Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wonder what Keys On Main is like compared to The Tavernacle?” I can’t tell you the answer to that because it’s classified information and then I’d have to kill you. That, and I haven’t visited The Tavernacle, yet. I am, however, about to tell you about my experiences at Keys On Main.
To my knowledge, Keys is the only dueling piano bar other than The Tavernacle. The location doesn’t get much better; it’s on Main Street, in the heart of downtown, rubbing elbows with the City Weekly offices, Barbacoa, Bambara, Gallivan Plaza and the Gallivan Plaza TRAX stop.
Upon entering, the interior is very spacious, with two long, accessible bars, a lounge area near the large street side windows and plenty of tables surrounding the stage. The décor is lovely; they’ve nailed exactly the type of design they’re going for.
Visiting Keys during the week usually stays fairly mellow – a significant contrast to the standing room-only kind of situation that occurs on the weekends, particularly when a convention is in town.
The food menu is decent and my life has improved immensely since discovering their nacho platter. Food and drink pricing is fair, especially considering the exceptional atmosphere and service that accompanies it.
Their signature cocktails and shots deserve some credit with names like the “It’s Britney Bitch,” the “French Tickler,” and the “Friends In Low Places.” The latter, by the way, comes with a disclaimer that any given person is limited to only one per night, which doesn’t at all surprise me – Jagermeister, Goldschlager and Rumple Minze sounds like a potent and bold combination.
I’ve had a mediocre experience at Keys only once. A friend of a friend was in town, whom we had never met before and it was a weeknight, thus very few other people were in the bar. We made the mistake of sitting on the couches instead of breaking the ice with the help of the bartender, which made for a bit less of a “show visitors the nightlife that our city has to offer” type of night. The upside to the mellower weeknights though, is that a song request for the piano player is much more likely to come to fruition. It’s more of an intimate interaction with the musicians and staff.
Occasionally, they have live music that strays from dueling pianos. I’ve been lucky enough to watch local band Spirit Master play at Keys, just weeks before Spirit Master played the opening set for The Flaming Lips when they were in town.
Aside from the onstage entertainment, what sets this bar apart from many others in the city is the staff. Rarely have I been to a bar so many times and had such outstanding interaction with the bartenders upon virtually every visit. The bartenders not only shake up a very decent drink, but they themselves are part of the entertainment.
A couple notable favorites are Benny Raskin and Becky Bradford, who come armed with an artillery of stories and quips that make for an evening of humor even on the most mellow of nights. I will warn you, though, if you decide to sit at the bar, the quick wit of the bartenders will almost certainly ensure sore abs in the morning. On a more serious note, the bartenders at Keys are the type of bartenders who will remember your face and probably your name, even if you only visit a couple times a year. It’s quite pleasant to walk into a bar to see a grinning bartender, genuinely excited to exchange stories and get to know you.
One of the first times I met Benny at Keys, he had brought out my nacho platter and asked to snag a couple chips from me. I drank, we both munched on some food, had some amusing conversation and then he proceeded to throw in a some cash from his own pocket to help pay for the nachos out of gratitude for the three chips that he ate. It was like a casual evening that could parallel that of Anthony Bourdain’s.
On the comfort level aspect, it’s experiences like that, and their inclusiveness toward the queer community that make it a home away from home kind of place.
Keys On Main does karaoke nights on Mondays and Tuesdays, offers bookings for private and corporate events and hosts dueling pianos the rest of the week.