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Aza and The Bar Exam With Elliot Paul

I first met Elliot Paul on the 359th night of my bar crawl. My 365 bars co-pilot, Al Rizo suggested I go to Bill's Gay Nineties piano bar and so I dutifully complied. I had never been there and I was hooked after being in there for less than three minutes. Bill's was the real deal. It opened as a speakeasy in 1924 and by the time I got there in 2010, it looked as if time had stood still in there. And off to the right of the well-worn bar, playing the piano and singing, making the crowd laugh and sing along, was Elliot Paul. I took his photo and we chatted a little bit and I did my bar crawl thing and came home. Fast forward to the next year and my next blogMarty After Dark. I had heard there was a chance that Bill's might be closing, so I decided to stop by and see what was what. It had been just about a year to the date that I had been there on the bar crawl. I was hoping Elliot would be playing, but was certain he'd never remember me. Like I said, it had been a year and you can imagine all the people he meets while doing his piano gig. I walked in through the swinging saloon doors, our eyes met and he stopped playing and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Marty, the world famous bar crawler is in the house!" I couldn't believe it!

As most of you know, sadly Bill's Gay Nineties closed last year due to the fact of an idiotic landlord pushing them out the door. Barbara, the owner and daughter of O.B. Bart who purchased Bill's in 1965, is going to re-open in another location and is hard at work making that happen. In the meantime Elliot had a gig at a bar on the Upper East Side called Aza. Sadly that place closed last Saturday (leading one of Elliot's friends to ask, "Do you think it's you, Elliot?) but I stopped in last Tuesday to catch his final show there. I've been wanting to do another "Bar Exam," since I did the one with Paul Scanlon a while back and thought Elliot would be the perfect guy to interview for the second one. Below are some pictures from last Tuesday with Elliot and some surprise guests. Beneath that is the "Bar Exam." Enjoy!

Here we are at a familiar spot, the Union Square subway station, down we go.

Standing room only and more than one person hasn't deodorized correctly. Sheesh!

And through the magic of the internet you're spared a long and smelly ride to the Upper East Side.

Here's the place, the Aza Wine Bar.

Let's go inside and check it out.

I'm early as usual, so there's plenty of seats at the bar, let's go snag one.

And no sooner do I sit down than Katie, the lovely and friendly bartender serves me up an ice-cold beer.

There's a row of tables to dine at opposite the bar.

Original art hangs on the walls above the tables.

A long shot of the highly polished bar from the other end.

And there's the piano, waiting for Elliot.

Here's the schedule for the last week of entertainers at the bar.

And when I return to the bar, who do I find but my friends and frequent guest stars here at TWM, Shawn Chittle and the Duncester.

And check this out, here's Elliot with Harriet to his left and on the right is Barbara, the owner of Bill's Gay Nineties! What a reunion! Barbara told me she's had a rough time of it since her landlord booted her out, but she's looking for a new location for Bill's and she's retained the bar, the jockeys and all the original memorabilia from Bill's. Hopefully the new Bill's will be up and running soon, stay tuned!

And here's Elliot in action at the piano.

Elliot's always a crowd pleaser and tonight is no exception.

On the way out it was nice to see the tip jar overflowing. Great to see Elliot and Barbara, meet Harriet and thanks to Shawn and the Duncester for coming out as well. I look forward to seeing Elliot playing in the new Bill's Gay Nineties when it reopens at the new location!

The Bar Exam With Elliot Paul

TWM: Hi Elliot, how's it going?

Elliot: Hi Marty, I can't complain and if I did no one would listen.

TWM: Where are you originally from, or are you a native New Yorker?

Elliot: I'm originally from Boston, West Roxbury to be exact. West Roxbury is to Boston What Queens is to New York City.

TWM: When did you move to New York?

Elliot: I moved to New York City in the middle '60's, right after getting out of the army.

TWM: Do you refer to yourself as a "piano man," or did the Billy Joel song kill that for you?

Elliot: I'm an "entertainer." I play piano, sing, goof around and kid with the crowd…whatever makes them laugh and be happy.

TWM: When was your very first gig and do you remember the first song you played in public for money or tips?

Elliot: My first piano gig in New York City was at Donohue's on Columbus and 85th St. The place is long gone, but I'm still around! I remember the first song, it was, Ain't Misbehaving" by Fats Waller.

