Lamppost Pizza Open Mic
It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night at Lamppost Pizza in South Reno. A woman perches nonchalantly at a table, watching as her son, dressed in a little league uniform, runs around the arcade area munching on pizza. A group of young guys sits at the bar, enjoying some of the 10 beers on tap.
It’s your average scene for a neighborhood pizza joint—except for one older gentleman standing behind the microphone in the back of the bar, surrounded by musical equipment.
His name is Leonid Pustilnick—it’s Russian, in case you were wondering—but you can call him Lenny El Bajo, or just Lenny. Everybody does.
Pustilnick has been warming up the mic, singing from a selection of over 80 songs he keeps arranged alphabetically in a binder, everything from “Dust in the Wind,” to “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” to show tunes. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more exotic, he’s got that too—Pustilnick can sing in French, Russian, Spanish and Italian, even Yiddish on occasion. He learned the languages from his training in the Nevada Opera. He’ll take requests if the song suggestion moves him—just don’t ask for “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
As the warm-up wraps up, Pustilnick stands aside and lets the first performer on his sign-up sheet step up to the mic. After a brief introduction he goes to the sidelines to watch, cheer and occasionally sing along. Running open mics for the last three years, he’s got the motions down.
“It just fell in my lap,” says Pustilnick on starting his hosting gig. “I thought it’d be a wonderful way to get people together and have a place to express themselves.”
And the people love him. It’s easy to do, seeing as Pustilnick, with his quirky humor and approachable personality, isn’t your average open mic host. That makes him the perfect fit for Lamppost, which isn’t your average open mic location.
“Jay is unusual to have an open mic in a pizzeria,” says Pustilnick of Lamppost owner Jay Watson, seeing as the usual locale of such events is either a coffee shop or a bar.
But Watson has his own reasons for wanting to be the only current open mic in South Reno.
“When I was a kid I was in bands and I’ve always loved music, so when I opened this place I wanted to bring music to it,” says Watson. “I love it. I make it a point to be here.”
What makes Lamppost’s open mic night special is not only the host, but also the people who turn out. Consisting of everything from musicians to poets to comedians and even the occasional magician, their average age is a bit older—not all preteens covering Taylor Swift and Green Day—and the passion they have for both their host and their songs is evident.
“I happened upon an open mic with Lenny, and he dragged me in,” says open mic performer Lori Henry. “He’s very complimentary and supportive. I love it because there’s that 8-to-5 job, and then you come here, and you’re a star for a bit.”
Performing duo Rey Flauta and Doug Walsh agree. “We’ve all bonded—it’s almost family. We get a lot of respect from the people that come in,” says Flauta.
As it nears 10 p.m., the evening’s last performer starts to wind down. But just as he’s about to call it a night, Pustilnick eggs him on, calling for one more song. As the performer obliges, Pustilnick turns with a smile and says of his open mic: “I get a wonderful feeling of sharing with everybody—with the community. It’s all about community.”