For God's Sake, Don't Let Piano Bars Be the Death of Deep Ellum

Deep Ellum has no idea how much fun it's missing without a piano. It was good while it lasted
Deep Ellum has no idea how much fun it's missing without a piano. It was good while it lasted
Oertel Photography

There's a concerning strain touring America's music scenes, spreading an invasive bacteria that digs its way through the ears and eyes of its hosts. It can't be stopped with inoculations, antibiotics or even just basic hygiene. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization refuse to recognize it as a virus or even a form of illness. Anyone who's survived it will tell you otherwise if they can stomach the psychological trauma that it leaves in its wake.

Just like that guy in every horror movie who realizes that an ancient evil has awoken and tries to warn everyone about the impending doom, only to be laughed off as just another cook in a tinfoil hat, I must issue a warning: It's coming. It's coming for us. A piano bar is coming to Deep Ellum.

As one of those survivors, it's still hard for me to talk about my ordeal because the painful memories of the infection still crop up in my nightmares and panic attacks, but there is one thought that helps me overcome it and talk about it: the fear that it could find other hosts and infect them.

According to GuideLive, a strain of infectious piano bars (also known by its medical name earwormicus drunkenoffkeyici) called Louie Louie's Piano Bar which has already befallen places like Arlington and Lubbock is now reaching its Cthulhu-like tentacles across the Metroplex to our beloved Deep Ellum music scene on the corner of Elm and Good Latimer streets.

This new infection point will be a 6,000-square-foot facility where groups of people — usually bachelorette parties or middle-aged men who are too old to be telling inappropriate stories about their fraternity days — will be able to sing all the Billy Joel and Steve Miller Band songs they want until their vocal chords start violently bleeding of their own accord. The space will also have two floors, each with their own dueling piano bar, which will also provide space for other non-piano based, sing-along shows. It is expected to open sometime before Thanksgiving, according to GuideLive.

This concerning news sparked memories of a dark time in my life when I was hooked by the infectious draw of the dueling piano bar. During my college days at the University of Texas in Austin, a friend and I would wander down to the famed Sixth Street. to drink and, well, just drink. We went all-state in chugging by our senior year.

Then one night after we were completely taken over by the alcohol, we heard the faint sounds of a piano being played and a crowd of fellow drunks belting out the lyrics to "Piano Man" as if they were trying to serenade the cosmonauts on the MIR Space Station. We had finally found a place that would let us be as loud and obnoxious as the alcohol told us we should be and not only would they not throw us out, they'd bring us more drinks the louder we got. This is how the virus gets you. It knows your weakness and it strikes it at its core.

A few weeks went by and we'd wander down to Sixth Street. to drink ourselves silly and eventually head toward the dueling piano bar so we could scream the alcohol out of our system. Little did we know that the louder we sang, the wider our mouths became, giving the virus an ample entrance to enter our bodies. It wasn't until I found myself tipping a piano player $20 just so I could hear him play "What I Like About You" that I realized there was something inside me that didn't belong there.

Blaming the alcohol was too easy. This place had a hold on me stronger than any industrial grade epoxy. We stopped going before it became too big an addiction to wrestle. I got through it by going to shows with bands whose songs I didn't know the words to, going to places like Punk Rock Karaoke and singing along with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes covers in my car. I'll never be completely cured but thanks to these treatments, I've yet to succumb to a relapse.

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Unfortunately, the buildings around this disease couldn't just get up and walk away like I did. Sixth Street itself started to change. It transformed from a strip of friendly, local, hole-in-the-wall bars and live music venues to uncomfortably friendly bars and live music venues including a couple of franchised hell holes like Coyote Ugly and Bikinis. It even began to look cleaner and more refined. The street has some spots with small signs of life but it has never recovered. It's no one's fault. How do you inoculate a street or give it a stomach pump to remove something so vile from its system?

I hope the same thing won't happen to Deep Ellum, a place that still has a sense of original charm and its own identity. It's possible that the virus won't transform Elm Street into a place that plays music catering to fans of jock rock, or where (gasp) families can visit at night. But we must remain forever vigilant.

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