Georgetown Piano Bar never intended to be a potential rival of Georgetown's Mr. Smith's, which has long been known for its singalong piano nights. It was supposed to be its savior.
When word got around that Mr. Smith's would close its location of nearly 50 years, the staff had no idea that it would eventually reopen in the former Chadwicks space. So a group of employees and one fan of the place got together to open a piano bar of their own. "We were basically rescuing the staff," says Georgetown Piano Bar owner Bill Thoet, who’s also an executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. "It was only maybe two weeks ago—and we're three months into a process here—that they actually went public that they bought Chadwicks."
Thoet has sought out piano bars around the world, so when his nephew and former Mr. Smith's employee Morgan Williams approached him about the idea, he was in. The establishment's other partners include former Mr. Smith's manager Gene McGrath and Mr. Smith's pianists Hunter Lang and Spencer Bates.
Georgetown Piano Bar, which plans to open Friday, has taken over the former Modern space and greatly toned down the nightclub's bright decor. The owners have kept the big circular bar in the center of the room, but really the place is all about one thing: the piano. "This is not a bar we put a piano in," Thoet says. "This is a bar we built around a piano."
The large red piano in question is actually a wooden stand for an electric keyboard (or two for dueling piano nights). Guests can pull up a stool in front of it and there's a ledge for drinks. The bar will open at 5 p.m. every day and the piano will begin at 9 p.m. Both Lang—who claims to know every single Beatles song, even the obscure stuff—and Bates will be the main performers, but other musicians will make appearances too.
Books of lyrics will be scattered around the room so that guests can sing along. "This isn't about one or two people being involved. This is about the whole bar joining in," Thoet says. People can also request songs, but "you might have to grease the palms a little," he says.
The bar will serve no food, although patrons can bring in their own food and delivery partnerships with nearby restaurants are in the works. Drinks will include six beers on tap for $6 each and wine by the glass for $7. Cocktails ($10-$12) are named after famous lounge singers and piano players, like Dean Martin (a martini), Frank Sinatra (a Manhattan—"New York, New York"), and Elton John (a very flamboyant cosmo). The walls will also be covered with photos of famous artists like Elvis and Duke Ellington—all in front of a piano, of course.
Georgetown Piano Bar, 3287 M St. NW; (202) 337-1871; georgetownpianobar.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman