The Martini Brothers Band
Song List
Mr. Rick's Martini Club

REVTITLE.gif (2384 bytes)

San Francisco Chronicle logo
Sunday, January 23, 2005
by Ben Fong-Torres

martini brothers photo

In his 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.

And on 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.

On this 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 being groped!"

Another 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."

The Martini 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."

Dalpe was 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."

Soon, they 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."

"Bob 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.

General 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.

But the 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."

"I 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'!"

Ben Fong-Torres is a freelance writer.
Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle

Click to read this story on the Chronicle's website




Return to Home    Mr. Ricks Martini Club Home

© 1999-2015, Martini Music. All Rights Reserved

Website Design by Possibility Promotion