Almost every Friday night for nearly 24 years, Mel Stiller has been stationed behind the piano at Jacob Wirth, leading a raucous sing-along at the beloved Theatre District restaurant.
“I might take one off a year,” says Stiller, who loves his weekly engagement, has gotten to know his regulars by name, and has happily watched patrons go from first date to marriage. “Believe it or not, a lot of friendships have grown over the years.”
Every year on the Friday before Christmas Stiller brings out the Christmas supplement for his mammoth sing-along book but says that “the vast majority of people still want the standard rock songs.” Although he often has to play the same songs week in and week out — Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is a top request — Stiller says it never gets old. “If I was just sitting there by myself, playing the same songs all the time, that would be boring. It’s not boring if you see a whole room of people enjoying it.” We asked Stiller to give sing-along newbies five reasons to give it a try.
1. “It’s a great escape, you forget your cares for a night.”
2. “It’s a unique experience in the sense that there are books that are handed out with words to 500 songs and that it’s a group thing, not a karaoke thing. And most piano bars do the standards and show tunes and this is more oldies and classic rock.”
3. “Jake’s has a great beer selection, which helps you get in the mood to sing.”
4. “It’s the kind of place where no one’s really a stranger. People tend to meet each other and talk to each other and everyone is doing it as a group. It’s more of a communal experience.”
5. “It’s free.”