The Big Bang Bar: Dueling Pianos and College Kids

Mill Avenue in Tempe is typically flooded with ASU students, day in and day out. Even on a recent Wednesday night, a few hundred coeds keep the businesses busy -- a pack of students smoke hookah on the patio at Crave and a line of 20-somethings streams out of the door and down the red carpeted walkway to Cherry Lounge & Pit.

But there's nothing like a dueling piano bar to get the college kids all riled up. Wednesday night, we disappeared down a flight stairs near the corner of 5th Street and Mill Avenue, into The Big Bang Bar, where students shouted along to piano versions of pop and hip-hop songs while kicking back $2 bottles of Coors.

The Big Bang Bar is one of two popular dueling piano bars in the Valley (the other being Glendale's Shout! House). The interior décor is sparse -- black tables and chairs, black metal railings, and a small stage surrounded by gold walls and mirrors.

A giant map of Tempe and a flat-screen TV -- streaming footage of whichever drunk student happens to be on stage that night -- are the only things on the walls.

On the stage, pianists Dan Murphy and Julie Martinez were pounding away and swapping songs ranging from Sublime's "Santeria" to Elton John's "Crocodile Rock."

Occasionally, they were joined by a drummer for more rocking numbers like The Cranberries' "Zombie" and The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."


Most of the songs played were audience requests, scribbled on napkins and dropped with dollars on top of the pianos. Hint: the more you tip, the better the chance of your song playing and you even might be able to get them to stop playing your least favorite song with a higher dollar amount. 

Among the requests: Heart, Jimmy Buffet, Naughty By Nature, Snoop Dogg, and "Just Billy Joel." Pianist Dan Murphy, who looks and sounds like he could be Billy Joel's goateed cousin, said he always gets requests for "Piano Man" (they literally play it every night), so he played "She's Always a Woman" instead.

Pianist Julie Martinez, who often chews gum, sings, plays piano and smiles all at the same time, absolutely rocked the house on the Jackson 5 number.

But the big moment for everybody came when Murphy played a request for Night Ranger's "Sister Christian." The Big Bang Bar was filled by this time, and the audience included a handful of older couples and a trio of travelers from the U.K. Everyone in the bar beat boxed to the building rhythm of "Sister Christian" and screamed "Motor-ing!" at the top of their lungs.

The Big Bang Bar is located at 501 S. Mill Avenue in Tempe. Visit or call 480-557-5595 for more information.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea