If you are looking for a live music venue that is high energy, customer-oriented and comfortable, look no further than the Arena District, home to Columbus’ The Big Bang – Dueling Piano Bar.
What used to be an empty basement located at 401 N. Front St. was transformed into the Columbus branch of this dueling piano bar franchise in January 2009, courtesy of co-owners Sam Leatherwood and Meredith Mueller.
Much of the venue’s business is attributed to other Arena District events, including hockey games and concerts, Travis Byers, the entertainment manager of the venue, said.
“The cool thing about this place is the people in this town really like it,” Byers said. “They are drawn to it.”
In the 10 years since the bar’s opening, it hasn’t changed much. The interior, stage and even equipment are the same as it was 10 years ago, Byers said.
One thing that separates dueling pianos from other kinds of musical performances is the fact that it is so much more than just playing a classical piano, general manager Christina Heinzman said.
“There’s comedy, and [the performers] are really interactive with the crowd,” Heinzman said. “One of our old piano players was a drama student and was great on the stage.”
Even though a lot of performers who come in to play are people who “already know the gig,” Byers said, they are always on the lookout for new people, even if they are “new and inexperienced and want to learn how to do it.”
Heinzman said guests don’t feel like they’re listening to the original recorded songs as every performer puts their own spin on the music.
“The people are singing them in their own way, their own pace and their own key,” Heinzman said.
She added that the personalities of the performers separate them from just anyone who can play piano.
But at the core of a dueling piano performance, it’s not about the people performing. It’s about “the players making it about the audience,” Byers said.
“It’s very lighthearted. We want you to sing, be noisy and have a good time,” he said.
With the dueling pianos concept, songs transition very quickly, depending on the crowds and their requests, Jordan Lange, assistant manager of the venue, said.
There’s no obvious demographic that frequently visits this music venue. Heinzman said the patrons can vary from ages 21 to 90.
“You can have a bunch of people who want the old stuff and pay money for it, and then the younger kids come in and request hip-hop or fun singalongs,” Lange said.
“This is probably the only place where I’ve seen a Sugar Ray song turn into an Eminem song so fast,” Heinzman said.
Unlike other venues around Columbus that thrive on giving unknown artists the stage, Heinzman believes in staying “true to the formula.” Incorporating new acts and trying new things would be going against the venue’s identity as a dueling piano bar.
“The formula keeps it about the audience. As soon as you take that and throw in another element, it kind of takes it away from the audience,” Byers said. “It can be difficult to keep that same vibe.”
At its inception, there was no other piano bar in the area, and the city itself was a great opportunity for success due to the arena and convention center traffic, Byers said.
Byers said the decision to choose Columbus was also influenced by Mueller, an Ohio State graduate.
Now, 10 years later, the place has grown to be a crowd favorite, providing people with something interesting to do on the weekend, with 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday being the prime time to experience the bar, Heinzman said.
“It’s just a room to be yourself,” Byers said.