Music has always sustained the beating pulse of New York City, from humming along to headphones on the subway to the city's hundreds of live music outfits. And like attending a Broadway show, a night at a piano bar is a quintessential rite of passage. From velvet-roped institutions playing some of NYC's best jazz music to laid-back cabaret sing-alongs, here are the must-visit bars raising the roof with live piano tunes.
Find a great piano bar in NYC
Choice acts keep New York’s most dapper nightspot on the map—and a steep cover charge plus white-jacketed service make sure no riffraff scuffs up the bar’s most valued draw: original Ludwig Bemelmans murals. Mixologist Brian Van Flandern’s spiffy (and pricey) potions preserve the bar’s classic character. Try the popular Paradise cocktail (pear vodka, Aneri and prosecco with lime and bitters), or a rum, lime, tonic and Martell cognac concoction named for the spot’s longtime barkeep, Tommy Rowles.
If a beer-soaked watering hole doesn’t relax you after a long week at the office, this UES piano bar just might. The exuberant musician on the creaky upright bangs out favorites ranging from Bette Midler to Les Miz, while the weathered cocktail waitress darts between the bar and cramped tables. Boozers may be tempted to sing along; boost your courage with a powerful martini, a dollar off during happy hour (4–8:30pm).
This sexy midtown bistro was brought to us by the late Jean-Claude Baker, adoptive son of the eponymous Josephine-—the 1920s dancer who scandalized Paris with her banana-ornamented G-string. Pictures of the “Black Pearl” hang on the scarlet walls, and tinsel drips from the blue tin ceiling. Food ranges from culinary relics like a succulent duck à l’orange to Southern American dishes (crisp-skinned fried chicken). The restaurant’s location translates to a hopping pre- and posttheater crowd—join them for La Délice Josephine, a superbly smooth flourless chocolate cake, after the curtain falls.
What good is singing alone in your room when you can sing along with show tunes at a Theater District mainstay? Cabaret performers often congregate in the bar area before and after their numbers—where, best of all, there’s no cover charge, just a two-drink minimum. Sip a bourbon, hum a few bars and soak up the Art Deco chic.
Setting the pace for campy, good-natured fun (though not classic glamour), the city’s oldest cabaret is still going strong at 55. A generous mix of regulars and tourists laugh and sing along with drag performers, comedians and rising stars in the cabaret room on the second floor. (Special showcases are still in the intimate game room, which is also upstairs and has a separate bar.) In the ground-floor piano bar, the merry singing waitstaff is entertaining enough to avoid charges of gimmickry, and the pianists are often excellent.
The Manhattan Inn, located in the heart of Greenpoint, is a piano bar and restaurant serving a nod to Southern cuisine, interesting natural wine selections, and hand crafted cocktails. A talented roster of local pianists play during dinner every evening and brunch on Saturday's & Sunday's.
The draw at this beloved West Village institution ain't the drinks—cheap beer, vodka highballs—it's the old-school piano-bar experience. Belt out a Broadway tune with the rest of the bar, and keep an eye peeled for legendary pianist Dexter Watson, who's been a fixture at Marie's for ages.
A dance floor, show-tune-playing pianist and cabaret acts add up to the ultimate gay package at this long-standing haunt. The diverse crowd assembles for happy hour (get a buck off well drinks Mon–Fri 4–9pm and Sat 2–9pm) and sticks around for shows in the spacious basement. Drag queen Jesse Volt hosts High Voltage on Wednesday nights at 11pm, and Barbara Herr fires up another drag show, Sabor Latino, at midnight on Mondays. On weekend nights, the frisky go-go boys and upbeat atmosphere make the low cover charge ($3–$7) a steal.
The dining room inside the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria was renovated in late 2005 (at a cost of $5.5 million) and Cedric Tovar (Town, Django) now heads the kitchen. We like dinner and brunch here. The dishes, such as an appetizer of tuna tartare rolls with avocado and cilantro, can be quite delicate. Or they can be manly: The dry-aged, grilled sirloin was juicy and served on a mound of short-rib compote, with a buttery side of cauliflower and bone marrow. Brunch is a $75-a-person gourmet buffet.
It’s not surprising that Sid Gold’s Request Room is the kind of bar where everyone knows everyone—you don’t get much more niche than a Chelsea-set piano bar. The campy joint effort of Beauty Bar proprietor Paul Devitt and Loser’s Lounge founder (and Psychedelic Furs ivory tickler) Joe McGinty, Sid’s has the kind of downtown clout that draws New York notables (Parker Posey, Andrew Rannells), without the velvet-rope snootiness.