Here's the Deal: Imperial House

"Cultural institution" Rick Lyon has entertained a full house nearly every Friday and Saturday night for the past nine years.
  • "Cultural institution" Rick Lyon has entertained a full house nearly every Friday and Saturday night for the past nine years.

The Imperial House

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+
Cover: none

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I'm digging the throw-back stuff. These are places that even I could go drink at and no one would bat an eyelash. Bet the whole crowd chimes in during the chorus when he does "Sweet Caroline".

We went to dinner at the Imperial House for our anniversary!! Total old school and fabulous service...white linen livery!! RFG, you would adore this place.

I would, I already like it. The red decor, holy crap. Great stuff! haven't seen Throw Back until you saw the Old Mr. A's at the top of the 5th Avenue Financial center, oh about 10 or 15 years ago-OMG!

They have a new guy running it now and I am sure they remodeled it-but it used to have red velvet covering all the walls...right out of the 1960's! Hilarious stuff.

You know Surf Puppy the more I read your posts the more I like you. At one time I was annoyed by you, but now you are feeling like a close friend.

Mr. A’s. Oh man, what memories. For those who don’t know, “A” was for Mr. Alessio, a controversial figure I believe was somewhat “mob” connected in the era.

From time to time, I would take hot dates there in the 80’s. It was one of those places that brought flaming desserts to your table like Cherries Jubilee. It was before the Hyatt, so it was the only restaurant in town with a view of the city-line.

Although I only dined there a few times a year, I frequently visited for cocktails. I often took diner dates to Mr. A’s for a drink after dinner somewhere else. That way I capitalized on the fantastic view without having to drop $200 on dinner.

What a gaudy place it was. Waitresses wearing flowing white chiffon gowns like something out of ancient Greece. Red velvet wallpaper and red leather everything else. I usually ordered a drink and walked outside on the deck to take in the view and watch the planes landing and taking off. This was a real deal closer with women. It was a super romantic way to end an evening.

Now the best part was that they never bother me if I was not up to their dress code. I recall wearing jeans and leather pants to the bar and never having a problem. They were one of the places where you had to have a jacket and tie for dinner though.

The best times I had there was crashing their New Year’s Eve party. One of the perks of owning a tux is that if you go somewhere dressed in one, the host’s figure you belong there. There were three years that I was on the way to other NYE parties and stopped by Mr. A’s for a drink and just waltzed in like I belonged. The always had the place filled with gold and red balloons and everyone was so drunk they didn’t realize that an outsider had joined in.

Good times. I’m not a “party guy” anymore. But I will always be fond of Mr. A’s for the good times.

I have never been to Bertrand’s at Mr. A’s. No interest. So I guess I may never know who much he changed the place I used to love.

Shades of The Butcher Shop and Dookie's Steak House :)

Shades of The Butcher Shop

Ahhh..the Butcher Shop in Kearny Mesa......clevage central!

I too remember the Italian bordello decor of Mr. A's. It was so very 60's. But the view was and still is superb. Actually the changes wrought by Bertrand Hug are good. The red velvet and red leather are gone, and the decor is much easier on the retina. And the menu is more reasonably priced than Hug's menu at his flagship restaurant, Mille Fleurs. On the three-or-so occasions we have gone there, we only made a reservation once. The other times we were seated with a smile and away we went.

No, you can't go home, at least to Mr. A's. But it is still a very fine restaurant.

My husband proposed to me at Bertrand’s at Mr. A’s. So even though the previous decor is more in line with my love of old school decor, the updated version will always be special to me.

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