“Play me a song, Mr. Piano Man,” Billy Joel croons in his aptly named hit, “Piano Man.”
Piano bars in New York run the gamut from all-out performances to quiet crooners sitting in the corner, but perhaps theater historian John Kenrick said it best when he described the piano bar as a hybrid creature: “part performance space, part living room, part cruise-a-thon, and part saloon.”
However, that’s not to say that all places with a piano can classify as a piano bar. In a New York Times piece from 2010, Frank Bruni makes the distinction that there’s a large difference between piano bars, and bars that happen to have a piano – mainly that in order to be considered a piano bar, “the music and maybe the chance to sing it are more crucial to the establishment’s identity than anything the bartender concocts.”
We’d tend to agree with Bruni on this front, though it must be said that music comes more easily with a few martinis or a whiskey on the rocks under your belt.
Below, we dive into the 10 best piano bars in the city, from institutions like Don’t Tell Mama to fancy affairs like Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel.
Open 365 days a year until 4 AM, The Duplex is not your grandmother’s piano bar. Instead, colorful characters from New York and beyond show up for the opportunity to get in front of the crowd for a performance. Drag queens mix-and-mingle with straight guys and gays alike, livening up the atmosphere and adding an extra dash of playfulness to the vibe. Unlike other places on this list, The Duplex supports a come-as-you-are, open-door policy, so you won’t have to worry about sporting your Sunday best to get inside. Once there, try your fingers on the keys or grab hold of the mic â» it’s about to be a wild ride.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Because it’s a rip-roaring good time that you won’t soon forget.
Andrea’s expert tip: Bring whatever you’re feeling to The Duplex and leave it on stage. This is a piano experience that’s over the top.
Read more about The Duplex →
Named after a famous author of children’s literature, this piano bar in the Carlyle Hotel offers a luxurious reprieve on the Upper East Side. The spot bills itself as a piece of «Old New York,» but the author’s murals from stories like the classic, «Madeline,» balance out the dark, heavy wood and atmosphere. Piano jazz is played here nightly from 5:30 PM, and patrons include everyone from mature neighbors to politicians and movie stars. Art lovers will also appreciate that the large-scale murals in the hotel bar are the only surviving Bemelmans’ work that’s still open to the public. Indeed, this place ranks among the city’s classic piano bar joints where you can enjoy a good drink, terrific company, and great music in relative peace.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: As far as piano bars go, there’s nowhere that does classiness quite like this.
Andrea’s expert tip: After 9PM or 9:30PM, you’ll face a cover – $25 per person for a table and $15 per person at the bar.
Read more about Bemelmans Bar →
While the hotel gets most of the fame, we think the art deco setting of the Waldorf-Astoria Cocktail Terrace deserves a bit of love, too. Overlooking the lobby of the historic hotel, the glamorous terrace features velvet chairs for lounging and a fully stocked bar that caters to the elite. On Fridays and Saturdays, pianists sit down to the entertain patrons on Cole Porter’s very own grand piano, «High Society,» a gift to the hotel from the legendary musician in 1939. Built by Steinway & Sons in Astoria, Queens, the piano is hand-carved with double Empire-style legs. If you’re really feeling the pull of history, order up the Cole-tini, the bar’s signature nod to Mr. Porter.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Because anything to do with the Waldorf in NYC feels fancy.
Andrea’s expert tip: Go for afternoon tea when the crowd is thinner.
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Don’t Tell Mama takes the cake for a no-holds-barred piano bar experience that can only be described as eclectic. Segmented live jazz, sing-along and cabaret rooms, comedy groups, musicals, and a variety of other acts take the stage here to show off their pipes and cajole the crowd into participating. If you’re looking for smooth jazz and a quiet evening, keep looking. Here, bartenders and servers aren’t afraid to bust out in song, and many have worked on the stages of Broadway and Off-Broadway. Along with musicality, Don’t Tell Mama rocks with laughter and conversation from a mix of patrons who would not normally be seen hanging out together.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Don’t Tell Mama is an institution in the New York piano bar scene.
Andrea’s expert tip: Go with friends, or alone. If you don’t take them, you’ll make them.
