A friend invited me to her birthday party at the Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar and I was excited to go because I love any opportunity where I get the chance to pretend that I am a rock star. A near-sighted, saggy rock star.
Big Band Dueling Piano Bar is a place where two musicians, sitting at two pianos, take turns singing songs live. They have hundreds of pop hits memorized and, even better, they take requests and invite audience members on stage to sing and dance. Also, if you tip them well enough, they forget every other request and play your song next. It’s musical capitalism.
We roll up to Big Bang on a Saturday evening, right at the crack of 5 p.m.. Now, the music doesn’t start until 7 p.m., but my friends and I don’t care – we are on a quest to get a table. The Big Bang does offer reserved seating, but that comes with a minimum $150 tab which, while understandable, was more than we were willing to commit to. So, instead, we arrive just as they unlock the doors, and acquire one of the non-reserved tables in the back all for ourselves. We are overjoyed to find that, not only do we have guaranteed seating all night, there also is a food menu. We weren’t sure that they served food because, though their website does provide fascinating apostrophe usage (“The Big Bang is excited to announce its' newest location has opened…”) it does not list a menu. But there is food, a lot of food, and it is really, really good. We eat all manner of flat breads and cheesy dips and are quite happy.
At 7 p.m. the music starts up, and, since there were only a few folks there, all of our requests are played immediately. More and more people come in, most of them with reservations, most of them with one of the 28 bachelorette parties that occur at the venue every night. Big Bang is a strong bachelorette party choice because where else can you collude with a musician to make your best friend/bride-to-be sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” against her will?
As the night goes on the songs get more and more lively, with waiters hopping up on stage to do dead-on David Lee Roth impressions. And then something happens - “Hang on Sloopy” starts playing and the crowd loses its mind, cheering and whooping, and I do not understand. This is a 1960s pop song. Why do we care? And then everyone starts yell-spelling and the arm shapes begin. O. H. I. O. Everyone is so busy participating that no one will tell me WHAT THE FLIP IS HAPPENING. When the song is over, I demand an explanation. “You know, Ohio State.” I ask what is the correlation between the two, and I am looked at as though I just asked what is the correlation between water and getting wet. I am left to Google it on my own.
This was my first trip to the Flats East Bank and the entire entertainment complex made me a little nostalgic for Chicago: restaurants and bars that are so well-designed they make you wish you had spent more time on your hair; dense, drunken crowds dressed as though they are at peak richness/fertility; long lines of people outside, waiting for their turn to pay a cover charge so they may then go inside and stand on a concrete floor in teetering high heels and drink to forget how much their feet hurt.
I leave before 10 p.m. because the place has become increasingly crowded and, due to my seating position, I am now being constantly jostled by the steady stream of people attempting to find an open space in which to stand. People keep eyeballing our table, silently willing us to leave so they can have our seats. Also, one of the people standing right in front of me kept on farting, which isn’t a bad ploy if you’re trying to free up a table.
Tipping is everything, so if you want to expose a bar of strangers to both “Whoomp there it is” and “Whoot there it is,” bring those Tubmans.
: 5 out of 5 “Hang on Sloopy”s