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Arthur Bryan III, owned The Redhead Piano Bar, dead at 55

Arthur Bryan outside The Redhead Piano Bar. River North Business Association photo

Arthur Bryan lost track of how many times he heard “Sweet Caroline,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Brown Eyed Girl” at The Redhead, his River North piano bar.

And “Piano Man’’ — he probably heard that Billy Joel staple “close to a million times,” according to his brother, Dan Bryan.

But Mr. Bryan never forgot the thrill he got a decade ago when Joel dropped in and played, thrilling patrons who couldn’t believe they were being serenaded by the “Piano Man” himself.

A few years ago, Mr. Bryan watched as Seth MacFarlane, a Big Band aficionado, dooby-dooby-doo’ed in a pitch-perfect imitation of Frank Sinatra.

That is, until someone in the audience repeatedly yelled for MacFarlane to use the most alarmingly precocious of his “Family Guy” voices: “Do Stewie! Do Stewie!” It was like flipping a switch.

“He comes back in Stewie’s voice, ‘You do Stewie!’ — and then went right back to the song and did perfect Sinatra,” Dan Bryan said. “It was like there were two people up there.”

Mr. Bryan had plenty of great times at The Redhead, 16 W. Ontario St. Once, Chrissie Hynde came in and sang. Jim Peterik of the Ides of March did, too. And so did Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon.

Fresh after filming “Great Balls of Fire,” Dennis Quaid stopped in and ravished the keys a la Jerry Lee Lewis.

“That was one of my brother’s favorite memories,” Dan Bryan said. “You don’t expect an actor to come in here and knock it out of the park.”

And always at the center of the music and good cheer at the popular piano bar was Mr. Bryan, who died in his sleep April 14 after a heart attack, according to his family. Mr. Bryan, who lived in the same neighborhood as his bar, was 55.

When The Redhead opened in 1993, River North didn’t have the cachet — or all of the nearby condos and hotels — that it has today.

The neighborhood “kind of grew up around us,” said his brother, who was also his business partner.

Mr. Bryan had previously managed the bar at the Chicago Chop House. In 1994, he became a manager and investor at The Redhead. Five years later, the brothers bought the piano bar, with Mr. Bryan as majority owner.

“The Redhead was his baby,” said his brother.

It was where he met his wife, Mirvat Talaat, who worked at the piano bar.

Dark and clubby, with red walls, it’s a gathering spot for parties, wedding proposals and people in search of a drink after work, with live music till 3:15 a.m. seven nights a week.

Even those who haven’t been inside might recognize the place. The sign outside — a redhead winking over her shoulder — is seen by countless drivers every day on Ontario Street as they head toward the Kennedy or Dan Ryan expressways.

Among Mr. Bryan’s favorite song requests were “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites and “Lake Shore Drive” by the Chicago band Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah.

Mr. Bryan loved wine, especially petite sirah and cabernets, and hosted monthly tastings at the bar.

“He was almost like an amateur sommelier,” Dan Bryan said.

Arthur Bryan III grew up in Glencoe and attended New Trier High School. He skied with the Snowflake Club, eventually becoming an instructor, and often traveled to Wisconsin ski destinations including Wilmot, Alpine Valley, Little Switzerland and Devil’s Head.

He started bartending in college. After getting his degree in economics from Colgate University, he worked for a time as an auditor at the accounting firm then known as Ernst & Whinney. For years, he also worked Saturday nights tending bar before going into the business.

“He was always a bartender at heart,” Dan Bryan said.

Other business people sought him out for advice, according to John Chikow, president and chief executive officer of the Magnificent Mile Association.

Arthur Bryan.
Arthur Bryan.

“When someone had a new idea or they were new on the scene, he was exceedingly generous with his time,” said Chikow. “He was a great mentor and a great coach.”

The block outside The Redhead will be renamed Arthur Bryan Way in his honor, according to staffers for Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

“He often testified at city council meetings on issues that he felt strongly about and that would affect River North,” said Sharon Romack, who heads the River North Business Association.

Mr. Bryan’s survivors also include his mother, Elizabeth Bryan; a sister, Elizabeth Perry; and another brother, John Bryan. Services have been held.

Only last week, Mr. Bryan “was actually scheduled to go to Napa,” Dan Bryan said. “It would have been his first vacation in I can’t tell you how many years.”