Tackling the ivories on the double
Two weeks before the 2002 Olympics, Utah's first dueling piano bar, The Tavernacle, opened in Salt Lake City.
"We just figured it would catch on during the Olympics and we would ride that out," said manager Susy Matson, " but it kept gaining in popularity,"
Wednesday through Saturday nights, the Tavernacle features dueling piano players who with a tip will perform audience requests.
"It's a different show every night," said Matson, who has been with the Tavernacle since it opened and wishes she had a nickel for every time someone requested Billy Joel's "Piano Man."
Patrons also can use cash to stop a particular song.
"When Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe' first came out, it was the most requested and stopped song for a few months," said bartender Skyler Young.
The Tavernacle has six rotating pianists. To get the gig, the musicians must audition and, if hired, attend "Duel School," which trains them for improvisational performing. It's taught by Troy Baldwin, a multi-instrumentalist who began playing piano in seventh grade and has been a dueling pianist at the Tavernacle since it opened.
Each piano player has a different technique and style, but all must be able to play and sing many songs all while interacting with the crowd. On Friday and Saturday nights, the bar is packed with patrons flush with dollar bills who want to hear a song.
"I love improv and having to be quick-witted and fast on my feet," said Baldwin, adding that having a partner and playing off each other's jokes "is magical."
First-timers should visit on a Wednesday or Thursday night, Matson said. "You can really watch the show and watch how the piano players interact with each other. It's a little bit more intimate."
If you want to go on a Friday or Saturday night, a reservation is the only way to guarantee a table. On those nights, it's not uncommon to see audience members dancing on the pianos or being called up onstage to help perform a song.
Of course, there are other happenings at the Tavernacle: On Sunday and Tuesday there's karaoke, and Monday is karaoke bingo. On Thursday, besides the dueling pianos, the bar hosts a weekly poker tournament.
While The Tavernacle offers eight beers on draft and a new menu of specialty cocktails and shots, it's the environment that brings customers like Tom Frank.
"It's a nice place," he said. "Everybody has a good time and I like the acoustics."
A dueling piano bar with specialty cocktails.
Where • 201 S. 300 East, Salt Lake City; 801-519-8900
Open • Sunday-Monday, 8 p.m.-1 a.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.
Details • tavernacle.com
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