Plumbing

The return of Martuni’s, San Francisco’s solely true piano bar

Now that the queer bars have reopened, the San Francisco LGBTQ + community has abundant evidence that zoom is a totally inadequate way to experience camaraderie and togetherness, and these are vital spaces that deserve our patronage and protection.

We also have substantial evidence that some of them play terrible music at full volume with no sense of taste or judgment, like a SoulCycle in Orinda.

Then there is Martuni’s, perhaps the only real piano bar in town, a kind of AAA team for cabaret singers who aim for the more upscale stage at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, along with professional musicians who let off steam. It’s not exactly a true queer bar, but a really mixed environment, the format of which attracts a large gay following. Located in this nether vortex, which is somehow not the Mission, the Hayes Valley, the Castro or the Lower Haight, it is also a beautifully lit room with a front and a back room, in which proper cocktail serving martinis in proper martini glasses deliver – not those little hearty things.

On a Thursday at the end of June, Martuni’s reopened after more than a year, less with fanfare than with fan favorites. Singer and pianist Joseph Magdalena III piloted the baby grand piano as singer after singer performed, with groups of smartly dressed people grinning everywhere. It’s not karaoke as there is no text screen or reverb on the microphone, and it was essentially a rite of worship for the Great American Songbook itself. At one point, Magdalena wore artificial insignia and sang “You’ll Be Back,” one of the numbers of King George III. from “Hamilton”.

San Francisco nightlife personality Maria Konner recently reopened Martuni’s.

Mariah Tiffany / Special on SFGATE

“I used to play here once a month,” said Maria Konner, the San Francisco nightlife personality, a few days before the Girl Shock release party, her memoir about her life on stage and sex reassignment. “This was the funniest place when I moved here 15 years ago, the epicenter of straight and queer people. It changed a little before COVID, got a little more mainstream. So I ask myself: Which butterflies will fly out of the COVID cocoon? “

“Maybe they want to explore a little more,” Konner continued as someone sang “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. “You spend a lot of time online looking for alternative things and maybe you want to come to a place like this, a place with some class. Not a dark, dirty club. “

Local food writer Omar Mamoon managed to make it into Esquire’s Best Bars in America for 2020, but whether or not such a list deserves an asterisk in a plague year, Konner is absolutely right that Martuni’s class is exemplary. Take the $ 12 namesake drink. Made with Smirnoff (if vodka) or Gordon’s (if gin), it is a reminder that “walktails” and other modifications to drinking culture from the COVID-19 era are a pale facsimile of what life should be. You can also be uplifted and have the Ultra-Martuni with Source One Vodka or Heritage Estate Juniper Grove Gin as well as a lemon drop or a Cosmo or one of half a dozen fruity martinis like watermelon or creamsicle.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni's, San Francisco's only real piano bar.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni’s, San Francisco’s only real piano bar.

Mariah Tiffany / Special on SFGATE

Cocktail server (and even a jazz singer) Rhonda Sauce quit her engineering job just hours before her shift. She had heard that the owner, Skip Ziobron, needed a little help reopening, so here she was.

She typically sings “The Life of the Party”, Idina Menzel’s song from “The Wild Party” as well as jazz standards like “You Turned the Tables on Me” or cbut, while performing at what she calls the best bar City is sticking to Sauce’s core task of giving people space. What percentage of customers order something that is not a martini because of their short tenure?

“Five percent,” she said. “And it’s usually after martinis, and they just want a nice, stiff scotch.”

Clinton Sienega (Dirty Vodka Martini) and Jimmy Kraft (apricot) were there to take part of that space.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni's, San Francisco's only real piano bar.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni’s, San Francisco’s only real piano bar.

Mariah Tiffany / Special on SFGATE

“Martuni’s was the first bar I ever went to. I was 19 and fell in love, ”says Kraft, a native of Novato who is now old enough to legally drink. “I’ve lived in town for five years and I’m a regular. I teach singing, saxophone and piano and I play. I just came here to let off steam. “

Kraft had been Sienega’s teacher after another City College singing teacher told her class to practice with Martuni. (“National cocktail bar as a course assignment” is a pretty glamorous homework, n’est-ce pas?)

“I was shaking the first night,” says Sienega. “I did this song from ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘On the Street Where You Live’, and there were several people up there who were so supportive and encouraging by the trembling voice. They got me rooted and I kept coming back. Then I soon became a regular guest. This is the only place in SF I’ve waited to open again. This is # 1 on my list. Please survive, please be there – because San Francisco will not be San Francisco without Martuni! “

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni's, San Francisco's only real piano bar.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni’s, San Francisco’s only real piano bar.

Mariah Tiffany / Special on SFGATE

Joseph Magdalena IV and his wife Jessica Roy agreed. They came from Los Angeles to meet Joseph III. to congratulate him on his return to the piano and on Father’s Day. Joseph IV’s mother and grandfather, Joseph II, were also present. Was papa surprised?

“Oh yeah, big surprise,” said Joseph II, adding that he and a core group of artists had hosted a weekly cabaret night on Facebook Live during the pandemic to keep the spirit of Martuni alive. Over 15 months Gershwin and Broadway all began piling up soundboards and other professional equipment, and Joseph III. regularly raised funds to cover rental costs (as well as a new piano).

“This is such a big part of our family and we wanted to do what we could,” said Joseph II. “I did ‘The Rainbow Connection’ and bought a Kermit muppet. During the cut, I ducked under the camera and came up and recorded myself for both parts. I could sing the duet with me and the Kermit doll. ”

For her part, his wife Jessica taught herself to yodel so she could sing “The Lonely Goatherd” from “The Sound of Music”.

“It was less difficult than I thought,” she says.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni's, San Francisco's only real piano bar.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni’s, San Francisco’s only real piano bar.

Mariah Tiffany / Special on SFGATE

People sang “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” and “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin”. A countertenor named Matheus Luduwig Coura and his friend Manu made it even better with a performance of “La Habanera” from “Carmen” with light BDSM. Completely unimpressed, the crowd called back the chorus (“Prends garde à toi!”) As if on cue.

“I like to do opera drag, so I usually go around with a leather whip and slap the audience,” Coura said later.

It was clear that the followers of Joe III. enthusiastic, including a regular Thursday evening and a manufacturer of radio-oncological devices who only called his name as Ulf.

“I was really concerned that Martuni would not survive the pandemic,” said Ulf, who was standing next to his two-week wife. “I paid part of the rent from some of the waiters. I really missed going All [in my neighborhood] goes to sleep at 7:30 am, all the Prius Nazis – and then you come here and the people are just themselves. There is no such thing as ‘what are you doing?’ No one-sidedness. ”

Peter-Astrid Kane (they / them) is the communications manager of San Francisco Pride and former editor of SF Weekly.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni's, San Francisco's only real piano bar.

The scene at the recently reopened Martuni’s, San Francisco’s only real piano bar.

Mariah Tiffany / Special on SFGATE

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