After a rather lazy day, some of which was spent watching the much-better-than-I-thought-it-would-be "Avengers", I turned up rather uncharacteristically late to meet Westo, Jimbo and Kittykat at The Carlysle, a truly beautiful hotel on New York's Upper East Side. Knowing what sort of place we were going to, I had warned Westo that I was planning to dress up. I don't get many occasions to put on a pretty frock these days, so I figured "why not". I chose a black satin dress with a lacy, sequinned skirt that I had bought in London and had not worn once yet. Plus I teamed it with the shoes I wore to my sister's wedding and as a result, I may have overshot "glam" and landed squarely in "overdressed", but I didn't mind.
We were meeting at The Carlysle because in the hotel's Bemelmans Bar, the nightly entertainment is just fantastic. The first thing that struck me when I arrived is that the lights are set way down low. You can barely make out anyone at the small cabaret tables (which is probably exactly how they like it). Around the walls you see a one-of-a-kind mural created by Ludwig Bemelmans, author and illustrator of the Madeline books. Word has it that Mr. Bemelmans painted the mural in return for his accommodations at the Hotel and ever since, it has served as the only public commission of his work anywhere in the world. But what I liked most about the mural? Bemelmans drew scenes of Central Park and every one of the characters - from the humans, to the rabbits, to the dogs - they're all smiling. It's a truly happy scene and a lovely mural to set the mood for the bar.
Before long, the jazz pianist started up and we must have enjoyed three or four sets during our evening. Against this elegant backdrop we had some delicious cocktails (I stuck to the passionfruit royale, a delicious blend of passionfruit vodka and some champagne on top) but when it came to ordering food, the challenge was on. The bar offered two of my favourite things - steak frites and burgers. But I didn't think either of them was a terribly appropriate choice, given that I was wearing a sequinned frock. But I wanted something more substantial than salad. Seriously, I could never be the leader of the free world. In the end I settled on steak tartare, which was served with delicious little toast squares and some shoe-string fries. I was a very happy girl and the steak was tender, lemony, and so filling. Just like steak frites, but a little more classy.
At around 9pm, the waiter brought over a little advertisement saying that a jazz trio was going to start playing at 9.30pm. If we wanted to stay, we would have to pay a cover charge ($15 per person at the bar, or $30 per person at a table). As we had finished our meal and cocktails, and didn't much fancy paying any additional money, we decided to bounce out. As we were leaving, we could hear the music of Woody Allen's band playing in the other bar, across the lobby. Apparently he plays oboe and people will pay a small fortune cover charge just to watch him. I wonder how many of those people know what an oboe even looks like before they go in? Still, the band must be relying on Woody Allen as the drawcard, as his name is all over the signage. Part of me not-so-secretly wants to go back and see him too.
Anyway, at this point in the evening Jimbo headed back to his hotel and me, Westo and Kittykat grabbed a taxi to Harlem.
Arriving at the Lenox Lounge, you get the distinct impression you've gone back in time. It couldn't be more different to the Carlysle if it tried. And yet, somehow I felt just as happy there. The musicians were performing in the back/restaurant section of this historic jazz bar, so their music only blasted out whenever anyone opened or closed the door. We didn't really feel like paying the cover to go in there (plus we had already eaten so didn't really feel like ordering any more food). But from our front bar location, in a gorgeous booth, we listened to the juke box - or maybe someone's very cool iPod playlist - and had a lovely cool drink and people-watched. A guy wandered past us at one point and said something to me and Westo. I thought he said we looked like cool cats, when in fact he was complimenting us on our hair cuts. Memo to me: schedule hearing test. And another memo to me: come back to this bar another night for sure.
After our cocktail, we figured we'd head for home but taxis were really hard to come by. We stood on separate street corners, trying to catch taxis heading any which way, but with no success. Me and Westo had started to groove to some tunes we could hear coming from the direction of Red Rooster, where I'd taken my parents for a Sunday gospel brunch on New Year's Day. Like the Pied Pipers of Harlem, the band attracted us over to them. As it turned out, the music was coming from a live band performing in the restaurant just next door to Red Rooster. People were dancing on the street, and that says nothing about inside the restaurant, where patrons were on their feet and dancing up a storm. Women went into the kitchens and came out with big shaker musical instrument things, and started rocking out. It was all so infectious and looked like so much fun - so we just had to be a part of it. The three of us barged right in the front door and started grooving in the middle of the walkway. Nobody stopped us, or made us sit down and order something, they just let us be. It was then that we strongly suspected we had crashed a private party (something I've only ever done once before - thanks for the memories and the glass of bubbly Trevor, whoever you were). As much as we all loved the band and the chance to dance a bit, we felt a bit funny being at someone's party so we made our escape.
Taxis were just as hard to come by but one finally stopped for us, but two other guys had spotted it too and dashed across the street. Westo got to it at the same time, and she must have charmed them into giving it to us. As a compromise they wanted to share the cab with us, but we had to break their hearts and remind them that Kittykat was dashing across the street to join us. Still it was much more taxi courtesy than I've ever experienced before - normally when it comes to night time taxis in New York City, it's survival of the fittest. So thank you fellas, it was much appreciated.
And thank you, Westo & Kittykat - for showing me a great night out in this beautiful city.