Bel Air Pianist On Hotel's Closing

If you want to grab a drink at the Champagne Bar in Los Angeles' famous Hotel Bel Air, Tuesday night is your last chance for at least a few years. The hotel is closing for renovations and 220 employees are looking for work elsewhere. Antonio Castillo De La Gala, who has been playing piano for more than a decade at the hotel's Champagne Bar, says the most requested song is As Times Goes By.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If you want to grab a drink at the Champagne Bar in L.A.'s famous Hotel Bel Air, well, tonight is your last chance for a few years at least. The hotel is closing for renovations, and 220 employees are looking for work elsewhere.

If you're not familiar with the Bel Air, here's just a taste of the people who've stayed there over the years: Cary Grant, Princess Di, Oprah Winfrey. And a regular at the Champagne Bar is the man behind the piano, Antonio Castillo De La Gala.

(Soundbite of song, "One")

SIEGEL: That is Mr. Castillo De La Gala playing the piano, which he's been doing at the Bel Air for more than a decade, and he joins us now.

Antonio, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Mr. ANTONIO CASTILLO DE LA GALA (Pianist): Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be with you and that beautiful, familiar voice of NPR.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: There was a lovely profile written about you today in the L.A. Times and about your time at the Hotel Bel Air and the famous people you've met and played for. I want you to share one of your favorite stories with us.

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: Yes. Well, it's been 12 and a half wonderful years over there, and I had the pleasure to meet the most interesting people in the world. Just to give you a snippet of one of the little story, last year, the night before the Oscars, it was a packed room and in comes this man that I recognize right away. And he says: Do you mind if we play a couple songs on the piano?

And I said to him: You're Billy Joel. What do you think I'm going to say? So we sat together and we played for an hour and a half, nothing but movie themes, and it was a marvelous evening at the hotel.

SIEGEL: You're a classically trained pianist.

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: Yes. I got my degrees as a concert pianist from the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City.

SIEGEL: But you've spent most of your life playing in restaurants and hotels.

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: Yes. In the United States, most of my life has been in hotels. First, the Beverly Hills Hotel here and then L'Orangerie, and now 12 and a half years at the Hotel Bel Air. Tonight's my last night.

SIEGEL: Have you gotten used to, over the years, to playing to, you know, people clinking glasses and talking and maybe the odd knife and fork hitting each other?

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: Yes, it becomes a very lovely atmosphere because a lot of the regulars, they are not friends, and I know most of the people every night at the bar. It's just a lovely place to work. And I got a lot of requests, if I do an exciting tango, an exciting Mexican song, it's a lot of clapping. It depends on the evening, but it's more of a performance instead of your typical background music, yes.

SIEGEL: Now, generally, what is the most requested song over the years at the Champagne Bar?

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: Well, probably the most requested song is "As Time Goes By," but a typical evening over there, I'm going to do Gershwin, Cole Porter, movie themes, Broadway. But probably "As Time Goes By" or "Phantom of the Opera" are the biggest requests over there.

SIEGEL: I guess a lot of people come to you and say: Play it, Antonio.

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: Yes, and if I get one dollar for every time somebody says: Play it again, Sam, which they never said that in the beautiful movie "Casablanca." I could buy the Hotel Bel Air and have some money to spare, yes.

SIEGEL: Well, would you mind, since it is the most requested song that you play, would you mind taking us out on "As Time Goes By"?

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: It would be my pleasure.

SIEGEL: Play it, Antonio.

(Soundbite of song, "As Time Goes By")

SIEGEL: Antonio Castillo De La Gala has been tickling the ivories for more than a decade at Hotel Bel Air's Champagne Bar. The hotel closes tomorrow for renovations.

Antonio Castillo De La Gala, thank you very much for playing for us.

Mr. CASTILLO DE LA GALA: Thank you very much.

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