Step inside Kodiak's after 8:30 on a Wednesday night and you're bound to see a curious scene - a musical free-for-all in the unlikely setting of a sports-themed restaurant.
Two gentlemen are standing face-to-face, each working a keyboard. Someone plunks down a $5 bill and makes a request: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." The pianists sing a few bars - until someone else in the audience steps up and slaps down $6, asking for the '80s Outfield rock hit, "Your Love." The pair obliges.
Josie's on a vacation far away
Come around and talk it over
So many things that I wanna say
Here comes the Motown fan, dropping another $7 for the original request. The bidding war goes a few more rounds, until $11 stands unchallenged and the audience starts singing along to the chorus made familiar by Marvin Gaye and the California Raisins.
That's the way it goes when you ask for a song during Kodiak's "Dueling Pianos," a regular event since the summer starring Manhattan musicians Rob Kovacs and Mark Weiser (Paul Leschen also duels from time to time) - and the audience.
About the show
Much of the evening centers on antics orchestrated by Kovacs and Weiser. Both are professional pianists who say they know close to 3,000 tunes, from classic tracks (Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind") to current hits ("Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga).
"Every dueling show is different, and that's what makes it special," says Weiser. "It's never the same twice, because it's driven by the requests of the audience - and we never know what we're going to have to play when we get up on stage."
But this is a gig that requires a bit of stand-up comedy and salesmanship, too.
If the audience isn't making requests, Kovacs and Weiser threaten to serenade with, say, Britney Spears tunes or country music - anything that might strike an ill chord with someone in the audience. Indeed, on a recent Wednesday evening, it took just a few notes of Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" to motivate the crowd.
But Kovacs and Weiser reward, too - doling out free drinks to particularly enthusiastic tables or those who make the best (or worst) requests. Such banter occasionally steps into R-rated territory - if a song lyric includes an expletive, it's sung enthusiastically.
The "Dueling Pianos" crowd at Kodiak's ranges from 20-somethings to 40-somethings. Some are regulars, including Jessica Flood, 27, of West Babylon, who gets a kick out of stirring the pot by making $10 requests for "really stupid songs" she knows will make Weiser crazy.
Kovacs says the pair is all about making the audience happy.
"A guy laid down $100 for me to play 'Bohemian Rhapsody' for his girlfriend," he says. "It was the most heartfelt 'Bohemian Rhapsody' I've ever played."
WHERE TO FIND DUELING PIANOS
Recently resumed its weekly "Dueling Pianos" piano show. Reservations recommended.