Sing without the screen

Karaoke machines don't scare Richie Fauno.

The veteran pianist, who has played for three decades at Villa Nova in Newport Beach and recently took on another gig at La Brique Steak House in Huntington Beach, provides accompaniment the old-fashioned way. Fauno invites customers to name a tune — given his repertoire of hundreds of songs, there's a good chance he knows it — and then plays and sings backing vocals behind them.

As far as Fauno is concerned, his craft isn't the low-tech equivalent of singing "You Oughta Know" into a microphone at the local sports bar. It's art on a higher level.

"When people have to depend on a screen in front of them, they can't express themselves as well as they could," the Costa Mesa resident said. "They have to really feel the lyrics."

From 8 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, Fauno settles behind the shiny black grand piano in the corner of La Brique. He's quick to admit that he doesn't have expertise in every musical genre — punk or hip-hop, for example — but ask for a favorite Sinatra ballad, jazz standard or "Phantom of the Opera" melody, and he may not even have to check his sheet music.

For La Brique's new owners, Serge Markarian and Michael Franco, that translates to a heftier-than-usual crowd. Franco, whose wife is a former concert pianist, had the piano installed shortly after he and Markarian took over in March. When a customer at Villa Nova mentioned that the Huntington Beach restaurant was looking for a pianist, Fauno stopped by to check it out.

It turned out to be a perfect match, and Fauno now splits his time between the two gigs — Friday and Saturday at La Brique, Sunday and Monday at Villa Nova. He's part of the new entertainment lineup at La Brique, which features other live performers Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, plus football Monday, and, yes, karaoke Tuesday.

Markarian and Franco had been looking to buy a restaurant for more than a year when they saw a notice that La Brique was for sale. Markarian had toyed with the idea of buying a sports bar, but when he saw the interior of La Brique, with its dim lighting, dark-colored booths and 1940s-style oil paintings on the wall, he realized the property was swanker than most.

"I walked in, and I saw a Rat Pack bar," he said.

The restaurant plans to host an official grand reopening to celebrate the new ownership Oct. 14. Markarian, who said he sometimes lingers behind Fauno to watch his fingers on the keyboard, credits him for helping to make the transition smooth the last few months.

"He has a good following, and he's an amazing pianist," Markarian said. "And he's a real nice guy."

If You Go

Who: Richie Fauno

Where: La Brique Steak House, 14892 Springdale St., Huntington Beach

When: 8 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Contact: (714) 897-0055

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