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Piano Bars That 'Make You a Star' for a Song

January 23, 1986|JANE MAYER

I never had a recording career.

I sing and play piano by ear.

Still I feel like a star at the piano bar.

Sometimes I sing a little off key

But that's between just you and me.

Sing-along songs, silver threads among gold.

One for the baby and one for the road.

Come hear your neighborhood star at the piano bar.

The audience cheers when Sterling Radcliffe, composer of the above song, comes to the microphone. He's a neighborhood star. He's one of the thousands of singers who like going to piano bars where the customers have the privilege of vocalizing.

If you too enjoy the camaraderie of singing around a piano, or you're looking for a place to unwind at the end of the day, here are 10 neighborhood sing-along bars. You may meet Sterling. Or, who knows, you may become a neighborhood star.

Alberto's--8826 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 278-2770. George Ferrick knows how to get the crowd in the mood to sing. He turns down the lights for romantic ballads, uses persuasion to help the fearful overcome their fears. When Shana, a visitor from England, forgot the words to "Falling in Love Again," Ferrick came to the rescue with amusing new lyrics. The entertainer harmonizes with "stars" who come to the microphone, and he plays show tunes--lots of Gershwin and Kern and Al Jolson, even "Vesti la Giubba" for an Italian-opera lover. Ferrick plays Monday through Thursday 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Sundays 7:30 p.m. to midnight.

Epicure Inn--7625 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park, (818) 888-3300. A legacy from the days when this restaurant was called the "Generous Briton," this bar is jammed with singers from the British Isles. A small lounge, it has the look of an Irish pub. Everyone in the room participates, and vocalists seem part of one big, happy family. Irene Dalton knows her customers' favorites: Songs she learned while accompanying her father. Neighborhood "stars" like Irish tenor Joe, who favors old standards from the '20s and '30s, share the limelight with newcomers. Don't expect rock 'n' roll here. Irene Dalton is at the piano Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Far East Terrace--4123 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 985-1139. Joyce Wellington sits at the keyboard in a large, softly lighted room with an Oriental motif. "I try to mix background music with melodies people like to sing," Wellington says. "This gives everyone a chance to chat." Songs run the gamut from "A Chorus Line" to an amusing rendition of "Mascara" from "La Cage aux Folles." Wellington plays on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 8:30 p.m. to closing.

Fireside Restaurant--8522 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester, (213) 670-1212. Toy teddy bears blink a welcome on Bill Fulkerson's piano bar in this small neighborhood restaurant. Fulkerson's fans are loyal; they didn't budge from their seats even when the Loyola Marymount polo team spent more than an hour presenting awards at their year-end celebration. But everyone around the piano joined in a rousing farewell by singing "Tiny Bubbles," and there was a collective sigh of relief when Fulkerson returned to his usual format of novelty tunes, folk, country and Western melodies. Fulkerson can be heard Monday through Saturday from 9:15 p.m. to 1:45 a.m.

Five Crowns--3801 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, (714) 760-0331. Mary Lou O'Toole has been playing for more than 13 years at this Old English bar, where barmaids dress in authentic costumes. The blond pianist with the sultry voice sings and accompanies neighborhood regulars in foot-stomping, hand-clapping tunes. Willie Nelson's songs are favorites. "Bass Larry" stops by to sing two or three times a week because, he says, "Mary Lou is so terrific. She can play any kind of music." O'Toole appears Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Eileen Wright plays Mondays 8 p.m. to midnight.

Jet Set Room--6815 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 670-8063. Buddy Worth's loyal fans come from as far as Woodland Hills, as close as Beverly Hills. Among his following is Marcia, a receptionist by day, songbird by night, who brings her own arrangements. And then there's Julie, a professional clarinetist, who specializes in Artie Shaw renditions. Worth provides cymbals, tambourines and scrapers and smooth backgrounds for those who would rather play than sing in this cozy club. Worth is at the piano on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 9 p.m. to 1:45 a.m.

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