Bryan Ewing doesn’t just see a restaurant dining room. He sees his house. And when that restaurant is hosting his Mister Bing’s supper club, he wants everybody to feel at home with him.
Occupying a uniquely sophisticated niche in Tucson’s performing arts scene, Mister Bing’s brings together live music, fine dining, and not the least, ambiance. You could also call it a show club or a cabaret, a swanky throwback to the dinner-and-a-show concept of the romantic 1940s with a glamorous chanteuse in a wiggle dress and waiters in sharp white jackets.
“It’s all old school,” Ewing says. “Basically, I’m just bringing back what worked years ago but with a 2015 Mister Bing’s spin on it.”
Mister Bing’s is the brainchild of Ewing, a hairdresser by trade who admits that his own performing background is in appreciation and organization. He’s not just an emcee and host but a ringmaster, collaborating with his performers to refine the theme, with restaurant leadership to rearrange the furniture and plan and deliver the menu, and with stage technicians to produce the experience.
Ewing first hit on the concept some decades ago, when he was a sixth-grader at Schumaker Elementary School on Tucson’s east side. He formed the school’s first entertainment committee and auditioned his classmates for popular variety shows in the cafeteria. It was a Baby Bing’s.
Today’s supper club started out about a year and a half ago as an open mic night around the piano at McMahon’s steakhouse, something like a karaoke night with live accompaniment. Ewing dubbed it the Mister Bing’s Performing Arts Lounge (Bing being a contraction of his first and last names) and invited diverse performers. He had opera singers and comics and magicians — and friends to seed a supportive audience. He packed them in, and restaurant proprietor Bob McMahon took notice. So did professional performers, who began seeking out Ewing to get on one of his bills.
Encouraged, Ewing realized he could create package deals. The happy hour menu became a three-course meal. The band grew in size. Ticket sales meant he could pay his acts. He again drew from his deep well of friends, from Arizona Repertory Theatre and Gaslight Theatre and other groups, to fill out lineups.
Within the last six months, shows started selling out. Seating is purposefully limited to create an intimate setting of no more than about 70 people. If the layout allows it, the performers will weave among the tables.
Ewing takes his show about Tucson, but has home bases downtown at Hotel Congress and in the Foothills at Five Palms Steak & Seafood, where he commits to at least monthly gigs. He also kept regular dates at McMahon’s until bankruptcy closed the restaurant in June.
In May, he transformed the Copper Hall at Hotel Congress into a midcentury Cuban nightclub with a five-piece band and dance floor. In June, he had a classic cabaret at the Five Palms. In the future, he’s planning a Sunday gospel brunch concept and a salon opera evening.
He will also consider playing private parties — his first is set for October at a home in the Foothills. He is proud to provide work for artists, and often hires young artists to play with veterans.
“I love pairing emerging artists with established artists,” he said.
Ewing doesn’t know everybody in the audience at his shows, so he “table touches” to make connections. He wants people leaving happier than when they came in, and believes that treating people like they’re in his own home is the key to his success.
“I honestly did not know what the outcome would be but I did know I had something special, and to be resilient and not to give up because I was recognizing being embraced as I was moving forward and evolving.”