A group of partners, including a former piano player, a former manager and a former employee of Mr. Smith’s — which announced it would close last week — have teamed up to open Georgetown Piano Bar in the former Modern nightclub space at 3287 M St. NW.
The new spot, which is aiming to open Sept. 12, comes from Hunter Lang (the piano man), former Mr. Smith’s manager Gene McGrath, former Mr. Smith’s employee Morgan Williams and his uncle, Bill Thoet. Another regular Mr. Smith’s piano player, Spencer Bates, will also be a featured player at Georgetown Piano Bar.
What’s Thoet’s connection to all this? He’s just a Mr. Smith’s regular who really loves piano bars.
“I like to sing, I like the enjoyment of being able to sing in groups,” said Thoet. “I was an aficionado of Mr. Smith’s on M Street and have visited piano bars around the world.” By day, Thoet lives the inconspicuous life of a Booz Allen Hamilton vice president, but by night, he can’t wait to belt out Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” or the show tune “Ol’ Man River” at a piano bar.
The group started hatching this plan three months ago when word started getting around to employees that Mr. Smith’s would have to close at its longtime location at 3104 M St. NW.
They didn’t know at the time that another longtime Mr. Smith’s manager, Juan Andino, was working to re-open that bar at another location. Mr. Smith’s will reopen in the former Chadwicks bar space at 3205 K St. NW, a move that will set up a bit of a dueling dueling piano bar situation in Georgetown, as it were.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen there,” Thoet said. “Most of the employees from Mr. Smith’s are actually coming to work with us.”
Thoet believes Georgetown Piano Bar will set itself apart by making the piano the main event.
“We’re a piano bar pure and simple, not a restaurant that has a piano bar,” he said. There won’t be any food, in fact; Georgetown Piano Bar was able to buy Modern’s tavern license, which means no food sales requirements under D.C. liquor laws.
Georgetown Piano Bar will keep the nightclub’s signature round bar — though it will be toned down with a wood top rather than the club’s bright white — and be equipped with one candy-apple red piano to start, though they intend to add a second to allow for dueling pianos in the near future, Thoet said.
The bar plans to equip tables with lyric books to encourage singing along, and yes, there will be the possibility of patrons getting their hands on a mic — for a tip, as is customary.
“This is not for a piano player playing quietly in the corner while people have high-end cocktails,” Thoet said. “This is people standing around the piano, talking with each other, being engaged with the whole piano bar atmosphere.”