Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Evening at The Carlyle in NYC

I've been to New York City a number of times and always seem to gravitate to my old favourites: The Met, The Frick and MOMA —  but it's exhausting. There's always too much to see and never enough time to fit it all in. By the late afternoon you need a little break. Perhaps even a cocktail. We just returned from NYC and friend's had told us that we should go to Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle. On Manhattan's upper east side, it's just steps from the Frick, so the timing was perfect. And what a special place it is. 

The lighting is quite low so we had to be shown to our table. The Maîtres D' showed us to our seat which was along a wonderfully comfortable chocolate leather banquette with a direct view of the piano. That night Chris Gillespie was playing 5:30pm to 8:30pm. It was only 5:00pm so we had time to order a drink and take in the ambiance. The walls of the glamorous art deco bar were hand painted with large scale murals by Ludwig Bemelman, creator of the popular Madeline children's books. Bemelman transformed the bar with whimsical scenes of Central Park including scenes with rabbits in waistcoats and fanciful scenes from MadelineInstead of being paid for the art, Bemelmans exchanged his work for a year and a half of accommodations at The Carlyle for himself and his family.

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines,
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines...
They left the house at half past nine, in rain or shine,
The smallest one was Madeline. 

I ordered a Manhattan and much to my surprise, when it arrived was accompanied with another half portion on ice! Note to self: Only order one drink. Not two. That's another story. 

At 5:30pm on the dot, Chris Gillespie arrived and taking his seat at the piano, gazed around the room and smiling, nodded to each member of his small audience. He then began to play a wonderful selection of American Songbook jazz favourites, from Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin to Billie Holiday. 
Chris asked what we'd like to hear and my husband suggested Cole Porter, and so that's what he played, for almost an hour. The bar began to fill up by 5:45pm, but 

ensconced in our cozy banquette, cocktails in hand, we felt as if we were part of The Carlyle's timeless elegance that has drawn socialites, politicians and movie stars for over 50 years — "oh, wait, wasn't that Ashely Olson who just walked in?" Yes it was.

2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz sweet vermouth
Dash of Angostura's bitters
Cherry garnish

Pour liquid ingredients over ice and stir. Strain into cocktail glass, and serve straight up or on ice. Garnish with a cherry.