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Bill Connors as Elton John. Photo by Michael Witthaus.




Zaboo Grand Opening

When: Friday, Sept. 5, at 8 p.m.
Where: 24 Depot St., Manchester 
More: zaboo.us




Piano men
Zaboo opens in former Social 24 space

08/28/14
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com



The music/comedy hybrid dueling piano concept has exploded in popularity recently. But Zaboo may be the first place in New Hampshire to take the concept full time. 
 
Located in the former Depot Street home of Social 24, the remodeled and rebooted restaurant/bar will have its official grand opening on Sept. 5. A ribbon-cutting ceremony with the mayor and other dignitaries is planned.
 
With an upscale menu featuring modern tapas items, craft cocktails and custom-brewed beer, Zaboo solidly targets a more mature crowd. Manger Rhonda Mumpini cooked up the “progressive cuisine” concept after becoming frustrated with a downtown nightlife scene that she found a demographic apart.
 
“People my age need a place to hang out,” said Mumpini as she took a break during Zaboo’s Aug. 14 soft opening. 
The thirtysomething enjoyed meeting her friends at the Copper Door, a restaurant in her hometown of Bedford that also caters to older clientele. 
 
Soon the SNHU branding major came up with a name for the venture, one with no specific meaning.
 
“It sounds like taboo, but that’s not why I chose it,” Mumpini said with a smile. 
 
Dishes have names like Zaboochos and Zalamari with Asian fusion ZaSauce, washed down with a Zaboorita or Zabootini.
Clever touches like a Luxardo candied cherry accompanying the house Manhattan round out the dining concept.
 
The musical menu came from a different source. Offering a lineup of 15 rotating piano players for a mix of stump the band and standup was the idea of self-described “bar rescue” specialist Dave Justin. After helping Club Manchvegas launch country music in 2013, Justin moved to San Diego, California,  late in the year and took a job with promoter Live Nation. 
 
One night, Justin happened upon a dueling piano show at a Gaslight District bar called the Shout House and got hooked. 
 
“I was there every chance I could. I’d never seen anything like it before,” the 27-year-old said. 
 
He began working on a plan to bring the concept back home, pitching the idea to Social 24. The place was looking to flesh out its new direction, so Justin’s timing was good.
 
The Zaboo stage setup is posh, with twin baby grand pianos facing each other with a drum kit between them. The kick of rhythm adds a new dimension to the show. On opening night, Bill Connors spent the first hour playing Elton John songs solo, dressed up in full Captain Fantastic regalia — crazy glasses, glittery jackets and oversized hats. 
 
At 9 o’clock, Connors switched out of costume and was joined by fellow ivory tickler Greg Asadoorian. The two took requests and cracked jokes. Introducing “Sweet Caroline,” Asadoorian wished out loud for a Yankees fan to silence the song with a five-dollar tip. No one took him up on the offer.  
 
Davina Yannetty joined on drums for “Only the Good Die Young” — one of several Billy Joel songs pulled from the suggestion bowl — and spelled Connors on piano for a few more tunes. The three rotated throughout the night, playing an occasional left-field number like Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” or “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard. 
 
The pace and the patter stay lively and brisk, with the performers always able to manage a few bars of every request pulled from the bowl, while making sport of more than a few kitschy ones. At times the experience felt like group karaoke, a low-pressure call-and-response sing-along. The group dynamic and the charm of seasoned performers make the whole thing work. 
 
“The idea is to create an environment for adults looking for Saturday night fun and entertainment,” said Mumpini. 
Or other nights — Zaboo offers Dueling Pianos every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 
 





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