By Josh Bell
Queerantine Stories are personal essays or artistic pieces about the queer and trans community during the Coronavirus Pandemic. We hope their stories will help show their varied experiences in different communities within the Jersey City area and throughout the nation.
Last December, I had the opportunity to help open the doors to a new LGBT+ piano bar here in Jersey City. Pianist Envy created a new place to showcase local talent, establish a unique community space, and offer live music without having to go into Manhattan. Then, the pandemic raged, and like many places throughout the country, Pianist Envy just couldn’t keep fighting back.
Piano bars have always played such an important role in the queer community that having one right here in Jersey City made sense. I had met numerous actors, singers, and entertainers who had worked on and off Broadway throughout their careers, and now they had a place to express their talents in their neighborhood.
I got the lucky experience to work with one of the owners, Michael Billy, in casting the staff. We sat on the benches looking through headshots and their theatre experience as each went up and sang with the live piano player. They were nervous, but you could feel the excitement about having a new piano bar that they would help bring to life and grow.
Michael and the other owners worked tirelessly to change the place from a Mexican Restaurant into the beautiful dimly lit, and dare I say, romantic establishment that the patrons Pianist Envy would know and adore. A fresh coat of paint, a baby baby grand piano, records on the wall, and sheet music in the bathrooms turned Los Dos into the decadent Pianist Envy, but it was the staff that truly made it magical.
For those who got to take part in the humor, those who got to hear the wonderful voices of the cast, and those stunning individuals themselves who created this ephemeral environment, thank you. I am glad that I got to be a part of it. And for Michael Billy, who was there nearly every night for the months it was open, I know how proud you are of what we all accomplished together. We could not see a pandemic being an ending, nor could we ever think Broadway itself would be dark for three quarters of a year. Michael and the other owners started something wonderful. The staff turned it into something stunning. And we’re all left with more than a few great memories.
I’ve reached out to some of those people who made this place a showstopper to share their love beside my own:
“It was an inclusive place for laughs and good company.” - Zoltan Suhay, Photographer and Patron.
“Pianist Envy created a family of musicians, singers, bartenders and patrons in record time for a community that welcomed us with open arms... Everyone left smiling. Pianist Envy really started something magical.. Sigh” - Maria Gentile, Pianist Envy Singing Bartender.
“Pianist Envy, the first LGBTQ+ piano bar in Jersey City, instantly became a hit - and a new place for community. In the few months it was open, I witnessed many special and meaningful moments; patrons came to mark both anniversaries and funerals! On a personal note, Michael Billy and Pianist Envy gave me great trust and respect. I’ll always cherish those few months of music, and keep a secret hope for a revival down the road…?” - Owen Pelesh, Pianist Envy Pianist.
“Pianist Envy was a safe place built for and by a community of love. The people there always welcomed this community with open arms and hearts and some great cocktails and entertainment.” - Bobby Cook Gallagher, Pianist Envy Singing Bartender.
“In the short time that I was able to work with Michael and Matthew, I had an absolute blast. I hoped against hope that “Pianist Envy” would not be a casualty of the pandemic. These two men created a beautiful new business and brought a much needed return to the camaraderie of a cabaret/piano bar world of yesteryear. A joy and jubilation that has been missing and that we so desperately need now more than ever. Here’s to them, to a brighter future . I refuse to say goodbye to “Pianist Envy” rather “til we meet again!”- Peter Mac, Performer and Entertainer.
“Pianist Envy was unlike any other piano bar I’ve worked in. It was a safe haven for performing artists. It was a safe haven for the customers. The quick but drastic relationships that were built in a short couple months between staff and customers, are irreplaceable. I’m extremely sad to see this place go, but extremely optimistic this won’t be the last hoorah. Please support the arts in whatever way you can. Don’t let the music die. It sure has magical powers.” - Elora Von Rosch, Pianist Envy Singing Bartender.
“I was so sad when I learned that Pianist Envy was not re-opening. Dave and I enjoyed it tremendously. We frequented The Duplex and Marie's Crisis in the West Village so we were delighted when we discovered there was a new place right down the block from our apartment. The staff/talent were fantastic! We enjoyed the food, the drinks and the shows. We always felt like we had "date night" every time we visited. I enjoyed bringing my friends as well and they were always so pleased with the evening. Pianist Envy was exactly what DTJC needed. It was a grown up, fun place for people of all ages. We are so hopeful that once we get through this very difficult time, the need for another Pianist Envy will be recognized.” -MJ Geis, Patron.
“Pianist Envy was a truly wonderful place to work. The support and positive energy from the staff and leadership was unparalleled.” - Peter Reid Lambert, Pianist Envy Singing Bartender.
“After moving halfway across the country, and spending a year trying to find a new community, Pianist Envy was the first place I felt truly home. It was a place that simultaneously propelled excellence yet was loudly unpretentious. This unique and beautiful combination allowed for a space that catered to a musically and theatrically aware base, but still felt like home for anyone and everyone who walked through the doors. The place it has left open in my heart and in my community cannot be over exaggerated. How do you measure the season Pianist Envy was with us? ‘In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. How about love?’ “ - Kyle Jenson, Pianist Envy's Musicals & Margaritas Piano Player.
If anyone else would like to share their experience, please put it in the comments! Pianist Envy helped build a community of those who love live entertainment. We can keep that love alive for a bit longer.