We’re all in the mood for a melody: piano bars are having a moment in Victoria

Andy Pobjoy of Piano Bar. Image Supplied.

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted April 26, 2022

Gaining traction during the 1930s, the boisterous and boozy piano bar is making a long-overdue comeback in Melbourne and Victoria.

‘Sing us a song, you’re the piano man...’

Surely this must be the most-requested song for pianists every night? Not so, says Beck Chalmer, Venue Manager of Piano Bar Bendigo. "It’s ABBA – anything that gets people singing along."

“Although, Piano Man regularly comes on at nine o’clock on a Saturday,” she laughs.  

That said, it’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday. There’s a sense of fun, frivolity, and finesse that echoes throughout the Piano Bar doors, with its multicolour festoon lights and walls littered with posters of musicals and movies from a time gone by.

By nine o’clock, the drinks are flowing, and the dance floor is kicking. “It gets like this every night,” says Chalmer. “By 10 pm, you won’t be able to move.”  

So, what is a piano bar? And why are versions of them suddenly everywhere? 

What are piano bars and why are they popular?

We’re all in the mood for a melody

The notion of the 'piano bar' gained traction around the US in the 1930s during the Great Depression, when hiring a single piano player was cheaper than a full band. The popularity of the humble piano bar made its way into the modern era, aboard cruise ships and eclectic haunts across the globe for those wanting an engaging and interactive musical experience.

Typically, many of the piano bars around Victoria feature an established pianist who may double as a singer, or they may have an accompanying vocalist. Visitors are seated around the piano, where they are often free to put requests in with the pianist directly on pen and paper.

With piano bars, says, Chalmer, “It’s not just 'entertain' me. It’s 'engage' me.”

Forget about life for a while

Starting the Piano Bar group after performing in resorts and cruise ships, Andy Pobjoy - Director and Pianist at the Piano Bar Group (pictured) - says “the ubiquitous ‘piano bar’ is a tried-and-true entertainment model.” 

In Bendigo, Chalmer puts the popularity of piano bars down to a unique experience, where revellers can have a great time. “You come in here, you let your hair down, you have the time of your life. All your senses are engaged - your sight, your sound, your hearts, your memories - everything.”  

It is a unique experience. There is something oddly refreshing about the sense of camaraderie one gets in a piano bar, particularly as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After two years of restrictions and being in and out of lockdowns, sitting in a bar singing along to tunes with no sense of pretention is somewhat of a release for many.

The modern piano bar is somewhat the middle-ground of the music scene, where the music isn't so loud that you can’t hear yourself think, but not a dull dinner in need of a background track, either. You can be an observer, a singer, a dancer, or a requester – the level of involvement is up to you, though some say it is hard not to get swept up in the clapping and singalongs.

“You can forget the world in here,” says Chalmer, “It’s escapism.” 


pianoman and singer at Piano Bar

 Joss Russell and Dani Fry enjoying a singalong at Piano Bar Bendigo. Image: Supplied. 

Who likes piano bars and where are they?

The piano, it sounds like a carnival 

Wondering if a piano bar is for you? The best thing to do, advises Chalmer, is to “throw away your preconceived notions of what a piano bar is” (and about the kind of people who attend). 

For those who believe piano bars are just for musical theatre affectionados or bachelorette parties, think again. From teenage boys to cricket clubs and grandmas, she says everyone is welcome.

“I always get people saying, I’m too old for that...but I have 74-year-olds singing next to 18-year-olds. It doesn’t matter if you’re 84 or if you’re 18, it’s pure, unadulterated happiness.” 

At the end of the day, music is a universal language that can be used to make us laugh, cry, dance or remember.

“People have such emotions and memories tied up in music," she says, "And it gives them the ability to interact and do that.”

Sing us a song tonight

Ready to go to a piano bar in Victoria?

The Piano Bar Group has a range of venues where you can follow the music across regional Victoria and Melbourne, where Chalmers says you are welcome to “sing at the top of your lungs to (almost) any song you request!”

In the city, get amongst the Melbourne CBD Revival where there are piano bars that offer the traditional ‘piano man’ singalong with specialty nights, such as Drag Queen Bingo, Open Mic night, comedy nights, or simple tunes to get you feeling alright.