“What New York Is All About”: Welcome to the Piano Bar
This story is part of an occasional series exploring nightlife in New York City.
Whether you’re sipping $20 cocktails in dimly lit lounges or bidding on song requests during a lively dueling piano show, there’s apparently a tune that unites every piano bar in New York City.
“Go ahead and pull out ‘A Thousand Miles’ by Vanessa Carlton,” said Nate Buccieri, a pianist who plays weekly at Brandy’s on the Upper East Side, Don’t Tell Mama in Midtown and Duplex in Greenwich Village. . “Everybody’s gonna be like, ‘OH, MY GOD!'”
“I’m going to release Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’ at Nines, and the whole room starts singing – it’s crazy!” said Sam Behr, who regularly plays The Nines in NoHo and Bar Nine in Hell’s Kitchen. “I’m like, ‘Really? You guys?'”
Mr. Buccieri, who is “gently in his 40s”, as he put it, and Ms. Behr, 27, make a living at these venues, which have been around for decades but are experiencing a revival with new performers and listeners. Some bars are completely immersive, with singing waiters, bartenders, and entertainers accepting requests in exchange for tips, while others are more subdued, with solitary pianists playing arrangements of songs from their own playlists.
Ms Behr started playing piano bars in 2014, when she was hired at a chain called Howl at the Moon while studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Two years later, when a new location opened near Times Square, she moved to New York.
Now, she performs several nights a week at both Bar Nine — a dueling piano bar where patrons can request anything from Billy Joel to Metallica — and Nines, a swanky carpeted piano bar. Cheetah which opened in January (and draws a crowd-vogue style, serving a famous $95 potato topped with caviar).
“A lot of times I’m the background music in this room,” she said, describing the more upscale vibe at Nines. “But every now and then – and it’s even more special when it happens in this room – it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I asked these fine diners to look over their shoulder and sing for a second.'”
Some nights, she says, she prefers the rowdy, elated audience that Bar Nine attracts, but the low-key vibes at places like the Nines can be liberating too.
“I prefer a captive audience,” Ms. Behr said. “But at Nines, it’s almost like a dream to walk into that room because it’s so opulent and so beautiful.”
“I don’t feel the pressure of a room of ears and eyes really focusing on what I’m doing,” she added. “I just feel appreciated as part of the vibe.”
Konrad Paszkudzki, 33, makes a living as a touring jazz pianist, but when he’s not on the road he enjoys working at Melody’s, a bar that opened in April in the Upper East Side. As a patron and performer, he said he prefers spaces with live music.
“When someone is playing live music and there’s a pianist playing right in front of you, it changes the molecular makeup of the room,” Paszkudzki said.
He added that his attention to what’s playing is also about preserving New York’s live music legacy.
“That’s what New York is. You walk into a place and there’s live music, there’s a pianist, there’s jazz,” he said. “That’s why I live here – because it’s the best thing in the world.”
Mr Buccieri, who often works five nights a week rotating between three piano bars, said the unpredictability of each night’s crowd gets his adrenaline pumping.
“When people say, ‘What do you like to play?’ I’m like, ‘I’m a Libra! I like to play everything,” he said. “I like when it’s like a mix of, this table here wants old school classic show tunes, and they want contemporary show tunes, and these guys want 90s rap and these guys want Taylor Swift.”
While at the Duplex, Mr. Buccieri will also work alongside other artists, such as Taylor-Rey J’Vera, a singer who goes by the name T.Rex.
Ms J’Vera, 32, who performs regularly at the Stonewall Inn and the Duplex, said she started working for the Duplex after becoming a regular herself.
“We have a lot of regulars who come solo — every week I know I’m going to see Martin; I’m going to see Mark; I know I’m going to see these people who come because there’s a family base,” Ms J’Vera said.
Although she spent some time working with the Harlem Repertory Theater and musical theater programs, Ms. J’Vera said she started earning a living in piano bars after having a baby with her woman. Another perk of working in these bars, she said, is engaging with the public.
“When you’re on stage, traditionally, the lights are blinding, and you don’t see who’s in front of you and you don’t know them,” she said. “There’s a kind of fourth wall that separates you.”
“As a performer, I think it’s pretty awesome to be right in the middle of your audience,” she added. “My favorite thing is getting to know the room and saying, ‘What are you interested in? What do you like to hear? »
Ms Behr, who plays at Nines and Bar Nine, also said the piano bars provide an unprecedented way to interact with performers.
“It’s an opportunity to see live music, but also to be able to interact in the show,” Ms. Behr said. At other jazz clubs, despite the great music, “there really isn’t a big opportunity to get involved and connect with the artists while they’re performing,” she said.
And even at the end of a long night, some New York pianists can’t wait to come back the next day.
“If I were to win the lottery, would I want to be forced to work a shift? No, but at least I would hang out there,” Mr. Buccieri said with a laugh. “But, I would probably still work there too.”
Where to go
don’t tell mama343 West 46th Street, donttellmamanyc.com
measure nine807 Ninth Avenue, bar9ny.com
Uncle Charlie’s Piano Room139 East 45th Street, unclecharliesnyc.com
The New York Townhouse236 East 58th Street, townhouseny.com
Mimi restaurant and piano bar, 984 Second Avenue, mimisnyc.com
Shake Rattle & Roll Dueling Pianos320 West 36th Street, shakerattlerollpianos.com
Room at Sid Gold’s request165 West 26th Street, sidgolds.com