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Piano Men

Key-ticklers at the Drake Bar and the Big Bang reinvigorate the old piano-bar concept

Whereas Schneider, who sings with the Gateway Men's Chorus, prefers to bask in limelight normally reserved for showbiz divas, the Jefferson County-reared Bryant is content to feed off the energy of the dozen-or-so gents who cozy up alongside him beneath the Drake's glorious chandelier to clink drinks and belt out everything from show tunes to '80s pop songs. "I never have a playlist," says the classically trained Bryant. "You just never know where the night's going to take you. Gay men have a thing about music that's obscure. As a musician, how many times can you hear 'Memory' from Cats?"

For Schneider, who played at the now-defunct Keys in Westport Plaza (incidentally, so did Sonderegger, although their stints didn't coincide) before landing at the Drake, the very concept of a gay piano bar was liberating to him. "The first gay piano bar I ever played was Legends in Kansas City," Schneider recalls. "I didn't know such a thing existed. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Playing in a gay piano bar is really something special because you can be completely yourself without offending anyone."

With its staggering selection of Cabana Boy liqueurs and meticulous décor, the Drake is indeed gayer than Gaylord von Gayenstein. But straight people are more than welcome to join in the revelry, provided they come with the right attitude. "You [straight people] would be ill served to stick around if you have a poor sense of humor," says Bryant with a wink and a grin.

Although on some nights the Drake is so quiet that, in Bryant's words, the pianist can "hear a rat pissing on cotton," the bar has already attracted a polite, engaged group of regulars for Schneider's regular Wednesday-night gig. Dressed in a white polyester long-sleeve shirt emblazoned with musical notes, Schneider sends his booming voice and dexterous fingers whipping through a dynamic set of early-twentieth-century standards, show tunes and Carly Simon four-hanky specials.

By the time 11 p.m. rolls around, all hands are on deck at the piano, with many of Schneider's Men's Chorus colleagues lending dreamy harmonies to Schneider's impassioned rendition of the Chiffons' "One Fine Day." "I'm becoming aware of what my generation's sing-along music is," Schneider says. "Sixties, heavy '70s -- some '80s pop is really becoming the new generation of sing-along."

Back on the Landing, Sonderegger is nodding his head in agreement, teasing the opening bars to "Wanted: Dead or Alive" as his admirers down shots. Choice of song notwithstanding, he's talkin' to Davey, who's still in the Navy, and probably will be for life.

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