that they’re sharing something special, something unique.
Nowhere else in this city can customers breathe the same air as incognito Broadway actors, local theater folk, and the glorified shower singers of San Francisco, all accompanied by a professional pianist, and all for the price of a beverage. The roll call of San Francisco establishments where audience members sing nightly to professional accompaniment is jarringly brief. “I take people in there and they say they didn’t know such a place still existed,” says 80-year-old music enthusiast and collector Bob Johnson, who donated the 60,000 musical scores he didn’t give away over the years to piano bar singers to the city’s Museum of Performance and Design. “There’s only one true piano bar left in this city: Martuni’s.” Full story
I happen to live just a few blocks away from Martuni’s, and though it’s been many years since I got oiled up there, the piece describes the place as I remember it.
As Eskenazi writes, piano bars have been supplanted in the nation’s performance-fantasy life by karaoke joints:
“For most people, the distinction between karaoke and piano bars is something they either don’t see or don’t care to. Karaoke bars, in this and every city, are plentiful. Piano bars are dinosaurs. Martuni’s is a piano bar in a karaoke world. In time, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble — they’re only made of clay. It remains to be seen if piano bars are here to stay.”
More on the story in this SF Weekly blog post.