This is a weird thing to say, but I never realized how boring my life was until I went to a dueling-piano bar. It’s not like I had a life-changing experience from hearing bawdily rewritten versions of pop standards. I just concluded that my nights out typically follow the same tired routine of drinking beer, smoking weed, watching bands, eating bad food, going home, and passing out. Sometimes I break the monotony by throwing up in a parking lot, but most of the time, my Saturday nights hit the same tired beats.
The Saturday night before Christmas, though, I had a date with my friend Kathleen, and since she lives in Arlington, I thought it would be fun to do what I supposed is a very Arlingtonian thing to do: get sorta dressed up and go out for drinks in Lincoln Square. I admit that this is a terribly reductive assessment of a city that’s almost 400,000 people strong, but whatever. My life is boring, remember? In many cases, “boring” is synonymous with “unimaginative,” which is a conveniently reductive way to assess reductive assessments. And, anyway, I find myself defending Arlington to haters whenever I get the chance. Pho 95 is in Arlington and so is the better of Tarrant County’s two Guitar Centers. What more do you need?!?
I know that there’s a certain mental and physical agility intrinsic to the kind of vaudeville shtick that’s the hallmark of piano bars, but I’ve never had much interest in them. They just seem, I dunno, kind of lowbrow, like a Jim Carrey blockbuster or a UFC bout. But Kathleen had never seen a piano duel either, so I guess we both had the low-grade excitement that accompanies novelty and unknown expectations; funnily enough, though I had the sad epiphany mentioned above, I had a pretty good time, the way watching flustered parents herd their brood through the state fair is more fun than anything in the midway.
If you can imagine Disneyland’s Country Bear Jamboree if it had been designed by the people behind the 1-800-Bartend commercial, that’s kind of what Louie Louie’s Dueling Piano Bar looks like. Across the room from an enormous wood-topped bar is the stage, on which a drumkit has been crammed between two grand pianos. Mounted above the twin 88s is a pair of deer trophies, their dead-eyed glares seemingly alert for people looking to be embarrassed, their antlers festooned with bras. In fact, bras hang from just about everywhere, as do Cuervo bottle-shaped piñatas. Tacked to the walls are various instruments. I saw a couple of guitars and a clarinet; Kathleen saw a French horn. If a French horn doesn’t make you want to party, maybe a Jell-O shot will, especially if it’s squirted out of a fat plastic syringe into your mouth. Waitresses roam around wearing belts of these things, as well as bandoliers of colorful test-tube shots. I felt like my regular idea of nightlife fun was as dour and foreign as a crowd at Ellis Island.
I thought the players’ material was incorrigibly cheesy (“Benny and the Jets” becomes “Benny’s Got Tourette’s” in these dudes’ hands), but the crowd ate it up like Elvis at a Sizzler. At one point, a birthday girl with a Dorothy Hamill haircut was goaded onto the bench next to the stage-right piano man, who then regaled her with an ostensibly hee-larious version of “Let It Snow,” changing the chorus to “She’s a ho, she’s a ho, she’s a ho.” The room went wild, though not as wild as when he led a singalong of “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Overall, while I admired the players’ improv skills, I was way more dazzled by their musical chops — the stage-left guy (a friend of mine, as I’d discovered, named Justin) squeezed himself behind the drums for a song, and the thought occurred to me that the average piano duelist is probably an ace at anything that makes musical notes.
We stayed for a couple more drinks before repairing to nearby Caves Lounge. Around midnight, some of Kathleen’s friends showed up, and I ducked out to smoke a joint in the parking lot before watching this thrash band at The Sunshine Bar next door. I went back to Caves for last call, I dropped Kathleen off, and on the way home I hit up a Jack in the Box. Despite my best efforts, my Saturday ended up like it usually does, but at least I had a good time trying something new. I guess life is only as boring as you let it be. –– Steve Steward
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