When you visit the Café Carlyle, just off the lobby of the historic Carlyle Hotel on Madison and 76th Street, you know you aren't just seeing any old cabaret show. The minute you're escorted to your seat underneath the famous murals by Marcel Vertès, you can feel the ghosts of Bobby Short, Eartha Kitt, Elaine Stritch and other legendary performers - both real and imagined - who've filled this surprisingly intimate room with song and laughter since 1955.
Last night, I paid my first-ever visit to the Café Carlyle. My guest and I was seated at a table right behind the piano, where we enjoyed a much-better-than-necessary three course meal, complete with wine. (Disclosure: both dinner and the show were compliments of the house.) A few minutes before showtime, the evening's accompanist, Jerry Steichen, took his seat at the piano and immediately struck up a conversation, no doubt intended to relax us both. "Let me know if either of you want to come up here and take a turn," he said with a devilish laugh.
"Only if you want to hear chopsticks," I replied.
"I don't think that's on the set list tonight."
The evening's actual entertainment was provided by the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, who weaved her way to the stage through the tight rows of tables in a royal blue gown, careful not to catch her long, flowing trail. Jenkins, whose career has been spent mostly singing at soccer stadiums and arenas with the likes of Andrea Bocelli and David Foster, seemed right at home. And, with good reason: she told the audience she met her husband Andrew Levitas here on a blind date in 2013.
Jenkins' program was a mix of opera and show tunes, including everything from the Habanera from Carmen (which she will sing for the first time later this summer), to "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera (with Broadway's current Phantom, Kyle Barisich.) Perhaps not surprising for a Welshwoman, Jenkins' voice boomed across the room: if anything, her voice might have been too big for the Carlyle.
Regardless, all I could think about as I sat less than five feet from the piano bench last night was how lucky I am to live in a city where places like this room still exist, where you can actually feel the vibrations in the air and make eye contact with the performer, who gratefully returns your smile. When you go to the Café Carlyle, you aren't just seeing a show - you're a part of the performance. I can't think of a more special night out on the town: gentlemen, don't forget to wear a jacket.
Katherine Jenkins appears at the Café Carlyle through Saturday, tickets and information available on the Carlyle's website.