Vanessie (427 W Water St., 984-1193) is packed to the point where I turn to my oddball friend Elektra and mouth the word, “Wow!” I ask her if she ever thinks about coming here. She says she doesn’t. And even though the upscale downtown eatery is jammed with patrons whose median age is something like 102, you’d never know it from the light-hearted atmosphere.
That is, the room is bustling with a young and positive energy as longtime resident pianist Doug Montgomery and a special guest launch into their own version of “Country Roads.” Look, I don’t really care who you are—you probably love this song. Well, either that or you have an appreciation for the John Denver hit and probably know most, if not all, of the lyrics.
Elektra and I each order the cheapest possible glass of wine on the menu (sauvignon blanc, in case you’re curious) and decide we are really fancy people, when Montgomery busts out in an insane, jazzed-out take on “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
I make a note to call my mom and yell at her for not forcing me into piano lessons when I was a young and impressionable kid, and I tell Elektra something like, “Damn. This dude is pretty great at the piano.”
Our wine arrives and I get comfortable. Real comfortable. Montgomery welcomes a young woman from Albuquerque named Brooke to the piano for an instrumental rendition of The Beatles classic “Let it Be.” The applause is uproarious.
I decide it’s cool of him to invite a young woman to show her chops, and rack my brain to think of people I know with kids in piano lessons. I come up with nothing, but had I, I surely would tell them about this place.
Montgomery announces a smattering of wedding anniversaries that predate my very birth between songs and, at one point, dives into a beautiful and flourish-heavy version of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” His ability to add as many freaking notes as possible into the song reminds me of how lonely I am and how I used to have the capacity to love people. It spurs me to tell Elektra that “this isn’t such a bad way to spend an evening.”
She agrees, but she’s a total lush, so she probably has fun doing anything that involves a free glass of wine.
We kick back and get into the spirit while Vanessie’s dinner guests place requests for everything from show tunes and arias to Adele and old standbys like “MacArthur Park.”
Montgomery slays each and every one of them. The songs, that is…not the people. Elektra tells me she doesn’t give the piano as much credit as she should. I say something about how the instrument is usually quite impressive, just never as exciting as others (not counting stuff like Ben Folds or “November Rain”).
Montgomery eventually wraps up and—along with the bulk of the crowd—takes his leave when Bob Finnie takes to the keys. As bad as I feel that most of the spectators have called it quits, and even though Finney is obviously a very talented pianist, the loss of energy in the room is palpable.
He plays some hits like The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and I think about how god-awful it feels to play your heart out to a room full of talking or disinterested people.
To Finnie’s credit, he continues to play his heart out. Besides, it is but a fleeting thought, and I find myself wondering where the hell our server went.
Elektra, who tore through her wine like it was going out of style, tells me she likes Finney’s low-key style better than Montgomery’s grand, sweeping approach. I tell her I think he’s cool, too, but that she must be out of her mind, and that I’ll definitely come check out Montgomery again.
The moral of the story? The piano is fucking tough.