Earlier this month, Urbana became home to a new restaurant/dueling piano bar named 88 Broadway. After two years of planning, owner Doug Larson was finally able to bring his vision to fruition. Located inside the south entrance of Lincoln Square Mall, the restaurant seems to galvanize the otherwise dormant mall once the retailers shut down for the night.
I sat down with Larson and his general manager, Luke Henry, to ask them about the newest addition to downtown Urbana’s nightlife. Larson’s idea was to create a contemporary atmosphere that would be accessible for business lunches, casual dinners and raucous sing-a-longs late into the night. They also desired to create a diverse atmosphere that would be accessible to all age groups. “We would like to have a dinner atmosphere similar to Biaggi’s, but not out of reach as far as prices go,” Larson stated. Henry added that most mixed drinks and drafts are only $3, so that no one feels that 88 Broadway isn’t affordable.
If you go to their website, you can view their menu and you can see that he isn’t lying. Their appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pizza are all under $10. Their specialty, though, is their fondue menu. They have chocolate, cheese, and meat fondues which range from $10.99 per couple to $34.99 per couple. Come a little early if you plan on having the fondue though; the last orders go in at 8 p.m.
I haven’t had the opportunity of dining at 88 Broadway yet, but I have been able to have some drinks and watch the dueling piano players on two separate occasions. My first visit was opening weekend and the place was packed. I arrived at about 8:30 and it was kind of quiet. The performers were just slightly audible to me. I made the comment to my friend, “Man, this better pick up. I want to hear some loud Elton John and some cussing soon, or I’m out.” Well, after four more drinks, the lights dimmed and my wish came true. Numerous audience members were berated in front of an increasingly drunken crowd. Girls were up dancing, shots were being taken and my friends were all singing in high pitched voices to songs from the Grease soundtrack.
The highlight of the night came when a 21-year-old birthday boy was called down to stand by the pianos. After calling his name, I saw him run down the ramp from the bar towards the stage. I don’t even think he was drunk, but he somehow managed to fall face first into a table below. After a few seconds he popped back up, threw his arms up in the air and made his way to the stage. He had already embarrassed himself enough, but still the guys on the pianos managed to make matters worse by singing a song about his little weenie. He’ll never forget that night, I’m sure.
My second visit was a little less eventful. I went there last Saturday night with my same friends, and we all left there feeling a little disappointed. We attributed our disappointment to the pianists and their crowd interaction. There were three new players that night, each of them being less enthusiastic and less interactive with the crowd than the opening weekend’s musicians. It seemed like the guys we saw the second weekend were more interested in playing the songs to show off their skills and less interested in getting the audience singing along. It was still a fairly good time, but just not as climactic as it was on my first visit.
In order for 88 Broadway to make a name for itself, like the Big Bang of St. Louis, they are going to need a talented cast with tons of energy (shows can be seen Wednesday through Saturday starting at 9:30 p.m.). Right now they are trying out numerous local players each week until they find who they’re looking for. What they want are people who are enthusiastic, energetic, diverse, spontaneous and talented. If you or anyone else is interested in auditioning, all you have to do is get in touch with Luke Henry by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. People who have stage fright need not apply.
I think that 88 Broadway has a lot of promise for downtown Urbana and I encourage anyone who likes to sing out loud in their car or shower to stop by and see a performance sometime. I didn’t think that I would be singing along, but once I heard the teasing of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, I had to sing. I felt like I was in the Drunken Clam with Quagmire, Joe, Peter, Cleveland and the rest of Quohog, but no, I was just drunk in Urbana, making an ass of myself. I wasn’t the only one though.