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Pants off to tradition


A 'brief' look at the history behind the legendary final at Sal's | Reed Osell

If you think swaying back and forth with your pants around your ankles while belting out classic lyrics is out of the ordinary, you are not alone, unless you talk to Bennies and Johnnies.

Marcellus (Sal) and Margaret Schneider opened Sal’s CafĂ© on Minnesota Street in 1946. Their son, Dale, and his wife Diane took over the establishment in 1971 and have been providing a social hot spot for Bennies and Johnnies ever since.

Not only does Sal’s offer the opportunity to practice your best dance moves, but it also lends itself to tradition. One tradition that continues to stand the test of time is the history of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”

The tradition started in the late ’80s when a group of women used to play Piano Man on the jukebox at Sal’s. Dale noticed that many students did not want to leave the bar at 1:00 a.m. each night and was having a difficult time clearing the bar. Dale had an idea. He would play “Piano Man” as the last song and soon students enough understood that “Piano Man” indicated that it was time to leave.

In 1999 a group of men did not want to leave after “Piano Man” and decided to rebel. The men pulled down their pants and began dancing around singing along to the song and creating a scene. Little did they know that a simple staged rebellion would soon turn into a long-lasting tradition.

In recent years, Dale noticed that he still faced the challenge of getting students to leave the establishment after “Piano Man” and decided to add one final song to end the night. The signature song is “Still the Night” by the BoDeans but sometimes “Shout” also gets played.

The Sal’s bar logo has evolved to pay tribute to the tradition. “Piano Man” continues to be played at reunions and weddings alike. Dale’s son, Kyle, had the song played at his wedding.

“We played ‘Piano Man’ at Kyle’s wedding and my sister, who was a nun, didn’t realize that taking your pants off to the song was a tradition here,” Dale said.

Pants were also dropped at Ryan and Abby Turbes’ ’09 wedding in the summer of ’12. Abby and Ryan met their senior year at CSB/SJU playing intramural softball together.

“We didn’t talk much at softball but one night Abby approached me at Sal’s and I felt bad because I didn’t remember her name,” Ryan said. “I ended up asking her out via text at 3:00 a.m. one night.”

After much persistence Abby finally agreed to date Ryan and the rest was history.

When the couple met with the DJ for their wedding they insisted that their wedding night would end with Piano Man and the BoDeans.

Reflecting on their time at CSB/SJU Ryan and Abby urge students to take advantage of opportunities to build relationships and embrace every moment.

“If we are at a bar and hear ‘Piano Man’ all we can think is ‘I want to be back at Sal’s’,” Abby said.

“Dropping your pants is a great bonding experience between your classmates,” Ryan said.

Besides the “Piano Man” tradition, Sal’s displays several hundred decorated dollar bills above the front bar. This started in ’05 when a bouncer had the idea of writing on dollar bills and the tradition stuck. After graduation many students visit the bar and attempt to find their decorated George Washington.

“When the dollar bills are gone then you know that I’m done and have retired,” Dale said.

3 Responses

  1. Ali (Smith) Satre says:

    I’m a CSB alum, class of 2000, and the “Piano Man” tradition was a part of my wedding as well as several Bennie friends! I didn’t know that the pants tradition was “new” with our generation of Bennies and Johnnies, but I certainly participated plenty and remember it fondly every time I hear the song now!

  2. Matt Boys says:

    Rumors from the great Joe B put the tradition as far back as 1982. Also of note, I’ve never attended a Bennie/Johnnie wedding without Piano Man

  3. Joe Martinez says:

    I go to Central Michigan University and was in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. We do the same tradition for our formal events (though it doesn’t close the night). My fraternity brothers and I did this at my wedding.

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