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There’s always a full moon over the Caliph

It was bizarre then, and it’s bizarre now

Kenny Ard: “Last dance, last dance for love"
Kenny Ard: “Last dance, last dance for love"
Place

Caliph

3100 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

One day in 1957, Philadelphia disc jockey Hy Lit fell asleep listening to a stack of new releases. The last single played repeatedly until Lit awoke, leading him to include it in his rotation at WFIL and eventually propelling the song to #3 on the Billboard Top 100. Three years later, a hole-in-the-wall piano lounge with Moorish windows would open in the low-income, geriatric neighborhood of Hillcrest. Now, seven decades after the song’s release, the author of Lit’s sleeper hit (“Silhouettes,” lyrics by Frank Slay, performed by the Rays) sips white wine at the Caliph’s curved bar as the piano man plays Frank’s signature tune for the second time in an hour. An evening crowd of 15 or so whistles its approval.

“Thirty years ago, when I first played here, there was a real piano behind the bar,” Kenny Ard says after the keyboard’s backing MIDI track chirps through a coda. When he arrived in the late ’80s, Hillcrest was undergoing a boom of revitalization as a hub for San Diego’s gay community.

“It was bizarre then and it’s bizarre now,” Kenny smiles at the recollection. “I’m from New Orleans. It’s as strange of a town as this is a place. You know, we have a saying here: ‘There’s always a full moon over the Caliph.’” In a scratchy voice chiseled by 10,000 midnights, he greets regulars as they duck in the door. “There used to be a dalmatian that would sit in a booth in the corner wearing a handkerchief, drinking a cocktail, and nobody thought anything of it. That’s Bonnie, you know? So, what kind of music do you all like?” A few inquisitive bars of “Jeopardy” before someone shouts “Motown!” and Frank, who lives in the penthouse next door, cracks from his stool, “‘She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes!’”

“This is the man who wrote the top-ten song three times, so he can get away with being a smartass,” Kenny grins, leaning his way into “It’s De-Lovely.”

The disco ball spins, the rope lights sparkle, and the crowd takes to the little 4´x6´-tile dance floor sipping heavy-handed cocktails and feeling let in on a fantastic secret until late into the night, when Kenny eventually signs off, singing, “Last dance, last dance for love, yes, it’s my last chance for romance, tonight.”

Prices: Beer (bottles only, $5+); wine $6+; cocktails, $7+

Food: Free popcorn. Affordable sandwiches, burgers, and dogs from the Deli, Monday–Friday, Noon–2 p.m., Sunday, 2–7 p.m.

Hours: Monday–Friday, 12 p.m.–1 a.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 1 p.m.–1 a.m.

Happy: Monday–Friday, Noon–4:30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday, 1– 4:30 p.m., wells and domestic beers $3; Tuesday–Sunday, 4:30–8:30 p.m., Monday, 4:30 p.m.–1 a.m., wells $4.75.

Parking: Free street parking

Capacity: 90

Specials: $3.25 bottled beer of the month; $3.25 Sculpin bottles, Sundays 6–11 p.m.; $2 Smirnoff cups, Mondays 8–11 p.m.

Events: Karaoke Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 8:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m., Saturday, 2:30–6:30 p.m.: Soaked Sundays shower contest, 9–11 p.m.; Sultan Sundays DJ nights; Live piano, Carol Curtis Mondays 5–8 p.m., Kenny Ard Wednesdays 8–11 p.M, Kevin McCulley & Ria Carey Fridays 8:30 p.m.– 12:30 a.m., Don LeMaster Saturdays 7:30–11:30 p.m.

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Kenny Ard: “Last dance, last dance for love"
Kenny Ard: “Last dance, last dance for love"
Place

Caliph

3100 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

One day in 1957, Philadelphia disc jockey Hy Lit fell asleep listening to a stack of new releases. The last single played repeatedly until Lit awoke, leading him to include it in his rotation at WFIL and eventually propelling the song to #3 on the Billboard Top 100. Three years later, a hole-in-the-wall piano lounge with Moorish windows would open in the low-income, geriatric neighborhood of Hillcrest. Now, seven decades after the song’s release, the author of Lit’s sleeper hit (“Silhouettes,” lyrics by Frank Slay, performed by the Rays) sips white wine at the Caliph’s curved bar as the piano man plays Frank’s signature tune for the second time in an hour. An evening crowd of 15 or so whistles its approval.

“Thirty years ago, when I first played here, there was a real piano behind the bar,” Kenny Ard says after the keyboard’s backing MIDI track chirps through a coda. When he arrived in the late ’80s, Hillcrest was undergoing a boom of revitalization as a hub for San Diego’s gay community.

“It was bizarre then and it’s bizarre now,” Kenny smiles at the recollection. “I’m from New Orleans. It’s as strange of a town as this is a place. You know, we have a saying here: ‘There’s always a full moon over the Caliph.’” In a scratchy voice chiseled by 10,000 midnights, he greets regulars as they duck in the door. “There used to be a dalmatian that would sit in a booth in the corner wearing a handkerchief, drinking a cocktail, and nobody thought anything of it. That’s Bonnie, you know? So, what kind of music do you all like?” A few inquisitive bars of “Jeopardy” before someone shouts “Motown!” and Frank, who lives in the penthouse next door, cracks from his stool, “‘She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes!’”

“This is the man who wrote the top-ten song three times, so he can get away with being a smartass,” Kenny grins, leaning his way into “It’s De-Lovely.”

The disco ball spins, the rope lights sparkle, and the crowd takes to the little 4´x6´-tile dance floor sipping heavy-handed cocktails and feeling let in on a fantastic secret until late into the night, when Kenny eventually signs off, singing, “Last dance, last dance for love, yes, it’s my last chance for romance, tonight.”

Prices: Beer (bottles only, $5+); wine $6+; cocktails, $7+

Food: Free popcorn. Affordable sandwiches, burgers, and dogs from the Deli, Monday–Friday, Noon–2 p.m., Sunday, 2–7 p.m.

Hours: Monday–Friday, 12 p.m.–1 a.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 1 p.m.–1 a.m.

Happy: Monday–Friday, Noon–4:30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday, 1– 4:30 p.m., wells and domestic beers $3; Tuesday–Sunday, 4:30–8:30 p.m., Monday, 4:30 p.m.–1 a.m., wells $4.75.

Parking: Free street parking

Capacity: 90

Specials: $3.25 bottled beer of the month; $3.25 Sculpin bottles, Sundays 6–11 p.m.; $2 Smirnoff cups, Mondays 8–11 p.m.

Events: Karaoke Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 8:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m., Saturday, 2:30–6:30 p.m.: Soaked Sundays shower contest, 9–11 p.m.; Sultan Sundays DJ nights; Live piano, Carol Curtis Mondays 5–8 p.m., Kenny Ard Wednesdays 8–11 p.M, Kevin McCulley & Ria Carey Fridays 8:30 p.m.– 12:30 a.m., Don LeMaster Saturdays 7:30–11:30 p.m.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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