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Cabaret Entertainment in an Intimate Setting Making a  San Francisco
 Comeback at Hotel Nikko's The Rrazz Room
By Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 18, 2008 - Robert Kotonly uses the word "nightclub" almost exclusively because "cabaret" gives you the wrong vibe altogether.

"You hear 'cabaret' and a lot of people get the wrong perception," says Kotonly, talking above the piano music in a Manhattan-tinged edged Jersey accent. "People hear that and imagine a singer who has seen better days performing in a very scaled-down situation. That description is horrible."

You say "nightclub" and you see an upscale place, good music, nice drinks, people dressed up a little, maybe coming in after a show or dinner to a little club in a swanky hotel. Kotonly's words echo off the marble floors and walls of San Francisco's Hotel Nikko, where he and partner Rory Paull are opening their new club, the Rrazz Room, March 19.

Legendary singer Keely Smith is scheduled as the headliner for the grand-opening week.

She isn't sure if she's ever opened a venue before. "I dunno," she says in a telephone interview. "I must have at some time or another, but I really don't know for sure."

The high-tech, 200-seat nightspot, built to the specifications of the two New York concert promoters, replaces San Francisco's venerable Plush Room as the city's top spot for cabaret-style entertainment. Kotonly and Paull operated the Plush Room from 2005 until just a few months ago, when the owners of that venue decided to turn it into a restaurant.

They were prepared to stay and invest in improvements to the old club, but when it became apparent that they weren't going to reach an agreement, the two began looking for lusher pastures. And they seem to have found them at the Nikko, which will house the new cabaret just off its lobby - and adjacent to San Francisco's theater district, restaurants, public transport and the downtown scene.

"What we are doing is going full steam to take what we had been doing in the Plush Room, with all its good vibes, and bring it here," Kotonly says. "The Plush Room location was horrible (Baja Nob Hill on Sutter Street). We never had tourists come. Here, though, we're near BART, near the theaters, the restaurants; we'll have valet parking "..." With all that, the place is designed from the multilevel seating to the close-up seating to have an intimate feel, something Smith says she truly enjoys as a performer.

"I come from a lounge background; Louis (Prima) and I played the lounges, and when we did, we always reached out to people," she says. "I have a theory that if anybody pays whatever it is they have to pay to walk into the room, they're not coming in to dislike you. So I always believe everybody in the room is a friend. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, but it usually does."

The Louis Prima and Keely Smith combo was the ultimate lounge act of the '50s and '60s, playing regular engagements at the Venetian Room in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel and being a constant fixture at casino lounges in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe. Theirs was a high-energy act, with a free-wheeling, no-holds-barred sort of entertainment that often went on all night long, since Nevada lounges at the time were open almost around the clock.

For the Rrazz Room appearance, Smith says she'll sing "what the people want to hear."

"I'll do 'That Old Black Magic,' of course, and 'I Wish You Love'; the things Louis and I recorded," she says. "Then, sometimes, I do some of Louis' stuff and the Italian stuff, just the songs I like. I just try to make them happy."

By building the new room slightly larger, the producers hope to take the club "to the next level" in terms of acts that can be booked, Paull says. And creating a room with state-of-the-art sound and video equipment will let performers do complete shows without having to make technical compromises, Kotonly says.

"When we had Kitty Carlisle Hart at the Plush Room, she came in with a full video element but she didn't have anywhere to present it, so we had a television set on a podium. Now we can offer performers everything they need," Kotonly says. "And because most of what we do involves national concerts in 1,300-to-1,800-seat venues, we can use our contacts to book acts that wouldn't normally perform in a 200-seat club."

Some of the larger acts scheduled to play the new room during the club's first season include Chita Rivera, Diahann Carroll, Ashford & Simpson, Tony Martin, Bobby Caldwell, Freda Payne and Mary Wells (who was one of the acts at an invitation-only grand-opening performance on Monday).

Kotonly says the addition of the Rrazz Room to the city's entertainment offerings will give people something new. "We have the theaters, the symphony hall, ballet, opera, jazz clubs, rock clubs," he says. "But this, a small nightclub in a major hotel, it's different, new; a place to get a little dressed up and have a kind of upscale night out."

Reach Pat Craig at 925-945-4736 or pcraig@bayarea newsgroup.com.

NIGHTCLUB pREVIEW

n WHO: Keely Smith

n WHERE: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F.

n WHEN: 8 p.m. March 19 and 22; 7:30 p.m. March 20; 9:30 p.m. March 21

n HOW MUCH: $47.50-$55

n CONTACT: 866-468-3399, www.therrazzroom.com

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To see more of the Contra Costa Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.contracostatimes.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

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