Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Red Hot Mama's Return


Jeff — Saturday

A dozen years ago I wrote about my favorite nightspot on Mykonos, one that brought together the myriad sorts contributing to Mykonos' 24/7 in season lifestyle.  For over thirty years, tourists, locals, yachters, Broadway and West End performers, flocked to the Montparnasee Piano Bar amid the narrow lanes of Little Venice, at the edge of the sea looking out across a bay toward Mykonos’ signature windmills.
Montparnasse Piano Bar, Mykonos, Greece
Little Venice at sunset

Steve Allen and Jane Meadows
It served as the Aegean’s “La Cage au Folles,” sans dancers, for there it was all about cabaret.  And if you thought that guest from the audience who did a song or two seemed familiar, you may be right, for between sunset and two in the morning—when everyone went off to continue the night in the island’s ‘til sunrise clubs and discos—the Piano Bar was a must stop for visiting musical theater folk.

Nikos and Jody, Proprietors
The Piano Bar was the creation of Nikos Hristodulakis and Jody Duncan, and they were behind the bar every night, amassing more stories than O’Henry.  It took a while to persuade them to share some tales with me, and this was their first one.  Alas the Piano Bar closed a few years back, and the island has never been the same.
What drew me to repost this tale today, is the face that popped up on my TV screen this week--the subject of their first post, "Red Hot Mama Phyllis Pastore!"  I knew Phyllis still had singing engagements and did any number of TV commercials (see top photo) as well as voice overs, but I hadn't seen any of her acting roles until she appeared as Denise Manfredi, a character in  Sylvester Stallone's TULSA KING series on Paramount.  Seeing Phyllis in all her glory gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling all over--especially since she wasn't singling me out in  a routine she'd toss at me every night I walked into the Piano Bar as (good-natured) revenge for a misstep I made in describing Her Eminence in one of my early error that I struggled to rectify over the next books.  Seeing her current role, I certainly hope she's forgiven me. :)
So, here's the story of a true Red Hot Mama, as told by a blond Jody leaning over the bar and ignoring the dark-haired Niko making faces behind him.
Mykonos' Grand Diva, Phyllis Pastore

The place was dead.  It emptied out right after Phyllis’ midnight set.  That happens sometimes.  No matter, it will fill up for her one o’clock gig.  Everybody loves her here.  Some say they come to Mykonos “just to see Phyllis.”  And she believes them.  She should, she’s the Grand Diva of the island when it comes to cabaret and loves to accessorize her songs with props­–none more famous than her bright-yellow foam rubber, McGuire sisters’-style wig and trumpet-shape, silver kazoo.  The kazoo is reserved for her nonpareil performance of “Dr. Jazz,” the Dixieland staple written by Joe “King” Oliver in 1926 and covered by such other notables as Jelly Roll Morton and Harry Connick, Jr.—but none with quite the style of our Phyllis.

So, there I am talking to one of the waiters, and thinking about what kind of mischief I could get into to kill time, when he asks if Phyllis is going to do Dr. Jazz in her next set.   That got me to thinking about Dixieland, which led to thoughts of New Orleans, and on to the subject of…Tabasco!

The scene of the crime
Phyllis was outside the front door talking to some fans, so I told the waiter to grab the kazoo from her basket of props in front of the piano.  With one eye on the door I soaked the mouthpiece in Tabasco and had it back in the basket before she was back inside the bar.  Now it was only a matter of time.  I couldn’t wait to see her face.

But as the set wore on no one shouted up a request for Dr. Jazz and Phyllis hadn’t even glanced at the kazoo.  This was not looking good.  How could I get her to sing?  I used the old standby.  Cash.  An anonymous written request accompanied by 500 drachmas to the piano player for Phyllis to perform Dr. Jazz guaranteed that kazoo would soon be heading toward her lips.

By now I couldn’t restrain myself and had shared my brilliant plan with several regulars sitting at the bar [“With me too,” says Niko waving from behind].  To be honest, most were horrified and thought it childish…but if the shoe fits… Besides, even the most critical were fascinated at how Phyllis would respond.  After all, she was Italian.  And not a word of warning went out from the crowd.

So, on went the wig, and out came the lyrics for Dr. Jazz, “Hello Central give me Dr. Jazz…” At the point where the lyrics took a break and the piano player took over, Phyllis did as she always did, told the audience that she wanted to be part of the band and picked up her kazoo.

I’m in stitches, almost convulsions.  Here it comes.  The eruption is about to blow, we’re all going to be dead for sure, but what a way to go….  You guessed it, absolutely nothing happened.  Tepotah.  Phyllis played her kazoo as she always did with not even a twitch of discomfort across her angelic face. 

"Curses, foiled again!"
When she’d finished, she calmly and deliberately put the wig and kazoo away, picked up the microphone and said to the packed house, “When I’m in Mykonos I stay with Jody and Niko.  Well, one of my roommates, no doubt the nasty blond one, must have thought it would be funny to pepper up my kazoo.”  She cleared her throat.  “Would someone please tell him that, yes, it did burn my lips, but there was no way I was going to give him the satisfaction of a reaction.  At least not now.  Please tell the convulsing gentleman behind the bar that, payback will be hell, and he’d best sleep with one eye open for the rest of his practical joking life!”
Good conquers evil

That took place more sleepless years back than I care to remember and I’ve matured since then [please take notice of Niko in the background rolling his eyes], so I wish to make a (Tabasco free) peace offering to our still dear friend and performing star.  For the first time anywhere Niko and I are revealing our “ultra-secret” recipe for Phyllis’ favorite cocktail, the Montparnasse Piano Bar Chocolate Martini.  Ours is clear—not one of those dark and creamy concoctions you find elsewhere—so it passes as a regular martini, but one taste and you’ll never go back to the others.

Montparnasse Piano Bar Tail #1, the Chocolate Martini:
Start with a chilled martini glass and roll the lip in powdered cocoa or chocolate.
Fill a martini pitcher or mixing glass halfway with ice.
Add 3 ounces of Vodka, along with 1 ounce of White Crème de Cacao (both clear spirits).
Stir well and strain into the rimmed martini glass.
Drop in a chocolate covered almond as a final treat at the end, but no fingers allowed, you must drink your way to the bottom. 

Thanks, fellas...and Phyllis.



  1. Replies
    1. So happy you guys got to be part of it! There's never been a place quite like it.

  2. How I miss the Piano Bar.🥲🧿🇬🇷