New York, NY
For more than 60 years, this legendary Manhattan boîte has presented cabaret’s most luminous stars
A true New York icon, the Café Carlyle is a cozy supper club with vintage Marcel Vertès murals on the walls and seats for up to 90 patrons, along with a roster of performers that includes regulars Rita Wilson, Judy Collins and Woody Allen and the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band.
The Carlyle’s story is as engaging as the people who play there. The glossy, art deco hotel, in which the club is housed, opened in 1930, in the midst of the stock market crash, and miraculously survived. The Café itself debuted in 1955, and immediately became known for its air of glamour—a place of dinner jackets, Manhattans and celebrity sightings.
In the last several decades, I caught wonderful old-timers there, like Elaine Stritch (who was wry and amusing) and Debbie Reynolds (who was all pizzazzy, as if this were Vegas). In the last few years, newer talent such as John Lloyd Young (Tony winner for Jersey Boys) and Cheyenne Jackson have played there, and the place has even attained a rockier edge with fish-out-of-water appearances by Buster Poindexter and Debbie Harry, bringing Uptown and Downtown together.
More recently, two-time Tony winner Chita Rivera performed a fabulous show spanning her career from West Side Story to The Visit and beyond. In only her second time playing the Carlyle, she dazzled the crowd with hits like “America” and “Where Am I Going?” In between, she shared anecdotes about Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon and Rob Marshall. (Marshall had accidentally broken her finger when he was a chorus boy, but years later made it to up to her by giving her a cameo in the Chicago movie—though “I thought I looked like Cher in drag.”)
Rivera is launching a new tour with dancer/director Tommy Tune, which is part of an ongoing hat-tipping to other musical giants. In her Carlyle act, she said that she still felt the presence of Bobby Short—the singer/pianist who defined the place, playing there from 1968 to 2004, the year before his death. “Bobby,” she said, “made it a classic New York landmark.”
The club remains “elegant and smart,” she told me. “I like the fact that it’s intimate and historical, and I love the audiences.” Best of all, the longtime regular added, “It hasn’t changed much. I like the way it is. Hopefully it won’t change too much in the future.”
Since 1959, the world’s foremost jazz and blues stars—from Count Basie to Cassandra Wilson—have taken the stage at this classic Soho venue. Left, trumpeter Christian Scott.
The Spotted Cat Music Club
PL expert Samantha Brown calls this club in the Faubourg Marigny “one of the best places to enjoy live music.” Dynamic jazz talents like Meschiya Lake, left, raise the roof nightly.