When Steve Vinchini sits down, at the piano bar in Marin Joe’s lounge he has some friends with him. No, not the customers, although it's clear he is well liked. His pals are Frank, Dean, Andy and Tony, as in Bennett.
Born in Petaluma into an Italian-American family, Vinchini grew up in Occidental. Today, he lives in Petaluma. When he was 21, he began playing piano, with a country western band, the Northlanders, at his uncle’s bar in El Cerrito, the It Club. In those days, his friends were more likely to be Johnny Cash, than Johnny Mathis.
Vinchini, 58, a stocky man with wavy, thick hair and glasses, is a natural, neither reading music, nor the product of years of formal study. He’s been tickling the ivories for more than 30 years, including 22 at Marin Joe’s.
“I just pick up tunes, by watching others and listening,” he explains.
He adds that he doesn’t have a set list, but says his repertoire concentrates on the songs of the 40s and 50s. Besides playing, he also sings, mostly Italian-American favorites. On one recent night, he nicely wrapped his baritone around Dean Martin’s, “Return to Me."
His fans span generations.
“The young kids come in here ask me to play, 'Play it Again, Sam,' by which they mean, 'As Time goes by,' from the movie Casablanca.”
The one tune he doesn’t really like to play is the “Theme from The Sting.”
“When that movie came out, people drove me crazy with requests for that,” he says with a chuckle.
He also doesn’t like it when a patron requests a song he doesn’t know.
His personal favorites are “Last Date,” “Everybody loves somebody, sometime,” and “Moon River.”
Vinchini says isn’t bothered by fading into the background while people dine.
“People don’t like it when a performer says, ‘Here I am, now listen to me.’
New Cafe Brings New Tastes
A couple of weeks ago, Larkspur couple Tarik Boukhari and his wife Susan Faidi opened the 30-seat Magnolias Café at 574 Magnolia, in Larkspur. This location housed Café Lucano for several years.
Boukhari is no stranger to the restaurant business, having had a place in Chicago. Assisting him are Slimane “Slim” Salem and his chef, Mohamed Benyouref.
Magnolias is open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
At breakfast look for bagels, frittatas to benedicts. Lunch and dinner offers the same menu with sandwiches added, including a selection of popular wraps, falafel sandwiches, soup and salads. More options include pastas and pizzas.
Uniquely, Boukhari and his chef are featuring specials that concentrate on Moroccan dishes like tagines, saffron chicken, a vegetable couscous and falafels.
Just two days ago, they got their wine and beer license.