by Morey Storck
Peter Riekstins grew up in Mount Vernon and Pelham. His interest in music led him to master the bass guitar, and as a gifted guitarist, played his first club gig at age 16. Throughout his college years, while studying pre-dentistry, he joined a popular band and played the tri-state area, which helped defray his college costs. At 19, Pete met his wife, Denise, while backing up the Belmonts on a live radio show. Then came the opportunity he never thought would happen.
In the back of his mind, Pete always harbored the idea of owning a “saloon.” One became available in Elmsford and he took the chance. It was supposed to be just a short-term money-maker until he became a dentist, but that didn’t happen. He never left. Today, Pete’s Saloon & Restaurant is celebrating its 40th year in business.
“A beer and a shot for a buck!” Riekstins laughed, “and sometimes a chicken plate for a quarter, or a couple of hard-boiled eggs.” Those days are long gone, he explained, and so too, was that clientele, mainly WWII vets in their 50’s and over. Changes were made. Interior and exterior renovations got underway, a real kitchen was installed, and professional staff was hired. And, to accommodate their changing customers, a broadened selection of wines and liquors was made available, as well as a family-affordable menu of burgers, steaks, chops and fresh seafood.
The lunch and dinner traffic is a mixture of white collar workers from the surrounding office buildings and blue collar workers from the many service providers in the area. Bar regulars become familiar faces, as do families for dinner. In addition, many hotel travelers find their way to Pete’s as a respite from a lonely hotel room and to find a warm and welcoming hometown ambience and friendly conversation.
Early on, Riekstins began booking live bands as entertainment two or three nights a week. “I’m not on the road any more, but I still love music and I hate a quiet bar. Sometimes, I’m even invited to sit in and jam.” After talking to Riekstins for a few minutes, you begin to understand that he loves the band sound and being around working musicians and talking to them about their gigs in the area. He uses a professional agency and books bands that play rock, jazz, blues (“that’s for my soul”) and pop. Special event lighting and a top-of-the-line sound system have been installed.
People send in tapes and videos all the time, in part driven by social media. Patrons will sometimes suggest a group that they had heard somewhere else. Agents may try to book one or two dates for a new band that’s touring and has a few open nights. But, Riekstins always insists on professionals with a history of work and studio musicians by reputation.
Most importantly, they must be able to read the room! There’s no point in playing to a cold audience. Recent releases, air-time, and social media like YouTube are also useful indications of where the band has been and where it may be going. And, Riekstins always tries to book locally: Westchester, Rockland, and northern Jersey. “If they have a following, a good reputation, and friends, its good to have Pete’s Saloon within easy travel distance.”
Gil Parris Band: Gil is a graduate of Ardsley High School, and is a good example of Pete’s quality insistence. He is an American Grammy-nominated rock, blues, jazz and pop guitarist, and has released six solo albums and played collaboratively with over 20 other groups and artists. Other popular bands performing at Pete’s (no specific order) are Sugarush, Sue and the Fun Goules, Lords of Hawthorne, Nightshift, and Headfirst.