Courtesy Facebook
Courtesy Facebook

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.

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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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