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Chillin’ on Easy Street

Jazz and New York-style piano sounds are found in Little Rock’s theater neighborhood.

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COOL JAZZ: At Easy Street
  • COOL JAZZ: At Easy Street
Nightlife has taken on a new face in downtown Little Rock. On any evening, a swarm of 20-somethings hits the River Market district for barroom blues and rock bands, sing-along dueling piano bars and imported beer. But an ever-growing group of night owls — more cultured, or maybe just slightly older — who find the River Market scene a bit too one-sided are finding a home elsewhere. The Easy Street Piano Bar, which opened a year ago at the corner of Seventh and Center streets, is working to offer the ambiance of a New York piano bar like Rose’s Turn or Marie’s Crisis in Greenwich Village or Sam’s in the Broadway theater district. Owner Michael Henderson says the environment Easy Street provides fills out the downtown experience. “I really think [the bar] fills a void for people who are looking for something different, or just need some decent music,” Henderson says. Henderson, who worked at various piano bars in New York for about 13 years while pursuing a career in the theater, has brought jazz, pop standards and showtunes and more to Easy Street. For the jazz fan, every Thursday features the trio of trumpeter Walter Henderson, bass Joe Cripps and pianist Buddy Habig. Walter Henderson also can be found occasionally at the Afterthought and its Monday Jazz Project shows. Habig also plays on Friday and Saturday nights at Easy Street with Michael Henderson at the microphone as host and singer. The cast and crew from various theaters — the Arkansas Rep, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse, Weekend Theater and especially the Public Theatre, which Michael Henderson co-founded — make regular appearances after performances, he said. Henderson, who occasionally sings on other nights at the bar, says he’s elated by the success of the place. “It’s amazing how quickly we’ve hit the ground running,” he says. Henderson wasn’t so lucky seven years ago, when the piano bar he managed, Stage Left, next door to the Weekend Theater, closed after a short run. Henderson said he opened Easy Street “on a shoestring,” but has expanded twice in the past year, adding a game area with pool tables and dart boards. He’s planning to add a miniature golf course with three permanent holes and six temporary holes. Two holes will be outside on the club’s deck. In October, Easy Street will continue to expand into the business next door to include a cabaret that will showcase local music and films, sketch comedies, and its own group of magicians. Also, Easy Street is featuring regular wine tastings. Jay Bruno will be the host for the next monthly wine tasting Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. Henderson says the program is a fit with Easy Street’s long wine list — 58 wines. Mediterranean whites will be Bruno’s first subject. The tastings will be held every third Wednesday of the month. The phone number is 372-3530. Henderson notes that the club “never” has a cover charge.

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