Read more about Don’t Tell Mama →
Photo courtesy of Vanishing New York
Due to its proximity and some of its clientele, Marie’s Crisis in the West Village is often billed as a gay piano bar, but this intimate dive welcomes those of all orientations and genders. The piano takes center stage at Marie’s and unless you arrive early, chances are it’s standing room only. No matter. You’ll be on your feet as soon as the music starts anyway, singing at the top of your lungs with a room full of strangers. For this reason, it’s fun to go with friends, but acceptable to show up solo and make comrades with this non-judgmental crowd once you arrive.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Marie’s Crisis might be the backdrop for the best time you’ll have all year.
Andrea’s expert tip: Marie’s is cash only, so plan ahead. There are plenty of ATMs nearby and a Bank of America one block north on 7th Ave.
Read more about Marie’s Crisis →
Photo courtesy of Restaurants CT
Blue-tin ceilings and red velvet walls mingle with twinkling chandeliers at Chez Josephine, a piano bar and restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. Named in honor of Josephine Baker, a Parisian stage and film star, an undercover agent in WWII and Civil Rights activist, this French bistro opened in 1986, and has been wowing adventurers who step off of 42nd Street ever since. Live piano entertainment takes place nightly, in addition to Sunday brunch. Patrons say they feel like they’ve been taken back in time to Paris in the 1930s, or as Chez Josephine prefers to calls it â» «le Jazz Hot with soul.»
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Because walking into Chez Josephine makes you feel like you’ve left New York for Paris.
Andrea’s expert tip: Stop in for a pre-theater meal and a post-theater drink.
Read more about Chez Josephine →
Photo courtesy of Mezzrow
Billed as a «listening room,» you’ll want to come to Mezzrow Jazz Club when you’re in the mood to be taken away by the music. Owned and operated by the cats who run Smalls Jazz Club next door, this isn’t the place for conversation with a friend. The club kindly asks that talking be kept to a bare minimum. They also ask you to dress appropriately as reverence to some of the world’s best jazz pianists that grace the stage. The space itself is small, which accentuates an already intimate feel, plus on Thursday through Sunday, the $20 ticket ($25 on weekends) buys you entry to Smalls. There are two nightly shows: 7:30 PM and 9 PM, then 10:30 PM and 12 AM.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: You can sit toe to toe with jazz greats for a $20 ticket.
Andrea’s expert tip: You’ll need to reserve your spot in advance – check the website for available tickets. Students get in for $10 with a student ID.
Read more about Mezzrow Jazz Club →
Photo courtesy of Sid Gold’s Request Room
The music at Sid’s Gold leans more toward the hits you’d hear on the radio – pop, rock and soul – than anything you’d find at some of the quainter bars on this list. The joint’s divided into two sections: an old-timey marble bar up front and a high-energy, rowdy karaoke session through the velvet curtains around back. While the weekdays can be a little slow, things pick up on the weekends with packed houses, bachelorettes celebrating their last nights of singledom and neighborhood regulars vying for the mic. If you’re looking to level up your karaoke singing with a live piano, you’ve met your match at Sid’s.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Because it’s where you should go if you want to karaoke along with the keys.
Andrea’s expert tip: Make reservations or risk getting left out.
Read more about Sid Gold’s Request Room →
At first glance, Little Branch doesn’t look like a piano bar. In fact, it doesn’t look like much at all. This teeny, narrow space lives behind a discreet door in the Village �» often the only clue that you’ve found the right place are the people queuing up outside. Upon further inspection, however, you’ll begin to notice the nuances: a well-worn piano stands guard in the corner and the social decencies of the past are stringently enforced: no-nonsense or talking loudly permitted. If you’re permitted entry, you’ll likely find a jazz trio manning the corner, and a smattering of suspender-wearing bartenders pouring up old classics.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Because you’ll feel like you’re in an underground speakeasy during Prohibition.
Andrea’s expert tip: Slip the bouncer a $20 at the door for easy access.
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Fortunately for its boisterous patrons, Brandy’s Piano Bar on the Upper East Side stays open late. Hidden away on an unsuspecting street, this popular piano bar is one part sing-along, two parts lounge, and all-around a great time. Upon arrival, expect to get pulled in by the staff to participate in a tune or 5, as Brandy’s is definitely not a spectator sport. Be aware that unlike others on this list, Brandy’s inflicts a two-drink minimum, per person per set, so be prepared to open a tab if you plan on staying. Happy hour starts at 4 PM, though music won’t get going until 9:30.
Recommended for Piano Bars because: Because it’s unassuming, and then you step inside to a world of sound.
Andrea’s expert tip: Be prepared to pony up at the bar for the right to a table.
Read more about Brandy’s Piano Bar →