505 Kalmia Street, Bankers Hill
Rick Lyon taught himself the piano playing to jazz records and drawing from his experience on the accordion. He’s played aboard ships in the Navy, overseas, and at many a bar, lodge, and party. Now you can catch him playing requests at the Imperial House lounge in Banker’s Hill, where he’s entertained a full house nearly every Friday and Saturday night for the past nine years. Famous for his Neil Diamond covers, Rick plays everything from Frank Sinatra to the Cars, tickling out solos over MIDI backing tracks.
When he started his residency at the Imperial House, Rick played to an older crowd that favored doo-wop and standards from the ’30s and ’40s. Since about 2003, a younger demographic brought more classic rock, Bob Seger, Bad Company, and Billy Joel. A true legend in some circles, the Jamul resident’s solid five-star Yelp reviews call him a “cultural institution” and allege that his hugs have the ability to cure asthma and arthritis. Almost two years ago, Rick’s trademark lion logo placard was stolen from the lounge and the distraught piano man considered leaving the gig for good. His fans pulled together, however, and a replica was commissioned with funds from a karaoke benefit at the Ruby Room.
Opened in 1969, the Imperial House is a prime destination on Saint Patrick’s Day and New Year’s. Rick calls it “a Rat Pack style of club.” Red vinyl booths, carved wood paneling, and a full suit of Celtic armor establish the lounge’s classy but not stuffy atmosphere. Dapper bartenders Felipe and Dave mix all-business cocktails and the inexpensive bar menu offers chicken quesadillas, rolled tacos, fries, potato skins, and chicken wings.
It looks like a scene out of The Shining, so maybe it’s no coincidence that for the past 20 years the continental restaurant across the hall has been hosting Mystery Café, a murder-mystery dinner theater.
The lounge offers free food, $4 cocktails, and $3 beer/wine/wells on Mondays and half-price appetizers on Thursdays from five to nine.
Rick might be extending his nights to include Thursdays, so check him out, try the micheladas, and request any song. As long as it was written before 1980.
Hours: Tues–Thurs till 11:00 p.m., Fri–Sat till 1:30 a.m.
Happy Hour: 4:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m. weekdays free “hour’s devours”
Prices: Pints and wells, $5; cocktails, $6+