Come to Sing, or Don't Come at All

Friday, March 28, 2014

In an era when technology dominates so much of our lives, a little bar in the West Village has survived completely unplugged. Marie’s Crisis might be New York City’s only non-amplified, sing-along piano bar.

Every night, dozens of customers pile into this tatty basement for what can only be described as the Marie’s Crisis experience: a sloppy, earnest evening of belting out American standards as a group.

The place has two key rules: 

1. Marie’s Crisis only plays showtunes. (This rule is a bit flexible, but generally if it wasn't on Broadway expect it to be more Tom Lehrer than Lady Gaga)

2. You are your own entertainment. (Meaning, be prepared to participate. Even if it’s just humming along with gumption.)

Singing on key and knowing the lyrics are not requirements. There’s no fancy drinks and no cover charge. Certain people congregate here because it’s a bit of a refuge.

“Just living in New York is trauma enough” Marie's manager Maggie Wirth said. “I think you just come in and go: 'I am Barbara Streisand singing 'Don’t Rain on My Parade!' and, who cares? You can be whoever you want. No one is judging you here.”

Wirth said she is often mistaken for the bar's namesake, Marie DuMont. But DuMont has long been dead — she opened the space as a "bohemian restaurant with piano music" in 1929. The crisis in Marie’s Crisis derives from the fact that Thomas Paine, author of The American Crisis, apparently died where the building stands today. This fact is commemorated by an intricate mural. 

Mural at Marie's Crisis that commemorates the fact that author Thomas Paine apparently died there (Steven Valentino)

The current owner bought the space in 1972, just as the West Village was becoming the epicenter of the burgeoning gay rights movement, and turned it into a piano bar.

Over the years Marie’s has developed a cult following. "I come here for the deep cuts" said regular Cale Scheinbaum. "I want to see things I've never been exposed to before, and in New York that’s kind of a tough ticket."

Facade of Marie's Crisis on Grove Street in the West Village (Steven Valentino)


Gisele Regatao


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Comments [9]

Richard Karman from Bronx

As a graduate student in the early 1960s, many of my friends and I had great times at Marie's. "Miss Marie" ran the place and was wonderfully friendly while Marie, the black woman who played the piano and sang was awesome. My wife remembers meeting Marian McPartland at Marie's. Those were the days.

Mar. 29 2014 07:01 AM
Peter from NYC

Hi! I love Marie's, and used to go there a lot, but do know they have a lot of "rules." If you are the type of person that is put off by that (being told what to do), you should stay away. Also, in general, piano bar regulars don't always take kindly to gawkers and people who are sort of coming to "watch." In other words, if you are a nineteen-year old NYU student who likes to go "whoooo!" a lot at bars and your musical theater knowledge begins and ends with WICKED, you are probably taking up space. A good barometer for potential Marie's customers--if you can sing along to at least one entire Sondheim cast album, then come on down!

Mar. 28 2014 12:57 PM
Aunt Ralph from NYC, dahhhling!

Marie's is off Seventh Avenue South, one block south of Christopher. Closest subway is the 1.

Mar. 28 2014 12:36 PM from uws

what is the cross street on Grove to locate Marie's Crisis? tx jj

Mar. 28 2014 09:22 AM
Sandra from the Bronx

Oh, lest I forget, my boyfriend and I sang doo wops under the light post on the Jersey Shore. Isn't it romantic?!

Mar. 28 2014 09:00 AM
Sandra from Bronx

When my sailing club gets together, after a meeting, or a long day sailing, a few of us always end up on someone's boat singing ole' school tunes through the night on the water under the stars. It's one of my highlights of sailing!

Mar. 28 2014 08:56 AM
Carmine Bassano from Lower East Side

Fun . . . quintessential, definitive old-time sing-a-long space . . . "just" gritty enough where some genuine talent can be spotted . . . almost-caricature but worth it.

Mar. 28 2014 08:35 AM
Jake from NJ

'You better sing' is pretty bad grammar - 'you'd better sing' please. 'There's no fancy drinks' should be 'there are (or there're) no fancy drinks' Is this public radio? Come on! And Marie's Crisis is absolutely fabulous, by the way!

Mar. 28 2014 08:31 AM
Carl from Paterson, New Jersey

I remember going to Marie's Crisis in the mid- to late 1970s when I was single, in law school, and living in the West Village. I loved to sing American Songbook--and still do. It was a great shared experience.

I remember going to another piano bar--uptown--when there was a blackout during that period. The mood was wonderful...the only thing to compare it to was the Windmill Theatre during the Blitz (see "Mrs. Henderson Presents") and as touching as the "Marseillaise" performed in defiance at Rick's Place in "Casablanca."

When all else fails...keep singing!

Mar. 28 2014 07:57 AM

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