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Venetian Room at the Fairmont is revitalized, opens with a touch of triumph
By Bruce Bellingham

Marilyn Levinson
Marvin Hamlisch was clearly enjoying himself as he stood at the stage of the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room last month.

“The walls here speak of so many great memories,” he said to an enthralled sell-out audience.

He ought to know. He wrote the song, “Memories” with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, made famous by Barbra Streisand.

The crowd understood. They were dressed to the nines, determined to recall the great days when the Venetian Room had so many great acts over the decades and engendered so many memorable love affairs. The supper club, which has been closed for about 20 years, was the ultimate great date destination. It was the height of romance in a past San Francisco era. How swell it is to have it back.
People were holding hands while Hamlisch tore through some of his hit songs, such as “The Last Time I Felt Like This,” from the movie, Same Time, Next Year. Jane Olivor and Johnny Mathis sang the soundtrack recording. Two first-rate singers, London star Maria Friedman and Les Miserables star J. Mark McVey performed the tunes that night.

I confess that I got a little lump in my throat. 

It’s the sort of venue that brings out the sentimentality in the most jaded person.

You see, I love the Venetian Room. I worked at the Fairmont as a cook in the seventies. The best part of the job in those days was being able to watch the wonderful acts run through their rehearsals. I recall the Mills Brothers, Sergio Mendes, the Manhattan Transfer, Tina Turner, and Freda Payne.

Before my time on Nob Hill, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat Cole, Marlene Dietrich, Joel Grey, and Vic Damone played there.

Because of the efforts of Marilyn Levinson, the Venetian will be open for five more events through next spring to support Bay Area Cabaret.

  For her young years, it’s impressive to learn of Levinson’s credentials as a theatrical producer and an entertainment lawyer. She was raised in a heady world of classical music. A fifth-generation San Franciscan, she is the niece of James Schwabacher Jr., who founded the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series. All formality aside, Levinson loves the Great American Songbook as much as we do. Perhaps that’s attributed to her New York days when she worked with many Broadway stars. Let’s face it: good music is good music. Levinson was an assistant to Yul Brynner. Yes, the king and she.

The night was rife with all sorts of memories. I sat next to Vic Befera, the former writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, who recalled when he saw Tony Bennett introduce “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in the house. The Venetian Room is a good place to leave one’s heart.

But you don’t have to leave your heart there, you can reclaim it. Nov. 5 might be a good opportunity when Chita Rivera performs. On Nov. 21, the stars from the Broadway hit Rent will be there. That’s Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp.

Bay Area Cabaret at the Venetian Room: Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason Street (at California), five performances through May 2011, tickets $20–$75 at, 415-927-4636.

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