TWM: What year was that?

Elliot: I started playing in piano bars (Donohue's) in 1983, after a  very successful (joke) acting career.

TWM: Name dropping time, who are some of the more famous people that have been in the crowd when you've been playing?

Elliot: Off the top of my head…Ed Harris, Carol Kane, Gena Rowlands, Jimmy Fallon, Mark Sanchez, Phil Mushnick, Jerry Capece and Nick Cassavetes. There's more, but that seems like enough name dropping for now.

TWM: Oh come on, no time for modesty now!

Elliot: Okay, but I want your readers to know you forced me into this! In 2002 Frank Gorshin was starring in "Say Goodnight, Gracie" on Broadway and he stopped in to Bill's. I sang a few old songs which knocked him over. We chatted later and he invited me to the show, afterwards we went to Sardi's, what a couple of days that was! Jackie Mason started coming in to Bill's about a year ago. He lives in the neighborhood and loved Bill's. Michael Weatherly from the TV show, NCIS, was a long time customer at Bill's and he loves piano bars, he's a musician too.

TWM: How do you handle hecklers?

Elliot: Believe it or not, I've never had a heckler!

TWM: Do you have a set list or do you just wing it?

Elliot: I usually wing it. I'll scan the crowd for age, try to gauge the mood of the room and then just start singing and playing the piano and see what happens.

TWM: Name a few songs that people would be surprised to hear.

Elliot: Anything by Amy Winehouse, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga…there's a lot of them.  Sometimes I make up songs on the spot using snippets of conversation from the crowd.

TWM: Is there a song or songs that you feel you have to play that you don't really care for?

Elliot: I like all songs and I just put my own spin and style to them.

TWM: Who's been the biggest influence on you in your life and career?

Elliot: The two biggest influences are my wife, Eileen, she's the one who encouraged me to start singing and my step daughter, Nicole, she turned me on to Amy Winehouse, and many other great singers. And also anyone who's making a living in the entertainment business, it's a lot tougher than it seems.

TWM: What, in your opinion makes piano bars special, Elliot?

Elliot: Piano bars thrive everywhere. A specific percentage of folks love real live music, in particular a singer pounding away at a piano. Folks from all over the world come to New York City to enjoy piano bars. They want their songs in real time, with all the goofing around, drinking and sing-alongs. That's why we all loved Bill's.

TWM: What's the best way to get hold of you if someone wants to offer you a gig?

Elliot: Probably email, my younger friends say I need to get on Facebook, so maybe I will in the future.

TWM: What song would you play to close us out of this Bar Exam?

Elliot: "One For My Baby."

TWM: Perfect, thanks Elliot!

Further reading: TWM, Bill's Website and Jeremiah's Vanishing New York.

We're drinking my friend, to the end,
Of a brief episode,
Make it one for my baby,
And one more for the road.

Surprise link, click on it…I dare you!


Cash Mob At St. Mark's Books This Saturday!

There's another Cash Mob for St. Mark's books being organized by Jeremiah Moss. It's this Saturday at 3PM and then drinks for those that want them at Bar 82. Check out all the details here: Cash Mob At St. Mark's Bookshop.

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Reader Comments (31)

Great interview - sounds like a really cool guy. I'd like to hear his rendition of Snoop Dogg!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGoggla

while i miss your daily posts, these weekly monday posts have been epic! loved the bar exam, hope to see more of these in the future!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D.

Monday here already & almost forgot about Your post , so busy with French School .
Great Post ! Great Bar Exam ! Love Pianos !
Cheers !

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJHwang

Marty, Elliot sound's very cool. Amy Winehouse, Snoop Dogg, & Lady Gaga. Well at least he thinks outside the box. Maybe he can add a Ramones or Sex Pistol's song into his set. 20, 20 , 20 more hours to go heh, I want to be Sedated baby. It could work

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanny the Freelancer

Someone is gonna say it, might as well be me.

