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)