Blue Moon Dueling Piano Bar


In case one is curious w/r/t what I am getting myself into these days, it is not a whole lot.

But we have an apartment! So that’s progress. And I think we’re rather traveled out and are thus laying low.

Until last night.

Dun dun dun!

We… hit up… the piano bar.

When we were in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, looking for somewhere to eat dinner, I spotted a dueling piano bar. Very excited, I was.

“Pshh,” Jay dismissed it. “We’ve got one of those in Des Moines.” So we didn’t go, but I made Jay promise he’d take me to the one in Iowa.

Two weeks pass, we see a lot of family and friends and farmer’s markets and fairs (the four F’s of the Midwest, clearly…) and somewhat forget about the piano bar. Also, it’s moved from downtown to (shudder if you’re a Des Moines-ian) West Des Moines. I.e. where all the wannabe Des Moines-ers live. I.e. where Shawn Johnson actually lives even though all the Olympic advertising said otherwise (I’m sure that was a real letdown for Gabby Douglas when she found out).

In any case, we finally make it there last night, bringing along a friend of Jay’s he hadn’t yet seen (even though he was planning on being at work at six the next morning! here’s hoping he’s not in too rough shape today…). We had dinner in the East Village–of Des Moines, I know, confusing–at “Quinton’s Bar and Deli”, and though I have to say that while it was excellent, it definitely was not a deli. It was still a bit early when we finished, so to kill time we went to “The Underground” and caught the tail end of happy hour ($2.50 gin and tonics!) and shot some pool. Much to my surprise, I won both games (the first was ’cause Jay’s friend Tyler knocked one of my balls in by accident, but still.) A very nice contrast to my staggering loss in “Ticket to Ride” at a party of another friend of Jay’s, in which I was, ahem, quite the sore loser afterward (and also a bit dismayed that the game had absolutely nothing to do with the Beatles. I mean, really?!). You know, I say I’m not competitive…

But so finally we trekked out to West Des Moines. The bar is in the middle of this large, new-ish Big Box Goes Classy development. “West Glen Shopping Center”, or something. Most storefronts are either Opening Soon or Going Out of Business, and the hum of trying to be hip is deafening. That said, the place itself was really pretty great. More spacious than I’d ever have imagined (again, New York City bias talking), big loft area to accommodate large crowds, and two bars–one on either side of the stage, with mirrors on the back wall so you can see the hands of the two pianists sitting at two grand pianos. “Dueling”, it turns out, is a bit of a misnomer, because they tend to complement each other’s playing more than compete. Though, maybe if we had picked a more crowded day to visit (Wednesday, shockingly, is not a big night in Des Moines, not even to piano bars), there would have been more competition for tips, &c. They have three piano players per night, switching out for one another regularly. Our trio was comprised of a woman and two men, one of which was married to the woman! I thought that was pretty cute.

We got there around eight, and checked out the menu–and they had a group “fishbowl” drink. Jay and I had talked about doing one since the Heffen House of a few nights prior, where we shared a giant glass beer boot with a group of people. So of course we ordered it (and I have to say it put the boot to shame). It was called, of course, “The Blue Moon”, and it was (to quote the menu): a “gallon size fishbowl, Burnett’s cherry vodka, blue curacao, lemon lime soda, and lemonade.” And it was (to quote Tyler) “way too delicious.”

Keep in mind we were seated in the center of the place, directly in the line of sight of the two pianos. I think the piano players got as much entertainment from the sight of us as we did from their playing. “You guys in the back–what are you celebrating? (We shrug) Nothing? Just… Wednesday? All right!” What made the evening so fun was that these guys weren’t just pianists, they really knew how to work a(n albeit small) crowd.

They weren’t the best piano players I’ve heard, and it turned out that they sang a lot more than I would have thought (I should have guessed instrumental music only entertains bar goers for so long). But they really interacted with the audience. And even when they hardly knew a song, they unabashedly tried anyway, sounding pretty decent all the while. One high point for me was when they took my request to do the theme song of Frasier (I’ve been watching that a lot recently), which I thoroughly enjoyed despite it being completely improvised. I guess most of their work is improvised within a certain framework they know pretty well… I am so impressed with that sort of skill.

The height of their improvising came when they brought up a woman in the audience onstage. She was sitting near the front with another woman–they were there eating dinner when we arrived. It wasn’t clear why, but at one point the pianists had the woman (Cheryl) sit on the piano and they sang a song about her. It was goofy, light-hearted, and about them seducing her into bed and giving her a back massage (because this was the married pianist), and okay it was silly but fun. The song dwindles off and all of a sudden a man from out of nowhere is coming onstage and I was like “What? Why’s he there? He’s not Cheryl!” But she seems to know who he is and then they’re slow dancing a bit and then suddenly he’s down on one knee and he’s saying something we can’t hear but then she squeals “Yes!” and they hug.

I was grinning ear to ear from the whole evening and witnessing this pure moment of joy for these two people. I’m grabbing Jay’s knee to contain my excitement, and I look over at him smiling as well, and he’s all “You have to blog about this!” and so here I am. What a night to remember.


One response »

  1. THAT is a great story, Mouse ! Thanks for sharing. I so enjoy hearing about your adventures !

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