On a recent Thursday at Mickey’s Downtown Bistro, two men in business suits decided to move the “Duel” to “Duel Pianos.” They sipped wine and slapped $50 bills on the Baby Grand in a furious bidding war to hear the better classic: “Edge of Seventeen” or “Landslide.”
Within half an hour, $500 materialized in front of pianists Alissa Musto and Leon Novembre at the dim, stage-lit Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Square, their faces bathed in bouncing circles of green and blue. Turning to Musto with a raised eyebrow, Novembre quipped into the mic, “Hey, why don’t you play both?”
Still, it was an unusually generous tip.
Managing Director and wife of owner Wendy Josephs, watching the commotion from the booth near the entrance says the 200-seat piano bar thrives on such musical disappointments: the louder the song calls for it, the better for everyone, including bar flies.
“People get a few drinks in there, you’ll be amazed at how picky they get with the music,” she says. “It’s all fun. This place is set up for crowd interaction.”
After a decade without them, dueling piano bars are once again tickling the South Florida ivories. Mickey’s Downtown Bistro – Featuring dueling piano shows by Thursdays through Sundays – is the first bar of its kind in the Tricounty area in nearly a decade, filling a void left by bygone venues like Howl at the Moon on Beach Place in Fort Lauderdale and 88’s Dueling Pianos at Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood to have. Mickey’s debuted on April 28 with a grand opening party planned for the July 4th weekend.
Not far behind, dueling piano chain Howl at the Moon will be making a comeback in Fort Lauderdale in the summer of 2023. It will open downtown at 600 SE Second Court in a yet-to-be built 5,000-square-foot venue behind Big City Tavern on Las Olas Boulevard, says Howl at the Moon president Bradd O’Brien.
At Mickey’s, the Italian steakhouse with a Mediterranean accent is the brainchild of chef-owner Mickey Josephs and his brother Moti, two Israeli restaurateurs who ran a similar dueling piano joint in Hamden, Connecticut, until the pandemic killed this 15-year-old. old business.
“With 25% occupancy and closures, it got too expensive there,” explains Mickey Josephs, who explored storefronts from St. Augustine to Sarasota before landing in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. “But in Florida life went on, it was open. I realized we were in the wrong state.”
The Pompano Beach chef, who attended culinary school in Connecticut but learned Mediterranean cooking from his mother, says he wanted his cuisine to represent a better class of dueling piano bars. He also dropped about $200,000 for state-of-the-art audio equipment, including stage lighting and wall insulation.
With dueling piano shows getting loud, it was important to keep the bar soundproofed from the rest of the neighborhood — including neighbors in the apartments above Mickey’s.
“There’s 6 inches of insulation over the ceilings,” he says of the room’s acoustics. “They haven’t complained to us yet.”
The electricity of a dueling piano show is naturally fueled by tips and alcohol. Customers write down the first and second song selections on slips of paper and leave them on the piano. If someone tips Elton John $5, but a Neil Diamond fan slips the pianist $10, Piano Man is out and Sweet Caroline is in. joy to the world.”
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Dueling piano shows have evolved in recent years, says Brad Alexander, founder of the Flying Ivories, a New York-based network of dueling pianists. (Mickey’s only uses musicians from Flying Ivories.) Shows have toned down the crude sex jokes, stage comedy, and misogynistic humor that used to dominate the genre, he says — a sign of growing sensitivity after the #MeToo era.
“Some of that crude humor just doesn’t resonate with today’s audiences,” says Alexander, who began performing dueling piano shows in New York in 2001. Not only do our musicians have to memorize thousands of songs, they also have to know how to engage an audience.”
As much as dueling pianos and tips is Mickey’s blessing, the menu is the restaurant’s biggest moneymaker. It’s balanced with surf-and-turf classics and Mediterranean dishes, including Marrakech salmon ($32) rubbed in seven spices on a bed of roasted Israeli couscous and seasoned vegetables. The top-selling dish right now is Mezze For 2 ($26), a platter of homemade hummus, baba ghanoush, feta cheese, labneh, tahini, falafel, zaatar, and flatbread. Other appetizers include Pork Chop Milanese ($30) with arugula tomato salad, homemade Gnocchi Bolognese ($28), and Bucatini All’Amatriciana ($26) topped with Pecorino Romano and red pepper flakes. Happy hour runs daily from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and includes half-price entrees ($8 to $9) such as broccoli crab and sausage, PEI clams, and eggplant rollatini.
When Howl at the Moon debuts in Fort Lauderdale next year, the format will be different than Mickey’s, O’Brien says. Howl at the Moon will take fewer song requests, he says, and rely more on a pre-programmed setlist backed by a full band: two pianists, a drummer, a bassist and two guitarists.
“Our concept is now based on all music from all decades, from rap to hip-hop and metal to the classics,” says O’Brien. “There are no parts, no witty vulgar humor lists that we’ve done in the past. Las Olas needs quality nightlife energy and we are the ones bringing it.”
Mickey’s Downtown Bistro at 4331 N. Ocean Drive in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is now closed Tuesday through Sunday from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Call 954-351-0310 or go to MickeysDowntownBistro.com.
Howl at the Moon at 600 SE Second Court in downtown Fort Lauderdale is expected to open in summer 2023. Go to HowlattheMoon.com/fort-lauderdale for more informations.