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‘An elegant and intimate musical venue’: Towson restaurant uses music to bring people to restaurant, together

Ping Wu, owner of Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro on Allegheny Avenue, wanted to do something new to bring people back into downtown Towson. Her love of music inspired her to create the “Live at The Red Pepper” music series.

Wu installed stage lighting above the piano at the center of her restaurant. On performance nights, the bistro has the atmosphere of a classic New York or Chicago piano bar, radiating iconic tunes from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Peggy Lee.

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Wu is committed both to classic retro music and to showcasing the talents of a diverse group of local vocalists.

“When we first opened, my vision was to create a ‘Fine Arts Cafe.’ We wanted to bring music to Towson that gave downtown a sense of style and elegance. I want to offer music that many different people enjoy: Jazz, Blues, Broadway, Opera,” she says.

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Vocalist Janet Paulsen and bistro owner Ping Wu after Paulsen’s concert performance on May 15.
Vocalist Janet Paulsen and bistro owner Ping Wu after Paulsen’s concert performance on May 15. (David Riley)

The musical event series launch on May 15 featured vocalist Janet Paulsen singing classics deemed “Cocktail Chic.” Jazz, blues, and American Songbook standards — sung by a vocalist whose voice isn’t lost in a wall of digital sound — resonate with the audience.

Wu was delighted with the community’s support.

“Our restaurant was completely filled the night of our first event,” she says. “I think people feel a strong need to be connected again, and smile and talk with each other.”

And being able to enjoy your company as well as the concert is part of the appeal, as folks step out to enjoy entertainment again.

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“Stripped down to a vocalist, a mic, and a piano accompanist, it’s music you can listen to and still have a conversation,” says David Riley, President of the Pink & Blues Music Foundation, who helped Wu with the launch. “This is not just live music, it’s an elegant and intimate musical venue. It’s going to give the district a fresh, cosmopolitan flair.”

On June 12, classic soul vocalist Marsyah Speller and keyboardist Kentrell Harris will channel the energy of the great Jazz artist Billie Holiday and her legendary accompanist Bobby Tucker as they perform select covers. The “Lady Sings The Pink & Blues” tribute is sponsored by Riley’s foundation, and will encourage attendees to make a charitable donation to Towson’s Breast Cancer Treatment Centers at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the University of Maryland St. Joseph’s Medical Center.

Singer Katyrah Love (left) will perform this summer at the Live at the Red Pepper event series, hosted by Ping Wu (right).
Singer Katyrah Love (left) will perform this summer at the Live at the Red Pepper event series, hosted by Ping Wu (right). (David Riley)

Later in the summer, vocalist Katyrah Love will perform classics of 60′s soul singers like Mary Wells and Aretha Franklin. (Incidentally, Love, who has performed at the famous Apollo Theatre, will also perform at Historic East Towson’s Juneteenth Music Festival at the Elks Lodge on June 19.)

Wu is grateful for this opportunity to share music and joy with Towson. “I’m so happy and appreciative that our bistro made it through the long months of the pandemic. This event series is a gift back to the community that supported us through the hard times.”

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