North Phoenix/Scottsdale’s Duelies Sports Bar and Grill is crowd interaction at its finest.
Dueling pianists perform alongside guests, who join the musicians on their instruments, while others gather and sing, dance or toss a conga line around the three-month-old hall.
Housed near the Harkins Scottsdale 101 theaters, Duelies is an upscale sports bar with live music and has garnered great reviews. Customers learned about it by word of mouth.
The space is owned by Ross Paterson, a real estate developer from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He had owned restaurants and hotels before, but a dueling piano bar is a new venture for him.
He was inspired to start a piano bar after frequenting the bar in Times Square at the Las Vegas casino in New York, New York. Paterson persuaded the two star Las Vegas pianists – Chris Nelson and Scott Ellis – to come with him to Arizona.
The Dueling Piano lineup also includes one of the Valley’s greatest duelists, Mike “Mikey C” Clement, as well as shredded guitarist Shane Pomeroy.
“Anyone can have a piano bar where they do ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Brown-Eyed Girl.’ It’s important to have the best people around,” says Paterson.
Paterson calls musicians “savants” who can play thousands of songs in no time.
General Manager Ryan Basaites says the engagement between pianists and patrons brings the space to life.
“There is so much interaction with the crowd. It really uplifts the energy. It’s not just about watching a show. You are involved in the show,” Basaites says.
The bar is building up a core of regulars.
“The great thing is that every night is a different night. People will come three nights in a row because it’s different every night,” Paterson says.
Combining comedy and music
Paterson says the transition from a restaurant to a piano bar took more work than expected.
“It was supposed to be turnkey, but it was anything but. … It was supposed to be a quick opener. We replaced the televisions, the sound system, the lighting system, the bar, the floor, the tables, the chairs,” says Paterson.
Paterson wanted his space to stand out. For him, it was important that the listeners were close to the action.
“The difference we have here is that it’s in the circle, with the pianos in the middle. So you have more interaction, with people sitting all around you,” says Paterson.
Customers can request their favorite songs, and musicians will also contribute tunes they think the crowd will enjoy.
On a recent Friday, the pianists performed on “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Respect”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, “Baby Got Back”, “Stacy’s Mom”, ” Footloose”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Dude! I Feel Like a Woman”, “Push It”, “I’m Still Standing”, “Mamma Mia!”, “All the Small Things”, several TV theme songs , “Uptown Funk” and “Easy (Like Sunday Morning).”
The three pianists mix comedy and music in their performances. Often they will add lyrics at will to fit the situation or jump on the piano to energize the crowd.
When someone in the bar celebrates their birthday, they invite the whole crowd to celebrate.
As a unit, they bring decades of experience playing the piano.
Originally from the Tempe area, Nelson started learning the piano on his own at the age of 7. He has been part of the dueling piano scene for over 30 years. He made his debut in the 90s in the Valley. He spent 25 years at the Times Square Bar in New York, New York.
Nelson was recognized across the country, as well as in Ireland, due to his music and his 6ft 6in stature.
Born in New York, Ellis is a career multi-instrumentalist and musician who has performed around the world for the past 25 years. He plays bass, drums, guitar, saxophone, harmonica and piano.
Clément has 18 years of experience in the scene in Phoenix. He previously played at the Low Key Piano Bar in Tempe. He started playing the piano at age 6, following in his mother’s footsteps.
He got his start with dueling pianos in St. Louis at the Big Bang Bar, and when that club opened a Tempe location, he moved, where he was for 11 years. He has done dueling piano in locations across the country, including Las Vegas, San Francisco, Portland, and Southern California.
Duelies is supported by pianists from Thursday to Saturday. At other times, it’s a sports bar with 40 big-screen TVs available for viewing. The space has a hybrid music and sports aesthetic, with guitars and sports jerseys decorating the walls.
The outdoor patio is a popular meeting place, especially for dog owners.
The space offers elevated bar food, prepared with fresh homemade ingredients. Most of the sauces are prepared in the restaurant by chefs John Tatler and Russ Robardey.
The menu includes appetizers such as Rapper’s Delight, jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon, and fries all loaded with jalapenos, bacon, and avocado.
You can also choose from salads, chicken wings, chicken sandwiches and burgers.
Some of the spicier wing options include “Highway to Hell,” “Living on a Prayer,” and “More than a Feeling,” Tatler says.
As for drinks, signature cocktails carry music-inspired names like 88 Key Tea, Strawberry Fields, Blueberry Mic Drop, and Tropical Serenade.
There’s also a special Duelies Lager, a golden lager made by Four Peaks Brewing Co.
On weekends, the three pianists chat throughout the night. They will also all jump on drums, bass and harmonica when the song calls for it.
The performers know all the different musical genres.
Nelson’s vocals tend to go best with classic rock songs from the 80s and 90s, and Clement and Ellis are often the ones performing rap songs. Ellis also knows his vast repertoires from Journey, Elton John and Billy Joel, while Clement enjoys hitting the high notes in various hair metal songs.
Nelson recites movie lines and knows over 90 college fight songs. Ellis learns songs from YouTube while playing other tracks.
Clément brings his dancing skills to the table and is best known for his “Napoleon Dynamite” act.
Ellis says the music is often nostalgic for listeners and tries to engage the whole crowd.
“The main goal of the show is to engage everyone in the room. Our job is to be party people, to create a party. How are you doing that? You sing the songs that do the work for you,” Ellis says.
“Our job is to provide them with the songs they want to hear, but to create the show from the song requests. This is the difficult part. That’s what makes it interesting. »
Clement says that on any given night, it’s important to take the temperature of the room and decide on songs based on the energy of the crowd.
“Half the time you’re trying to assess the crowd and figure out what they would like,” Clement says.
There is always the risk that a song kills the mood. Clement says it makes his job interesting. It took him about two years to really develop and get used to the speed of dueling piano playing.
“You can start to incorporate more of your own personality into it, and then you go from there,” Clement says.
Nelson started as one of the youngest players on the scene and has now become one of the best veterans in the country. He says he owes his longevity in part to his ability to bring joy into the lives of others.
“At the end of the day, as long as you keep everyone happy and smiling, you don’t have to look like Parvati or play like Liberace. … People said, ‘My wife and I had a terrible day today. today, and you made us smile,” Nelson said.
Duelies Sports Bar and Grill
7000 E. Mayo Blvd., Suite 1072, Phoenix
Thursdays are free, Fridays and Saturdays have a $10 cover charge
Reservations are recommended, as Fridays and Saturdays are usually full.