Have you ever noticed how all the best stories have a bar in them? Whether its Corrie's Rover's Return where the locals hang out or Star Treck's Ten Forward where all the aliens drop by. Each to their own, I guess! But the simple truth is that whether you are a pint of bitter or a gin and tonic person, all any of us is really searching for is that old cliché - 'you want to be where everybody knows your name'. So if you are PAID to spend your evenings in bars, (nice work if you can get it) where do you go on your nights off? This was just the poser niggling London's top piano-entertainer Bazz Norton.
Having spent his career playing in the best (and the worst) bars and piano lounges all over the world,where to find the perfect combination of a good atmosphere and a decent drink was still one of life's mysteries. Throw into the mix a wife who refuses to go anywhere with lack-lustre loos or a squelchy carpet (its a girl thing!) and the whole thing becomes like a search for the holy grail.
After numerous experimental imbibing, all in the interest of research, it became clear that not only did their perfect bar not exist, but also they were not alone in their thinking. The solution was to open their own, based on the simple premise that it should be the kind of place that THEY would like to go.
As an experienced artist he came up with the sound business plan.
First buy a piano! Second decent booze! Third find somewhere to put it at which point the sensible wife intervened. But it has to be pretty! (it's a girl thing). So having sorted out the priorities they went full steam ahead. As a piano player first and foremost Bazz felt that finding the right instrument was of paramount importance."We were setting up the first real piano bar in London" he explained, "They exist in New York and Scandinavia and I've played in most of them, but it is not something we have in this country. There are a few hotel bars with pianos, like the Savoy (where he was resident for seven years) for example but that is a very different thing. Piano-bar is a much more relaxed and interactive form of entertainment, where people can sit at the piano itself and form a real relationship with the entertainer"
Finding the classic glass topped instrument of the New York style was going to be impossible in London, so they made their own.
While it is not polite to discuss a ladies age, the instrument they found was made in around 1860 in London by Collard and Collard. She was discovered languishing in a shop for distressed pianos in Crystal palace. Their sad Cinderella was so depressed by her appearance that she was hiding between two gentleman uprights, who had also seen better days. "In fact" says Bazz's wife Moya, herself a singer and actress, "she was in pieces and almost completely obscured by junk, but we could see that she had very nice legs, so we bought her anyway!"
Fortunately she turned out to be in perfect condition although as with many old ladies her teeth could not be saved, and she owes her new smile to to modern technology. In the fairytale Cinders went to the ball in glass slippers but times have changed and this rescued damsel steps out nightly in a revealing glass top custom made by a sympathetic glacier.
Within weeks of opening, the bar, aptly named PIANO became the favourite watering hole of an eclectic mix of jazz buffs, wine lovers and Kensington residents alike, receiving rave reviews in The Evening Standard and the Metro paper. The couple were thrilled at how quickly the bar took off and put their success down to the personal touch and striking the right balance between maintaining high standards while remaining unpretentious. They offer good quality wine and cocktails at reasonable prices and friendly service."We were very aware that different people need different things from a bar, and that women in particular need to feel welcome by staff if they are the first to arrive when meeting friends. For this reason we have table service and encourage a relaxed atmosphere where our chatty staff will make even the single drinker feel at home. Many of our customers have made new friends here, ourselves included, and I think our lack of reserve encourages everyone to have a good time." Says Bazz, who hosts the evening from the piano, playing a rich mix of jazz standards and contemporary classics with the odd show tune thrown in.
He loves to take requests and to offer other singers and musicians the opportunity to sit in, so visitors are always in store for a treat from guest performers, notably the singing barman!
After a year of successful business in a Kensington basement the couple are now transferring in a larger first floor premises at 106 Kensington High Street, a prime location directly opposite High St Kensington tube station. PIANO KENSINGTON is due to be up and running in the first week in August. Open seven days a week, with music nightly from eight, they will be also be offering additional opportunities for customers to enjoy the PIANO principle.
Round off a day at the office or a spot of girlie shoe shopping with jazz afternoon teas and cocktails Tuesday to Sunday, proving that in Kensington at least, one can't have too much of a good thing.