Tom Lehrer, American singer-songwriter of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s is credited with many of the catchy little ditties on one of my favorite TV shows as a child, The Electric Company. His song “Silent E” was a smash hit on the spelling bee circuit. Mr. Lehrer once said, “Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” We receive many generous donations of pianos at the ReStore, but since I can’t play, I turned ours into a bar, and in Lehrer’s honor, I turned a win into wine!
One thing to think about when taking on a piano bar project is the weight: Pianos weigh several hundred pounds and aren’t easily moved. This is the very reason we accept dropped off pianos at the ReStore, but will not pick up pianos from donor’s homes. One way you can lighten the load of your project is to spend the time and energy to remove the heavy cast-iron harp and all of the associated hardware. Be warned, this will take a lot of time (to remove the dozens of bolts, screws and tuning pegs), proper tools, and two or three strong friends to help extract the harp once it is free. IT IS VERY HEAVY. You may lose friends or fingers or friend’s fingers.
For our project, we decided to leave the harp in place because we liked the way it looked after we removed the upper panel, and we only had to roll it into place, not lift it. Leaving the harp in place meant that the storage area wasn’t as deep as we originally planned, but we were able to come up with a different layout that worked just fine.
The design you create will be dependent on how your piano is built. Think of the project like a sculptor – who is said to see the finished piece in the stone before he begins and then simply removes all of the stone that isn’t part of the finished sculpture. Your piano bar project is like that: Look at the construction of the piano and determine how you can best fit a bar into it.
- Since the keys of our piano were in pretty good shape, we decided to keep them as a visual element by covering the keyboard with plexiglass we had cut-to-size at Pile Hardware on Charleston’s West Side (real glass would be much classier, but the plexiglass was only $10). We dropped a few decorative screws on the side of the plexiglass to secure it.
- The key cover serves as a work surface for pouring and mixing. Since the ebony keys provide some of the support for the plexiglass, we had to devise a way to keep the keys stationary. A simple solution was to screw a strip of wood over the rear of the key arms, inside the piano and out of sight once reassembled.
ReStore Tip – Contact cement is the right stuff for repairing/replacing ivories: Place a thin coat on the key, and another to the back of the ivory veneer. Wait until the cement is dry and tacky, then carefully line up the ivory and press it onto the key. If your ivories need cleaning, try a Magic Eraser.
- Next, we carefully removed the upper panel to reuse later.
- Our design included a hanging rack for stemware to be installed inside behind the upper panel in the heart of the piano. We used readily available under-the-cabinet wire glassware hangers and screwed them to the underside of the piano top lid.
- To accommodate the length of the hanging glasses, we chose to remove the hammers (the part of the piano mechanism that strikes the strings when the keys are depressed) from center section by cutting the wooden dowels to which the hammers were attached. This was easily accomplished with a sharp pair of snips, making sure that the jagged cut ends would be hidden behind the hammer rail.
- We repurposed the upper panel as a shelf on the back side of the piano to give us even more horizontal space for setting bottles and drink glasses. We reused the original piano hinge from the keyboard cover and attached the shelf so it would fold down so the piano could be sat close to a wall when not being used. We used a couple of door hinges and shelf brackets from the ReStore to create swing-out supports for the shelf.
- To add a bit of pizazz, we installed 12×12 mirrored tiles above the shelf using liquid nails made for mirrors.
- To allow for additional bottle storage, we bought two accordion-style wine racks and attached them under the keyboard with screws and metal strapping meant for electrical conduit.
- A final touch was to attach a couple battery-powered LED “puck lights” inside the cabinet. These lights are inexpensive and adhere with double side tape so you can use them in places where electrical cords need not go.
The entire project cost $140: $50 ReStore piano, $60 for bottle and glass racks, $10 for cut-to-order plexiglass, $10 set of mirrors, and $10 for supplies (hinges, caulk, etc.). The darn thing is so heavy we plan to keep in around for a while. In fact, in anticipation of a donor reception we have planned for our Taste of Muriale’s event on February 11, we stocked our piano bar with Italian reds and a few spumantes. We are planning a little apertivo for a few of the local folks that sponsored this Habitat for Humanity fundraiser. Just think; Instead of gathering dust, your piano can be a gathering place for your friends to share many happy hours.