Bob Walin has seen a lot of businesses come and go in the Gaslamp Quarter. But he has found an unusual niche that seems to have staying power.
Walin is celebrating the 15th anniversary of The Shout House, a dueling piano bar he opened with two partners on March 23, 2004, two weeks before former President Jimmy Carter threw the first pitch at Petco Park.
The bar has two facing grand pianos for a nightly show with two performers on stage all the time. Walin credits the musicians with the success of the business.
“Without them, I got nothing,” Walin said of the seven full-time and two part-time performers who work for him. “They are the reason why we are here.”
The core of the show centers around rock ’n’ roll classics from the ’60s and ’70s, but nightly requests will cover everything from pop to rap and hip hop. The performers have all memorized an arsenal of a thousand songs.
“They make it look so simple,” Walin said. “It’s very request-driven. On any given night, there are a hundred requests. And they have got to know it. It’s rare that they are stumped.”
Elton John and Billy Joel songs are perennial favorites, but the No. 1 song is Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” followed by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
“Classic rock ’n’ roll doesn’t die,” Walin said, who likens the atmosphere of his establishment to that of an Irish pub. The audience gets to sing along.
“There’s a kind of magic that happens after a couple of beers. They become very uninhibited, and you have strangers arm in arm singing,” he said.
Walin first discovered the dueling piano bar concept in Dallas in 1987. “I sat there for hours and hours and hours. Everything appealed to me: the theatrics, the pianos, the music.” He also liked the way everyone in the room — young and old — was having a good time.
That’s something he sees at The Shout House every night. It’s a place to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays and is popular for bachelorette parties.
“It’s a safe environment, not a pick-up bar,” he said, although the entertainment can get R-rated and the Friday and Saturday night crowd raucous. (The website says: “The show is adult-oriented … so don’t bring grandma if she is going to be offended by a few four-letter words.”)
Walin has a background in theater, working in Minneapolis as a manager and producer. But he was hooked on dueling piano bars and in time opened five for Rock Bottom. Among them was Sing Sing, which opened in the Gaslamp Quarter in 2000. Rock Bottom eventually turned Sing Sing into a dance club, which closed in 2003. That’s when Walin took the opportunity to turn the space into his own dueling piano bar with the partnership of Roger Hunt and Kevin Clover, who had been performers at Sing Sing.
After 15 years, the Carlsbad resident still drives downtown three times a week to see the show at The Shout House.
“I try to see a Saturday night because it’s uplifting. It’s fun to be in a packed room with people going crazy.”
What song would he request?
“Seven Bridges Road,” because it’s his favorite Eagles song. And, he said, “I know they would do a good job.”
The Shout House
Where: 655 Fourth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter
When: Open daily. Anniversary party March 28.
Tickets: $5 to $10 cover charge most days (reservations recommended)
Phone: (619) 231-6700
Schimitschek is a freelance writer.