Marie’s Identity Crisis

Where everybody knows your name...if your name is Stephen Sondheim. (Photo via Yelp)

Where everybody knows your name…if your name is Stephen Sondheim. (Photo via Yelp)


On a recent Friday night, the Transom arrived on the early side at Marie’s Crisis, the piano bar in the West Village known for its propensity for show tunes. What can we say, sometimes it’s been a rough week and the only cure is singing Sondheim while surrounded by fabulous men, Broadway wannabes and the occasional semi-pro.

The place is practically an institution, with Dexter Watson on the ivories and the occasional solo performance of a number from Jekyll and Hyde as interpreted by one of Marie’s roving bartenders. So color us surprised, then, when we got to the block and saw a chorus line of people waiting outside the venue. Was Kristin Chenoweth making a guest appearance at the literally underground musical hangout? Alan Cumming?

“They must have finally featured it on Glee ,” groaned The Village Voice’s Michael Musto, a patron of Marie’s for decades. “Or maybe it was that New York Times feature a while back.” (Or Smash, we might add, which does hold parties for the show at Marie’s.)

Indeed, over the last couple months, the our-little-secret bar has become overrun by tourists, straight men demanding whiskey and women who don’t even know the words to “Suddenly Seymour.”

Joining us that night was BlackBook editor Tyler Coates, who noted the recent shift in Marie’s clientele. “Last time, wasn’t there that 40-something finance guy yelling at the bar about how he had met his wife here?” he asked us.

Oh yeah, and he kept demanding that they play something from The Little Mermaid.

What’s worse, Mr. Musto, practically a cultural institution himself, was turned away at the door by a snooty coat checker who asked him with not-so-saccharine sweetness to “please shut the door behind you on your way out.” Humiliated, our small group was made to stand in line with the civilians.

“I don’t know what this place is coming to when they don’t let you in,” a couple of stocky women said, gathering around Mr. Musto like butch mother hens, tongues clucking.

Although we were finally allowed to grace the place with our sonorous renditions of “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely” and “Steam Heat,” the same untoward element from recent outings populated the club that evening. Most of the bar was talking so loudly it drowned out the music. Three college-age women near the piano didn’t seem to realize what all this noise was and tried to yell callback lines at poor Dexter like they were at a Rocky Horror revival, while two young twinks at the bar sized each other up before one announced to his new friend, “By the way, I’m straight.”

“That’s so funny, I’m straight too!” The second man crowed. “In fact, I’m here with my co-worker, and she is totally gorgeous. You would love her.”

“Sorry,” said the first stud. “I’m here with my lady friend.”

While we generally don’t like to butt in on overheard conversations, the Transom had heard enough. “Are you two serious?” we demanded.

“Totally,” said the second guy, without missing a beat. “My co-worker is just a really, really beautiful lady.”

Look, we have nothing against straight guys, and some of our best friends still think that Chicago, Oklahoma and South Pacific are destinations, not musical theater. But even if you aren’t friends of Dorothy, please don’t pretend a sudden fugue state has made you forget the words to “Over the Rainbow.” There are other bars where you don’t have to sit around uncomfortably while your girlfriend cry-sings “I Dreamed a Dream.”

May we suggest Joshua Tree?