Sunday, January 23, 2005
A POTENT MUSICAL MIXTURE
by Ben Fong-Torres
time, Bernie Schindler sold calculators and cash registers. But those
times are long past for Schindler. These days -- check that -- these
nights, the 77-year-old retiree whiles away most of his time dancing,
spinning much younger women around various dance floors. His hair --
puffed up in a delicate blend of Al Davis and Donald Trump -- bounces
jovially along with him.
Thursday nights, you'll find Schindler on the upstairs dance floor at
Le Colonial, the upscale Vietnamese restaurant that took over the Cosmo
Place space occupied for decades by Trader Vic's. Decked-out and dolled-up
crowds, from youngsters to the young at heart, gather to swing and sway
to the music of the Martini Brothers. In so doing, they've created a
unique San Francisco scene.
particular Thursday, during the holiday season, there's a teenage boy
-- 15-year-old Nick Willette, in town from Lake Tahoe, dancing with
his aunt. "I dance mostly swing," he says. "In school,
it's not hip or any of that, but I don't listen to rap. I like Led Zeppelin,
blues and swing." Oh, but it is hip, at least with this crowd.
At the door, Pat Phillips greets some friends. "We're here, we're
there, we're all over the place," she says. Phillips says she has
been following the Martini Brothers for seven years. "I like the
music, the era. It's romantic. It allows you to have conversations while
you dance. It's how I met my boyfriend." Serafina Miller, 27, dances
with the Art Deco Society of California's performing troupe, the Decobelles.
Her father, she says, is a musician who worked with Janis Joplin, the
Grateful Dead and others. "I can't help but dance," she says.
"And this is so refreshing. All these men I can dance with, without
Decobelle, Angie Major, 34, is a dance instructor who brought several
of her students to Le Colonial. A dazzling dancer, she is constantly
sought as a partner. "It doesn't matter who's here," she says.
"They like to dance; I like to dance. It breaks the age barrier."
She glances at the packed dance floor, and at the Martini Brothers.
"The band is fabulous," she says, "but I especially love
Bob Dalpe's voice. He's like Frank Sinatra -- so smooth."
Brothers are Dalpe and guitarist Richard ("Mr. Rick") Fishman,
who dress in matching period outfits of the '30s and '40s. They get
solid backing from pianist Andy Ostwald, bassist Neil Heidler, drummer
Bob Blankenship, and sax and clarinet player Jeff Sanford. Dalpe's velvety
voice echoes Sinatra and Mel Torme, but the band can dish out any of
400 tunes, from standards to jumpin' jazz classics, from "Ain't
She Sweet" to "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart."
singing around town in 1992 when he met Fishman, a well-known collector
and dealer of Art Deco furnishings and co-producer (with his partner,
photographer Laurie Gordon) of a floating flashback dinner-dance party
called "Mr. Rick's Martini Club." The two began hiring each
other for various gigs. "We got to be friends," Dalpe says,
"and we'd hang out at his house and drink martinis and play music."
formed a four-piece band and, responding to people who remarked that
they looked like siblings, became the Martini Brothers in 1994. "And
when we came up with the name," Dalpe recalls, " we started
talking about the Brown Sisters (San Francisco's famed dress-alike twins).
And we both love that era of clothing, so we said, gee, if we're gonna
do this, then let's be brothers and dress alike."
and I have some special energy together that happens naturally, and
it's always been that way," Fishman says. "That's why we've
been able to work together for a long time." Beginning with a weekly
stint at Campton Place, the Martini Brothers became regulars at such
spots as Julie Ring's Heart and Soul, a '40s-styled dinner club on upper
Polk, and Cafe Fino in Palo Alto. Since October, they've been playing
standards in a lounge that evokes French colonial Vietnam, shades of
the film "Indochine." Formerly a private dining room called
the Trafalgar Room in the Trader Vic's years, "it was very popular
among the social set," says Kimberly Bakker, a partner in Le Colonial.
manager Tim Dale has been presenting live jazz in the space on Thursdays
and Fridays, but hasn't had much luck with vocalists. "It's been
more of a background to the bar scene," he says.
Martini Brothers, he says, have a strong following. "They're nostalgia.
They're not just a band. They're the whole vibe, the whole nine yards,
the whole kit and caboodle."
think they've found a good home for themselves," Bakker says. "Their
music fits the space well. It's nice to see people dressed so nicely,
and to have a bit of the past." Le Colonial's regulars -- the younger
singles who frequent the bar -- "dig the energy" of the Martini
Brothers crowd, Dale says. "They say, 'Boy, the joint is jumpin'!"
is a freelance writer.
Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle
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