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Johnny D’s revives old standards in downtown Buffalo with steak, sushi, and song

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It’s a vibe you don’t get much around Buffalo anymore: The soothing sounds of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s as you enjoy your dinner “supper club” style.

It’s back at a new restaurant in downtown Buffalo.

Jackie Jocko, best known for albums “Lover, Come Back to Me” and “Like Wow!”, once entertained on this very piano; The one with the late Jocko’s notes above the keyboard, a keyboard that now belongs to Jocko’s protege, Howard Goldman.

Goldman and his wife, Mary Kunz Goldman, are the main attraction around the piano nightly inside the former E.B. Green’s Steakhouse at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Buffalo. While the hotel is getting a makeover, the restaurant has been redone, reopened under new ownership, and renamed Johnny D’s.

“This is it,” Goldman said. “We’ve achieved the goal. We’re here where Jackie Jocko performed for so many years at his piano keeping this room alive in the same spirit where people can get together regularly and see each other.”

People gather around to hear Howard Goldman perform

“What we want to do is create a great restaurant for the locals — if we do that, we know we’ll have a great hotel restaurant and have a lot of range,” said Chris Harter, owner of Johnny D’s.

Harter describes that range as steak, sushi, and adventurous American fare. But the piano, and the people around it, that’s the icing on the cake.

The folks around the piano agree, Goldman’s music is key to bringing everyone together. He refers to them as his “lounge cadets.”

“If you want to meet interesting people in Buffalo, who have great conversations and interesting backgrounds and are interesting to talk to, this is the place to be,” according to Buffalo violinist Janet Mazzio.

“You meet some extremely eclectic people, movie producers I’ve met here, musicians, people from Europe. Everyone has a great story to tell,” said Jay Farquharson, a childhood friend of Goldman’s.

Owner Chris Harter discusses the new restaurant with Jacquie

He’s not just entertaining people face to face. Every Friday evening, Goldman fires up his Facebook page and reaches out to followers across social media who love the old standards.

“We all kind of think of ourselves as preservationists, in a sense,” says Goldman. “We’re preserving these old songs because if they skip too many generations, you can never get them back.”

Mary Kunz Goldman was a longtime classical music critic for the Buffalo News and singer in Buffalo churches. She has now taken the leap to lounge entertainment.

“It’s a great adventure for me,” she said. “I love it.”

In a city where there is no shortage of musical styles, the Great American Songbook has found a familiar home in downtown Buffalo, bringing new friends around an old piano that still has a lot of life.

“It’s a wonderful bunch of friends,” says frequent lounge listener Frederick Gazoli. “But others can join. It’s a very nice safe environment. A very good place to come just to chat, it’s good.”

“My dad was a WWII vet,” says ‘lounge cadet’ Andrea Seitter. “He was a radio man on a B-17 bomber and all of the music Howard plays was all music I grew up with. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, big band things. I just love it, and nobody plays it like Howard does. I really enjoy it very much.”

Howard Goldman looks around the room and speaks as he continues to play Jocko’s storied piano. “It’s really kind of a dream come true, because that was really my vision, that people would want to get together and do this as a regular part of their life. And it would become important to them. And it has.”

Howard Goldman performs on the piano

If you would like to hear Howard and Mary Kunz Goldman entertain, they are currently scheduled to play every night from 5 to 9 p.m. at Johnny D’s Restaurant inside the Buffalo Hyatt Regency, although that schedule is subject to change.

Jacquie Walker is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1983. See more of her work here.

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