by David-Elijah Nahmod
For the past five years, the Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko has been San Francisco's premiere venue for established and emerging cabaret artists. In December 2012, eyebrows were raised when it was announced that the venerable club would be closing. Only a week later, Rrazz set up shop in a brand-new location, inside the historic Cadillac Building at 1000 Van Ness Ave. Unlike similar clubs in other cities, Rrazz is often programmed towards an LGBT demographic.
"You never know what to expect," said Rrazz co-owner Robert Kotonly in a phone interview with the B.A.R. "We like to keep people guessing. We gave new respect to talent like Lypsinka and the Kinsey Sicks. In other clubs you would never see acts like Lypsinka or Varla Jean Merman. I don't know why, they're phenomenal talents."
Kotonly shared the origins of the club's name: the two Rs in Rrazz stand for Kotonly and Rory Paull, the co-owners. Both are excited about their new home.
"It's a journey for us," said Kotonly. "We're up for the challenge. We love what we're doing, so there's no reason to stop the train."
The new Rrazz has 50 more seats than the original. They've hired chef Bronson Macomber, and promise that the food will be fabulous. They also intend to continue offering a stage to LGBT performers along with more mainstream names. Performers as diverse as cabaret superstar Andrea Marcovicci, folk legend Judy Collins, and movie stars Rita Moreno and Sally Kellerman have all graced the Rrazz stage.
"We always have a Pride show," Kotonly says proudly. "I actually go overboard with Pride and do it all month. We like to honor local talent, like Matthew Martin, Weslia Whitfield, and Katya Smirnoff Skyy."
One of the things they love about running their club is entering into real friendships with the talent, some of whom are their personal musical idols. Kotonly recalls that Rrazz was the final performance venue for the famed R&B duo Ashford and Simpson, who had become a staple on the Nikko Hotel stage. Soon after their last show, Nick Ashford passed on. A few months later, Valerie Simpson called about setting up a solo booking.
"This was the last place Nick and I worked together," Simpson told them. "I'd like it to be my first venue as a solo act. I know Nick would have wanted that."
But don't call it the Rrazz Room anymore. With the new location comes a new name: Live at the Rrazz. "It signifies the difference between Nikko and where we are now," said Kotonly. "It's a beautiful room. We want to put our stamp on it. It's a work-in-progress."
For info on shows and tickets, go to www.therrazzroom.com.