Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar is known as “the best in the nation” and for good reason. It was established in 1992 by a phenomenally gifted musician named Steve Green. Coming out of Austin, Texas, this 6th Street entertainer created a legacy out of sheer talent and barrels of peanuts. With four locations and a soon-to-be fifth opening in Chicago-Rosemont, Illinois this Fall, Pete’s Piano Bar (formerly known as Pete’s Peanut Bar and Piano Emporium) leads the way in musical entertainment and high-energy shows all across the great state of Texas.
I asked Jacqueline Mcallester—who has handled marketing, PR, and offsite events for nearly 20 years at Pete’s—what differentiates Pete’s from the competition and she replied, “The entertainment! It’s the best in all of the U.S.!” Clearly, the entertainers are something special here. What started as a one-man show has expanded into a four-person extravaganza. Pete’s takes great care in selecting their entertainers. They want it to be consistent across the board and they achieve this by commissioning seasoned entertainers to train and mentor new creative and energetic talent.
This sounded promising, so I set a date with Pete’s for Saturday night. According to one of their managers, Justin, the weekend is the best time to go. Justin has been an employee at Pete’s since 2001, and longtime admirer of the establishment. He even wrote a college essay on Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. He’s not an anomaly; Jaqueline said, “Many of these people have been working for Pete’s as long as I have or longer! It’s like one big family!”
Located just off of Belt Line Road and the Dallas North Tollway, Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar isn’t too difficult to get to. The ample parking lot is packed, even though the building looks vacant, dark and closed for the evening. If not for the giant windows highlighting the pathway to the second floor, I probably would’ve walked right past it and into the Jimmy John’s next door. I opened the door and glanced up the steep, gray staircase winding up in Labyrinth-esque proportions. It smelled like my 20s and quite frankly, it was a deja vu that I wasn’t too keen to look back on. That’s when I heard the music. Hearty guffaws, booming shouts and many singers, rising in crescendo with a chorus of strange companions. Familiar tunes. Was that Billy Joel’s, ‘Piano Man’?
I had to wait patiently in line before making my way into the inner chambers. The rock and roll decorated holding room came complete with a giant red sign bedazzled in marquee lights, highlighting the company’s mantra, “SING LOUD.” I checked in with the cashier, a friendly bouncer stamped my hand and I stepped inside.
Instantly, I was hit with a wall of sound and song. Everyone was laughing and pointing to something on stage. Is that a man pouring beer on himself? Yes. There were three other men lined up next to him, each one attempting to outdance the other. Each subsequent “dancer” became more and more wild until a winner was announced. Two baby grands pressed up nose to nose while two lively musicians worked the crowd into boisterous chants and cheerful vocalizations. Enormous murals plastered all over the walls, boasting the franchise name and directing its inhabitants to, “Sing Loud,” and they sure did. There were people of all ages and all walks of life. Old, young, single, taken: I must have brushed past a dozen different life stages on my way to the back of the room.
Its wide appeal is Jaqueline’s favorite aspect of Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. “I love [Pete’s] diversity…you can celebrate any and every occasion,” she said.
By the time I made it to the bar, I had heard three Billboard top 100 songs that I absolutely loved (back in my day) and a more current song. I was met by Maggie, a bartender who immediately offered me a jell-o shot syringe. “Justin makes all of these himself,” she said, fanning out the neon blue and green tubes. It’s hard to miss Justin, a tall, reddish-brown bearded man who easily towers above the crowd. I guess that’s why, along with being one of the managers, you can see him acting as the muscle to maintain order in the room. He also serves tables and helps keep things running smoothly. When it’s packed to the gills with people, the staff need to be on point. How else can they maneuver a neon light-ridden palanquin piano stuffed with an oversized cocktail—fit for five people—and a wine bottle through the dense crowd and to the waiting table at the foot of the stage?
Oh, the stage. The platform holds more talent in a single evening than most people have seen in their entire lives. Four musicians rotate in and out, all vocalists, all multi-instrumentalists. Sometimes, one will hop on a drum kit while the other sings, plays the harmonica and offers the occasional beat box. They cover all of the hits from the ’70s to now. You’ll hear anything from Elton John and The Killers, to Blackstreet and Bon Jovi. They’ve got an uncanny ability to work a crowd, and often hosting bachelors and bachelorettes on the stage, engaging every participant with props and hilarious songs. In addition, the entertainers have learned every single college fight song and will play them for you (if you tip them well), often resulting in an all out college fight song war.
With all of this singing and dancing, you’re bound to get hungry and Pete’s offers better than your average bar food. In fact, the Addison location is the only one that actually serves food to their guests. All other locations will provide menus to nearby eateries or allow you to bring your own food in. Addison guests browse options like wagyu beef sliders, chicken panini minis, hand-cranked 100 percent wagyu beef hot dogs, and an assortment of seasoned popcorn. While the food is a good option, most folks opt for items from their famously strong drink menu. Even the bathrooms come complete with their own attendants. Make sure to say “hello” to them. I’ve found that they are happy to work there too.
Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar offers a one-of-a-kind in house experience, but they also enjoy bringing the party to you. When you can’t get your dueling piano fix on a Wednesday through Saturday, you have the option of “private events onsite 24-7” or booking their phenomenal musicians for a private party at the location of your choosing.
So who is Pete? Pete is you. Pete is me. Pete is they. Pete is we. As their website states, “Pete is many things. Pete is the piano players. Pete is the door staff, wait staff and bartenders. But most importantly, Pete is you. At Pete’s Piano Dueling Bar, you are the entertainment. As their website says, “If your voice and hands aren’t sore the next day, we haven’t done our job!”
When you do decide to visit, remember these few things. Bring friends; they will enrich your experience and add to the evening fun exponentially. If you’re bursting with school spirit, pack a few extra bucks to stuff in the ye ole tip jar to enter your fight song in the battle. And sing loud! It is why you’re there after all.
4980 Belt Line Rd., Dallas | 972.726.7383 | petesduelingpianobar.com