Live! Casino-Hotel Philadelphia bartender also serves up tunes

Daniel Kulisek. Photo credit: Live! Casino-Hotel Philadelphia

The bartender at The Prime Rib Restaurant inside Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia has a few things in common with the guy who entertains in the steakhouse lounge on Thursday evenings – including build, looks and entire DNA genome.

Since January 2022, Daniel Kulisek has done quadruple duty at The Prime Rib’s popular lounge. In his full-time position, he is a bartender, “libations engineer” (in charge of developing new cocktails) and inventory curator.

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But on Thursdays, Kulisek emerges from behind the bar to entertain patrons with songs as he accompanies himself on piano and acoustic guitar.

A working musician for many years, the 42-year-old South Jersey lifer entered the hospitality industry as a beverage-program supervisor at an area hotel. But then COVID arrived.

“Everybody got laid off,” recalled Kulisek. “I sat on the bench for 10 months and [Live!] was opening. I live right across the bridge, and I was like, ‘All right, I need to start working again.’ Because, when you’re used to being out and about working in this industry, and you sit at home for 10 months, it’s tough.

“So I started as a bartender,” he added, “and then a couple months in, once the COVID restrictions were lifted and things got somewhat normal, I would hop on the piano every once in a while.”

That, Kulisek continued, was strictly for fun, and not part of his official job description. But one night, Carmen Gonzales, the casino’s publicist, happened to catch one of his impromptu performances. She told Joe Billheimer – senior vice-president of Pennsylvania operations for The Cordish Companies, owner of Live! – about Kulisek’s performing talents.

“He heard me play,” Kulisek remembered, “and he said, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?'”

Kulisek’s repertoire is expansive and covers multiple generations and genres. For that, he credits the Internet and his iPod: Both enable him to honor most of the requests he gets in an evening. On a recent Thursday, his set list ran the gamut from classic to smooth Frank Sinatra classic pop; to frantically strummed Elvis Presley rockabilly; to a version of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ on piano that included jazzy touches not heard in the original.

On a personal level, Kulisek’s musical tastes go far deeper than chart toppers by revered superstars. And he doesn’t necessarily keep them to himself: He admitted he encourages people – especially the young – to leave their musical comfort zones and explore new sounds. It’s a philosophy he came by relatively recently, courtesy of the late, legendary Philadelphia radio personality and dance-party host, Jerry Blavat.

Kulisek became friends with “The Geator with The Heater” after Blavat, who had a regular, Thursday night gig at Live!, started showing up at the Prime Rib following his own weekly appearances.

Blavat, Kulisek said, “Got me to listen. He got me digging into these acts that I had no idea existed, these R&B and rock acts that nobody plays anymore.

“That’s the one thing I try to tell people: Just get off your iTunes or whatever and go diving into stuff, because you’re gonna find a song that’s gonna change your life.”

Kulisek got emotional when Blavat, who died in January at 82, came up in conversation. Although their friendship was relatively short lived, it had a profound effect on Kulisek, and he was deeply saddened by the DJ’s death. He choked up as he talked about his deceased pal.

“He would come (to The Prime Rib) pretty much every Thursday after he was done his set,” Kulisek explained. “We’d sit at the bar and he’d tell me stories and things like that, and he became kind of a mentor, telling me what I need to do and to keep going.”

Kulisek regrets he never got to say goodbye to The Geator.

“He was one of those guys who was horrible with text messages,” said Kulisek as he blinked back tears. “Just terrible. He would never text you back. But if you called him, he always called you back within like a half hour.

“And I was worried, because I hadn’t heard from him,” the bartender/musician added. “So I called him (the day before he died) and he never called me back.”

But Blavat, a master entertainer in his own right, still inspires Kulisek to give as much as possible to his audience. But he has his limits: If you’re planning to catch one of his Thursday-night gigs and would like to request a song, there is something you might want to keep in mind:

When asked about the one tune he’d prefer not to perform, Kulisek replied without hesitation.

“I hate saying this, because it’s like the quintessential piano bar song, but if I never have to play (Billy Joel’s) Piano Man again, I’d be a very happy person.”

Coming attractions

A quartet of big-time artists have put Atlantic City on their “to-do” lists.

The biggest name of the four belongs to Diana Ross, who is checking into Hard Rock Hotel & Casino June 24. This is especially good news if you missed the pop legend’s wonderful performance last September at Ocean Casino-Resort. Although Ross turned 79 on March 26, her energy, enthusiasm and vocal ability at Ocean were those of someone considerably younger.

As such, this is a date that definitely needs to be circled on your calendar!

Over at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, they’ll be welcoming two top comics and a much-honored and beloved superstar.

The pair of funny ladies are Margaret Cho, who will make with the jokes April 14 and Chelsea Handler, who will do the same June 10.

And on June 23, four-time Grammy Award winner/Kennedy Center honoree Gladys Knight will be the headliner.

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