La la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercsp

Nice one Marty. My job's been crazy so haven't had any time for the internets lately, but stole a few seconds to read this one. I went to Bill's the 2nd to last night it was open and had a great time while lamenting it's closing. Look forward to its reincarnation.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSpike

I hope a new Bill's opens ... but if Barbara is still looking for a location, it's gonna be awhile :( Elliot Paul is one cool dude - and I hope he gets a new gig somewhere soon. The cash mob and Grassroots Tavern seems like a good combo - but I'll be at the beach :(

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

@Goggla: Thanks, glad you liked the interview! Elliot can take any song and turn it into his own unique style, really fun to watch and listen to.

@Bobby D: Glad you're liking the weekly posts! I'll try and do another Bar Exam soon!

@JHwang: Glad you remembered to stop by! Good luck with the French school, maybe you're next comment can be in French! Cheers!

@Danny the Freelancer: That's a great idea! If you're reading this Elliot, how's about working a Ramones tune or two into the set?

@csp: I can't name that tune, how about a hint?

@Spike: Good to hear from you and glad you liked this. I'm looking forward to the new Bill's too, I'll let you know when I hear a date and maybe a bunch of us can go on the grand opening!

@GENE: Barbara said she's working on it so I'm hoping it'll be this year. Elliot's a great entertainer and hopefully he'll get a new gig soon. I'm looking forward to the cash mob and remember, you can order online, I know you did in the past and they appreciated that! Have fun at the beach!

July 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

@TWM: It's a song about a man who plays a piano. The song is by a man who also has two first names and no last name.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercsp

Aaaah..... Marty's back! Monday posts are a very nice way to start the week. So glad you're blogging again!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatrink

@csp: Got it! I can’t believe that went over my head!

@Katrink: Thanks! I'm back every Monday, thanks for chiming in!

July 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Monday, Monday.Daddio!
Great interview. How many songs Elliot Paul know and has in his 'catalog'? Sounds like he is armed for every occasion.. It's always great having a seasoned veteran tickling the ivories in a bar. Not just playing in the background, but for the crowd. The interaction is the key, and Elliot sounds like one of the best and loves what he does.
Entertainer indeed!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter"Boris"

Very much enjoyed this post today, bittersweet because another bar died. Hopefully the lady owner can open Bill's at a location where the landlord shows a little humanity and care for a New York that is rapidly vanishing. I enjoy piano bars so much and Elliot appears to be such a great entertainer and I hope he finds a great spot real soon. Now you also mentioned that Aza has closed, what the hell is going on up there? I just wonder about landlords squeezing these honest hardworking bar owners. The guy taking over Bill's location must have very deep pockets, he already runs a couple of bars and wants to keep Bill's like it was,,,not going to happen, probably will be a facsimile similar to Fedora's, fifteen dollar cocktails,,,shove it. As a side note, the lady that opened Montero's in Brooklyn, a really great dive, Pilar Montero passed a few months ago, she was 90. With the Barclays center very close by and the Nets, concerts etc, its just a question of time before someone buys up the whole block and tears down this place.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAl

@"Boris:" Elliot has tunes for every occasion (except the Ramones, but maybe he'll put a couple of those in after this). The best piano entertainer in New York and beyond and a great guy. You're spot on about the audience interaction!

@Al: I have no idea what's going in there, Katie wasn't sure. Sad to hear about the Montero's owner, I need to get back there. That DeLucie scumbag that's taking over Bill's will ruin it, like you say, he'll Fedoradize it and triple the drink prices. I'll follow Barbara to the new Bill's with the original memorabilia intact. And thanks to you for pointing me towards Bill's in the first place! You're the best co-pilot in the world!

July 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Elliot is the man! What a dude!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClacky

@Clacky: I agree!

July 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Great post, Marty! I really like it when you do interviews. Cool that he's open to such different kinds of music ...

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteronemorefoldedsunset

@onemorefoldedsunset: Thanks, this was a fun one to do. And Elliot has a large repertoire of tunes, that's for sure!

July 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Awesome interview..
I love the piano entertainers..
back in the day I used to bring ciggerette girls into a gay bar in san jose. st johns.
for the life of my i cant remember the guys name.. but since we were the only girls in the joint we got special attention.. usually all good.
and i'd go to the piano and sit down and he had all kinds of songs for me.. on the fly.
most involved patty duke, me and Rachel, my best friend.. most not repeatable in mixed company.
but i was so happy to know that whatever mood i was in the guy on the piano would attempt to change it..
always made my night.
I'd love to see Elliot play..
it would make my night

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

What a wonderful interview Marty!

I sure hope that they can get the Piano Bar going agin. Thankfully they retained the great memorobilia. I LOVE the clssic race horse photos on the wall.

"Sometimes I make up songs on the spot using snippets of conversation from the crowd." How cool is that!! What an entertainer he must be.

Thank you for posting such a wonderful and interesting piece, I almost feel as if I were there myself. Wish I were!

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTiki Bar Susie

A shame about AZA. According to the awning it had been there since 1668.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrandall

@Gidget: That sounds like good times in San Jose! Elliot's the best piano entertainer out there, lots of fun and always puts the audience in a good mood. I'm looking forward to his next gig!

@Tiki Bar Susie: Glad you enjoyed that and yes, Barbara told me she's got all the original memorabilia plus the bar. When it reopens I'll take lots of pictures of the horse photos just for you. And thank you for you generous donation, it just came through and I truly appreciate it!

@randall: HA HA HA! Good one!

July 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Great interview, Marty and Elliot! I'm sure I've told you this before, but you have a real knack for this format - and many people don't (see, Jay Leno). Glad to know that Elliot found a gig while Bill's is relocating. I'm sure he'll find yet another one to fill the time until Bill's is back up and running again (and, as you said, hopefully that'll be soon). There really is something about live music that makes you feel better than you did before you witnessed it. I wish the best to Elliot and Bill's and everyone else who makes a living doing something with music, be it rock or hip hop or jazz or whatever. Live long and prosper, musicians! Oh, and nice touch with the final clip. I just loved it when Bette Midler sang that to Johnny.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBiff

@Biff: Thanks, Bifferoonie! I hope next time you come Elliot has a gig we can go to or, better yet, Bill's is re-opened and we can see Elliot there! And that was cool when Bette Midler sang that to Johnny Carson, I forgot all about that, I'm going to YouTube now to see if it's up there.

July 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

So glad you received the donation, you are so very welcome.

I look forward to the re-opening photos and commentary.

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTiki Bar Susie

Epic post Marty! Love the "Bar Exam" interview, how friggin' clever! The writing and interview is just as good as anything I've read at Esquire or GQ! You have talent, sir!

Elliot was his usual jovial self. The guy reminds me of beardless Santa Claus, bringing smiles and joy to all around him.

Thanks again for the invite and let's do it again soon!

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShawn Chittle

@Tiki bar Susie: Thanks again and yes, it will be great when Bill's reopens!

@Shawn: Thanks so much! Your description of Elliot as a "beardless Santa Claus" is genius and spot on! Thanks for coming out, great to see you and everyone else!

July 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Another porky fine cut from the King of 'em all y'all!
Sorry I'm late to the party, was hung up waaaaay North of the Border up the James Bay region.....left K-town and it was 104 humidex and got there to 62 degrees and felt like I was FREEZIN' for the whole first day!

WONDERFUL interview with Elliot......and Shawn is ABSOLUTELY correct about the quality level of your abilities.
Also struck me how flexible Elliot is in his song choices/requests. I immediately flashed on a fantasy of being in Feinstein's(sp?) or someplace like that......piano man/woman asks for requests....and I scream out "Highway To Hell" ......and get the death-daggers stares from the whole joint and a quick boot out 'da door. HEYYYY.... that sounds like it might be FUN!!!
Have a rockin' weekend! Keep on chooglin'!

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDrBOP

@DrBOP: Thank you, sir! I bet Elliot knows "Highway To Hell," when Bill's reopens I'll try and get him to play it! Have a great weekend yourself!

July 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Nice post. A good interviewer lets the subject tell their own story.

Each time a bar closes, a new bar opens. Celebrate them like flowers. And we are just bees seeking nourishment. There were probably some totally awesome bars closing 88 years ago when Bills opened. Bars are like living organisms with a limited lifespan. Mourn their passing, celebrate their wonderfulness, and then move on to the next bar. I would love to know where Elliot is playing next.

July 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

@John: Thanks, glad you enjoyed the interview. The sad thing about Bill's closing is it wasn't time for their lifespan to end, it was still thriving and a greedy landlord put an end to it. I'll keep you updated on Elliot's next gig for sure, stay tuned!

July 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

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