Encounters in the Piano Bar


As a musician, I cherish the creative moments, alone in my studio, focused on writing and playing music. But I also love performing music live in front of people, sharing moments and moods. Like most artists, I'm not currently on stage and I haven't taken a seat behind the grand piano in my second home, the Excelsior Hotel Ernst in Cologne, for quite some time.

This unusual year marks a special anniversary for me: I have now been playing regularly as a pianist in the Excelsior's Piano Bar for 10 years. In normal operation, this means that I spend several evenings a week in the hotel's bar. In solemn thought of this beautiful anniversary, a new piece has been created: E-H-E. The composition of the same name begins and ends with these notes - just like the initials of the Excelsior Hotel Ernst.

I would like to talk about my evenings as house pianist of the Piano Bar and its special guests here today, for the publication of E-H-E...tell me a little bit.

Piano Bar Excelsior Hotel Ernst: Mahogany and Gershwin

The Excelsior Hotel is a house steeped in tradition. And so is its Piano Bar, which has been around since the 1870s and is still an insider tip among Cologne's live bars. Not only because of its attractive location right next to the cathedral (at least I hope so). But also because word has got around that you can enjoy exceptionally good drinks here to unobtrusive piano tones.

The moody atmosphere in the Piano Bar is underlined by its charming interior. Dark mahogany panelling, dim lighting and yellow leather seating. From my instrument, I look out over a colourful, changing floral decoration. When you enter the bar, you leave the hustle and bustle of the main station and Domplatte behind. It's like diving into a small cosmos with its own rules for space and time.

Encounters in the Piano Bar

As a bar pianist, I have been in and out of these premises regularly since 2010. The Piano Bar is open for coffee during the day, but I mainly play in the evenings, from 7pm until after midnight. The bar is frequented by both locals and hotel guests, alone or accompanied and for very different reasons. Some come for the good cocktails, to celebrate in a round with others, or to relax after a stressful day. Some also come for the music.

Besides regulars, I often see new faces. Sometimes it's busy, other times it's quiet. When the stream of visitors swells and swells is usually hard to guess in advance. Suddenly it explodes and in the same way the rooms of the bar sometimes empty almost unnoticed. The team around bar manager Matthias Allgaier has grown very close to my heart. Some have been there as long as I have. André Todorovic, for example. He did his apprenticeship at the Piano Bar and is now already bar supervisor. He should know my music pretty well by now. It amuses me when he whistles along to my compositions as if they were popular hits.

What can basically be observed: It is the people who make up the atmosphere in the Piano Bar. So the very different composition of the audience can lead to special moments.

One of my attentive listeners is an elderly gentleman from England, who comes to the city on the Rhine from time to time. He always has an armchair set up right next to the grand piano and particularly enjoys old swing pieces. In return I get wonderful British humour for the evening. (Added to this is a good-natured encouragement which I have observed especially in people who have fought the battles of life and are now interested in making their counterpart feel good). A handwritten letter reached me weeks later after our first meeting at the hotel. Priceless!

Tastes, sensitivities and listening habits are different. As a bar pianist you therefore need more than musical talent - above all a sure instinct that reacts to the listeners in order to help create the atmosphere of the moment. Of course, you can't always please everyone. An older gentleman who had come to the Piano Bar apparently didn't fare quite as well as he had expected. His conclusion to my own composition Unusual Piano Groove: "It sounds like a record has jumped".

Sometimes quite unexpected similarities come to light: a regular guest occasionally works on his laptop in the Piano Bar. He comes especially for the beautiful ambience. Despite his work, he has all his antennae set on music and notices it every time I present a new piece. Then we chat a bit. For the first time after my composition Peanuts Song. Growing up with Charlie Brown and co, I was always elated and fascinated by the music. Without having told anything about it, he promptly approached me after the title that the piece reminded him of the Peanuts. What a nice surprise! 

Playing times in the Piano Bar

Update 2023:
Fri & Sat: 7 - 24 pm

Winter garden: occasionally Sun, 13.00 - 15.00 
(currently approx. 1-2x monthly)

Current information directly from the Excelsior Hotel Ernst

E-H-E. Three tones for the Excelsior Hotel Ernst

E-H-E kicks off a series of new releases I'll be releasing over the next few months.

You can hear the piece from 4.12. here on all common streaming platforms and
available as download in 192 kHz 32 Bit High Resolution Audio. Matching piano sheet music and leadsheet as well as an instructional video with a view of the fingers - all available soon in my new shop.

I look forward to perhaps meeting you in person one day when the doors of the Piano Bar open to guests again in the future. With this in mind: stay healthy and get through the winter well.

Marcus Sukiennik

Album Cover E-H-E

E-H-E. Release overview

  • Audio track on streaming portals or for downloading
  • Anniversary video
  • Learning video (on the hands view)
  • Piano sheet music PDF (as played on recording)
  • Leadsheet C part PDF (melody with chord symbols)

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