A straight boy's guide to meeting straight women in piano bars
Yes, yes. Technically they're called piano bars and in theory they welcome anyone of any sexual orientation that loves singing along to showtunes. But let's get real. When you have to go to the "Other Voices, Other Rooms" section of your New York travel guide to see what subway stop to get off at, or if the name of the place contains the words "Mama" and/or "Rose", chances are you're heading to a place where "The Man I Love" is usually sung by a baritone.
The worst kept secret about piano bars is that they're regularly attended by straight women who want to spend a night out without getting hit on by sleazy straight guys. I say "worst kept secret" because these bars are also frequented by sleazy straight guys looking to hit on the unsuspecting women who are trying to avoid them. But they're also attended by cute and interesting straight boys just looking to hook up with someone nice who shares their love of musical theatre. Perhaps you're one of them, dear reader, and by following these simple rules you too can find your Dreamgirl.
Piano bars are a little bit like our legal system. A man is considered gay until proved straight. And you don't prove yourself straight by dressing fabulously and knowing Michael Bennett's real name. The idea is to fit in comfortably while seeming just a little, well... different from the rest. Unfortunately, my friend, the way to do that is to play dumb. This is not the time to show off your excellent taste in clothing. Dress neatly, groomed nicely, but stick to earth tones and cotton blends. Loose fitting. Do not wear anything that shows off your physique. And as painful as it may be, you must limit your knowledge of musicals to just a few standards. Think of Ruth Sherwood's "100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man" and put yourself in her position. Your mantra for the evening is "Just throw your musical theatre knowledge in her face and you ain't getting near second base." Two months from now she'll be thrilled that her guy knows every song that was cut from Follies, but in order to reinforce your straightness you can only be seen singing from the following scores:
West Side Story -- You played a Jet/Shark in High School and had one line. The dancing was hard.
Grease -- Just don't sing Sandy's part in "Summer Nights"
Hello, Dolly! -- The title song ONLY. (Hell, even homophobes know that one.)
South Pacific -- You can be a good sport and sing "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy", but just nod your head and smile during "Happy Talk" -- AND DO NOT DO LIAT'S HAND MOTIONS!!! You can butch it a little up during "Nothing Like a Dame" but too much of that will look like you're hiding something.
IMPORTANT -- You know nothing from Company! You never heard of Company! Who is this Stritch woman???
Once inside the bar order a beer. Domestic. In a bottle. (Okay, if you must order a mixed drink so be it, but for God's sake order NOTHING that turns the alcohol red!)
Most likely your eyes will immediately gravitate towards a very attractive and sophisticated looking woman sitting alone in a corner drinking white wine and singing "Maybe This Time" or "The Man That Got Away" at the top of her lungs. You do not want to approach this woman. Trust me on this one. Instead, look for a smiling, well-groomed lady sitting at the piano drinking cosmopolitans who seems to be the center of attention for a group of similarly smiling and well-groomed men who are also all drinking cosmopolitans. Watch her closely. You can determine that she is indeed straight and available (and most importantly, female) if she does one of the following:
a) Requests a song from The Last 5 Years.
b) Gets teary-eyed or quietly mouths the words when someone else sings a song from The Last 5 Years.
c) Slams her fist on the bar and curses under breath about the guy who needed to re-examine their relationship after taking her to see The Last 5 Years.
This is the woman for you. Sit across from her at the opposite end of the piano. Remember, she is assuming you're gay. The idea is to make her comfortable with your presence as a non-threatening gay man, then let her gradually notice things about you that may suggest your heteroness. Piano bar crowds tend to merge into one big group, since everyone's singing along to the same songs, so she won't mind your occasionally singing in her direction or asking "What show is that from?" (Just don't ask that question after singing "Oklahoma". There's a fine, fine line between uninformed and stupid.) When you feel she's noticed you in a positive way find an excuse to get up, like getting another beer, and casually head in her direction on the way back to your stool. Go ahead and compliment her voice or her clothes (Do NOT let on that you know the fabric or the designer) and if the chemistry feels right you can go ahead and ask that magic question, "How do you know all these songs?" Then nod your head and smile for a half hour as she tells you how she used to sing along to her mother's Judy and Ella records when she was six, how she played Chava for a Long Island community theatre and how the greatest night of her life was when her sick grandmother was wheeled from the nursing home to see her play Winnifred in her junior year. Eventually you will be expected to talk. Don't ask for her phone number yet. She's not ready to find out that her new gay best friend is actually hitting on her. Instead keep the conversation casual while dropping in occasional comments which will strongly hint at your straightness. Some good examples are:
"You know, David Mamet should write a musical."
"Really? 'Till There Was You' is a showtune?" I thought The Beatles wrote it."
"I dunno. Call me crazy but I really liked Phantom. Have you seen Hugh Panaro in the part yet?"
After subtly convincing her that you are indeed a straight guy, you now must give the impression that you're one of the good ones. I suggest lines such as:
"Yeah, Sondheim's okay, but I don't think he understands women like Kander and Ebb do."
"You know, if I was Julie Jordon I'd just walk out on the bum. Who needs guys like that?"
"I'm really excited about that new Sylvia Plath movie." (I know this has nothing to do with showtunes, but trust me on this one. Sylvia Plath is golden.)
IMPORTANT: If at any time during the evening the pianist plays "Something's Coming", sing loud and like you really mean it. But choke up slightly on the final "maybe tonight." as you lose yourself for a moment staring vacantly into your beer.
Of course, there are no guarantees in meeting that special someone and basic elements such as chemistry and attraction do play their parts, Just remember, if at any time during the evening she gets up abruptly and mutters "Barcelona" to your query of "Where you going", just whisper "Oh" and try your luck with the belter who just soloed "Everybody's Girl".