Martin’s Piano Bar and Bistro: Nothing Like Chopstix

Except for the “Stairway.”

Just past Chop Suey's back entrance, where bands load in and out, smoke, and pass the time before they hit the stage, a dark-colored awning protrudes from the brick exterior of the building. Martin's Off Madison Piano Bistro is behind it, for those who know, or those fortunate enough to stumble into the warm, welcoming enclave. Enveloping patrons with a bear hug of good vibes, the spot has two sides: the no-frills bar area and the plusher dining room/lounge, decked out with an under-the-sea-themed mural that spans the entire northern wall, a grand piano, and a blazing "fire tube" with a gas flame that spirals from base to ceiling. On a recent Wednesday evening, the room has a subdued energy. Male couples, mostly older, quietly share meals (the menu boasts a range of items from tenderloin to burgers and tots); solitary gentlemen watch the flatscreen in the bar; and a small cluster of conservatively dressed middle-aged transwomen sip drinks expectantly. Most are facing the stage area, and in a few minutes we learn why. "Are you all here for the show?" chirps a vibrant woman, passing by with a flash of white teeth, a flowing floral-print skirt, no-nonsense black shoes, and a stack of assorted cases on a rolling luggage carrier. What can we say but an emphatic "Yes!" She proceeds to merrily unload her cargo, revealing a sleek, shiny, midnight-black accordion that boasts an impressive pearl-inlaid "BONNIE" down the front. Far (and too many whiskeys) into the night, Bonnie C. Birch did take us on a transformative magic-accordion carpet ride of a journey, melding pieces that bent space, time, and genre—from "O Danny Boy" and selections from the Amelie sound track to a mind-exploding rendition of "Stairway to Heaven" in all its wheezing, humming glory. Each Wednesday, the stylings of Miss Birch are made available to patrons thanks to the curating of owner Martin Palmer, whose eclectic hideaway is truly like nothing else in town. The rest of the week, he taps a range of talented pianists (including his longtime partner, Joseph Rojo, whom locals will recognize as Nordstrom's tuxedo-clad piano man) with extensive repertoires that afford a chance for solo vocal accompaniment by anyone who gets the itch. This is no tacky Chopstix-style karaoke bar, though. It's a full sensory- (and gender-) bending experience. 

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