The waiters wore white T shirts and jeans, and had slicked back hair; they were all James Dean hunks that night. The waitresses had flowers in their hair, and kissable lipstick. The tables were all covered with checked cloths. It was Fifties Night at Bella Italia; a party to kick start the restaurant’s food and music theme for March.
From the speakers, Nat King Cole sang: “I love you, for sentimental reasons….”
I had a quick chat with ALVIN MY before the party started. He said he was performing several 50s songs. “Some of them we have listened to before, but not performed before.” He and Wan perform on Wednesday evenings at Bella, so a few more 50s songs might be coming into their repertoire.
Pretty young girls came in bobby sox outfits, there were prints of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe on the walls, while vinyl records dangled from the ceiling amidst balloons. A projector ran old movies with Hollywood stars like Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis in their finely cut suits and Panama hats, embracing 50s icons like Elizabeth Taylor.
Outside the restaurant on Gaya Street, it was a photographer’s paradise! Every passer-by was posing and taking pics. Why? Because four gleaming and adorably gorgeous Volkswagen Beetles were proudly parked right outside Bella! Two bugs even had names: Herbie [of course] and Bagon.
“Why Bagon?” I asked Ruby Saario of the Kinabalu VW Club.
“Bagon is the local name for a Volkswagen,” she said. “Whenever people see a Bug like this passing by, they will say, ‘Bagon!’ ” Fabulous, huh? All the four cars belonged to VW club members. The Club’s got a workshop in Penampang, where they all hang out, tinkering with their Beetle babies. It’s all happening in KK!
ALVIN MY and WAN gave us a taster of music to come with their opening songs, “Put Your Head on my Shoulder”, and “What a Wonderful World.” Leggy young women in short shorts were walking around handing out menus. Bella manager Lisa Ambrose called them her ‘Milkshake Waitresses’. A lotta people would have ordered milkshake to exchange some sweet nothings with these gals!
I’m sure the night’s emcee ATAMA was milkshaked out by the evening’s end! He was his usual charming self: a little Elvis pelvis here and there to get us in the mood, then keen to interview some gorgeous models being made up into Rockabilly and Glamour chicks.
The selection of Americana food on offer was a photo opportunity in itself, and among the local celebs present were Cassie and Rica of Hitz.FM, and professional hairdo & makeup artist Jeffie Jeff. Bella Italia restaurant was a feast for the eyes, as well as for the stomach.
The inimitable JIAJA brothers sauntered in next, hair slicked back and sporting a professorial look. “Welcome to the Fifties,” Nazri Ji said. The normally psychedelic rock brothers put on a wry smile and said, “Tonight, we’ll be fifties musicians.” So? Did they pull it off? Effortlessly. They kicked off their set with ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, moving right into Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B Goode’. It was perfect for the night! ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ brought out the exhibitionist in Ji, and his brother Aja had one big, easy smile as they eased into a Hank Marvin number and then harmonized to deliver up ‘This Boy’. They were two unplugged singer-guitarists, mics aimed at the guitars, and they were the ultimate showmen to the very last note.
Music took a break as Atama tried out a trivia quiz with the audience, some Q&As about Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. He gave up a bit more pElvis, to help the patrons along. Hitz’ Cassie gave out the gift vouchers.
ECHO DUO were next. Guitarist Delbert Tiu and vocalist Emmanuel Christo serenaded us with ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Unchained Melody’ and ‘My Way’ in their own style. You need to know these guys are from Sabah’s own Spanish rock band Quadro Forte, so that means in Spanish!
Bella dished out some dosh next: RM100 gift vouchers to the Best Dressed Chick and Dude. Lovely VW Club’s Ruby Saario won the Chick prize, while yours truly [me] handed the voucher over to the very stylish Dude winner Jonathan Leong.
Alvin and Wan were back to woo us with ‘L.O.V.E’ and some Everly Brothers, before drop-dead hot drag queen Angel strode boldly into the restaurant and unleashed some Broadway cabaret on us, to nervous squeals of delight.
JIAJA returned with a soulful Beatles medley including ‘Don’t Let me Down’, and there was some excellent tight guitar work on the tricky number ‘Day Tripper’.
Seasoned local musician David Limus was sitting with us, and he said the Jiaja brothers can really feel those older songs, despite being way too young to really know them. “They listened to those songs a lot, and for some reason, they really understand them.”
It really was Back To The Fifties with Bella that night: VW Beetles outside; Philly Cheese Steaks and sundaes inside; film clips of Brando smouldering down from the ceiling. Fifties in Sabah? At Bella – Boleh!