Allison grew up on the east side of Wauwatosa, and now is a musician and piano teacher who lives on the west side of Tosa with her husband Nick. She enjoys listening to live music, attending local arts events, baking and good wine.
I have always enjoyed a good piano bar. In fact, when I was in my early/mid-twenties, you might have called me a piano bar regular. Lucille's and Centanni downtown in MKE were favorites. There've been a couple others to spring up in the area, most recently in our Tosa neighborhood! Time for me to re-live my 20s? Perhaps ;-)
Pitch's Baby Grand piano bar is now open (where Guadalupe Mexican Restaurant formerly operated) on Blue Mound Road right at about 114th Street, on the north side of Blue Mound. Although there was not a lot of time for the change-over to occur, the interior of the now restaurant/piano bar is astonishingly different. It is much more modern, fairly artsy, yet casual enough to let loose. The restaurant section is still large and now open to the public for dinners. Although I did not try any of the food, the menu looked quite tasty. And the piano bar area is absolutely ready for a party - and from what I hear has hosted some good ones on the weekends already!
I made the short walk over last week to chat with John Pitch (after he graciously allowed me to play around a little bit on his Kohler baby grand!), in-between serving beverages to a few happy hour regulars he's already got. Here's what we talked about:
Me: This spot was a Mexican restaurant prior to becoming Pitch's. How did it change hands?
John: We've owned this building since the 1970s. My mother was ill, and my father needed some help with Pitch's on Humboldt, on the east side, which has been there since 1942. So, we leased out this place. To bore you quickly, this place originally opened as Here's Johnny's. Then it was Jacks or Better, then the Four Flags. In 1981 we called this place Pitch's Kansas City-Style BB-Q. Then from there it went to the Greek Village, then it was Guadalupe Mexican Restaurant, and now it's Pitch's Baby Grand.
Me: So this building had the same ownership all the way through?
John: Same ownership, different operators.
Me: Why did you decide to turn it into a piano bar?
John: I had a piano bar next door (we've been next door since 1979). It was called the Club 113, then we called it Pitch's Club 113, then it was called the Indian Palace, then the Deli Cafe, then Pitch's Baby Grand, then JoJo's Pizza and Pub, and now it's called Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub.
Me: You own both places then... any more around here we should know about?
John: No, that's it around here.
Me: So you've had the piano bar concept around for a while; why did it go away?
John: I was doing pretty well with the piano bar over there. Then JoJo from Giuseppi's and JoJo's Martini Bar wanted to lease the place out. I thought that he's certainly a qualified individual, he operates JoJo's Martini Bar at Summerfest and he's got that place rockin' and rollin' over there, I thought no problem, he can take care of this joint and I'm out of here. He got ill, then he found someone else, but everthing's fine.
Now I'm on the lakefront, I'm a tenant of the county, but I do miss my piano and piano music, and the entertainment that comes along with it. You know, some of the male piano players are bigger drama queens than the lady singers. It's incredible.
Me: Where do you find your piano players?
John: Once you buy a piano, you'll get infested with piano players. Here's what a young man walked in and said to me: "I'd like to play the piano here." And here's my spiel, because this isn't my first rodeo: I said "I'll tell you what, young man, I don't want to hear any classical music in here, I don't want to hear any rap music here, and your original compositions you save for Carnegie Hall, 'cuz I don't want to hear 'em here. I want bar music. I want audience participation. I want you talkin' with people. If people want to sing they can help you. The customers are the star here. That's the way it goes." So the guy goes to play a couple songs. I said just go play something. He sits down and starts playing. There were two ladies at the bar here at the time, and it so happens that one of the ladies, her father owned Lucille's. And this guy starts playing. I can tell how someone holds their hands, into a third of a song, if they can do what I want and I like. This guy starts playing, and the lady says "John, what do you think?" I said "he's probably one of the top ten piano players I've ever heard." And she says "you're right." So he gets done, I say, "how'd you get that left hand?" He says "John, the nuns told me I have to lift the melody with my left hand - and besides that, I'm left-handed." The guy did a wonderful job. And now he's my regular piano player - Jim Mooney is his name. He's very good. And he listens to what people want.
Me: How late do you serve food 'til?
John: Until 10pm.
Me: How may days a week do you have entertainment?
John: Fridays and Saturdays right now. On Sundays soon we'll start having one Sunday of polka music, one Sunday of Dixieland Jazz, another of Broadway, another one something else... it will rotate.
Me: Is there a cover charge to get it?
Me: Anything else you'd like to add?
John: No - just tell the folks to come on out.
Here is Pitch's Baby Grand's Facebook page, in case you'd like more information on the spot.
Here are a couple photos from the piano bar and restaurant area. I wish I could've added others that were taken, but there was some trouble uploading them to this blog.