158 Ludlow St
New York, NY 10002
Hours: 3p-4a Daily
Subway: J,M,F to Essex St/Delancey St or F to 2nd Ave
Written by: Sari Henry
Pianos is one of the liveliest music venues in the Lower East Side and it has been since it opened in 2002. The venue’s unique bright-colored schemes, light-hearted decor, full schedule of DJs and live music acts attract crowds night after night.
Pianos appeal is astonishing, yet rightly so: there are always people spilling out its doors, milling around outside and waiting in line for entry. Through the large, front windows, people can be seen laughing, socializing and moving to the DJ’s beats. Inside, the bar has an inviting demeanor of white painted brick and wood beams, with shades of blue highlighting the window frames and the floor. This space is barely large enough to allow for the large amounts of traffic flow, but the surfer photos on the wall, the curvy packed bar and high tables, perfect for sampling from the menu with friends, all induce a congenial tone.
The live room is the driving force at Pianos. It has its own pint-size bar for the ardent music aficionados, who don’t want to miss a beat. Multiple bands play nightly, ranging from indie rock to singer-songwriter. The capabilities for sound are excellent; the speakers are all top notch and the stage is sand-filled to absorb sound and reduce echoing. The colors are bolder and darker in this room pointing attention to the musicians, who can command the small room and be seen by everyone on the surprisingly high stage.
The upstairs area has a slight jungle theme. Some stuffed animals silently watch the room’s activities from an alcove near the stairwell. This 2nd floor space operates as a disco, dance party, karaoke room and second stage for acoustic set-ups, sometimes as many as seven in an afternoon and evening. Low-key in the early evening, it is ideal for a quiet dinner at the bar. Later at night, particularly during special events, it can become a raging dance party.
Pianos’ intentional beach house designs are a much welcomed contrast from the common ‘dark and dirty bar.’ The venue has also fine-tuned its operations, retaining what is a hit among its patrons and benefits the business most. Four-dollar frozen margaritas are a smash at happy hour. Most of the staff are like-minded artists and surfers themselves. And the gastro-pub menu has been narrowed down to the popular items such as burgers, seared tuna salad and sandwiches.
Something interesting is always going on at Pianos. People walking by, look in and think, “I want to go in there.”
Pianos fashioned its name from the previous business’s trade—piano-refurbishing. Before the change-over the shop looked like a piano graveyard with strings, pieces of wood and piano frames lying around. For a short while, Pianos was used as a do-it-yourself performance space, until the live room was built for the bands. Intended to be a multi-room venue, the upstairs floor and its bar/ lounge and smaller playing area was developed a short time later.
Pianos has never attached itself to certain music genres. The venue has had different bookers, but the focus throughout the years has always been on booking bands that draw people, as well as, bands that have potential to attract attention. Developing bands is important to Pianos, as is trying to predict what the next good sound is going to be. The bookers at Pianos are constantly scouting, listening to 100s of submissions each week and reaching out to agents.