An Uncertain Song for New York's Cabaret Scene

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

They're considered New York's prime spots to hear the American Songbook in an up-close-and-personal setting. But in recent years the city's hotel lounges and bars have come under threat. The Oak Room, a vital part of New York City's jazz and cabaret scene, shut its doors this month after 32 years in the Algonquin Hotel.

The Four Seasons and the Pierre Hotel also dropped their lounge music, and the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center had its last dance in 2009. Insiders point to a combination of tough economics for cabaret venues and changing audience demographics.

But not all news for cabaret audiences is gloomy: A new nightclub and restaurant called 54 Below is scheduled to open in early June in the space below the legendary Studio 54.

In this podcast, Naomi Lewin talks with three guests about the changing state of New York cabaret: Will Friedwald, an author and critic writes about jazz and nightlife for the Wall Street Journal; Andrea Marcovicci, an actress, singer and a 25-year veteran of the Oak Room; and Tom Viertel, a Tony-Award winning theater producer and a collaborator on 54 Below.

Weigh in: Do you go to hear live cabaret? What do you think of the Oak Room's closing?


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Comments [19]

manuel ang from Queens, NYC

I am so happy to have stumbled into this website. Reading through the posts makes me nostalgic but felt I have just discovered a group of friends who share the same values and taste for great music. My wife and I are constantly looking for cabaret shows and places to hear the American Standard Music. Some are a little beyond our reach so we make it a point to go there only on special occasions. We had the opportunity to see Jack Jones, Nancy LaMott, Anne Hampton Callaway among others. But one place we truly missed was a very affordable place along restaurant row called Danny's where Jerry Scott used to play and Broadway performers who couldn't refuse the temptation to perform on such an intimate setting.

Nov. 17 2012 05:56 PM
Jeff Bergman from New Jersey

We love cabaret and vocal jazz. And it's not true that this music exist for past generations...
We listened marvelous new names in the business and enjoyed them. One of the brightest is Oleg Frish, a Russian-American entertainer. And his show could be perfect for such venues like The Oak Room and 54 Below.
Do not close such venues. We need them!

Mar. 11 2012 11:43 PM

Two E Bar at the Pierre Hotel still have Jazz music every Tuesday? And does anybody know that the Japanese Kitano Hotel have a Jazz lounge for years? They have live jazz bands from Wednesday to Saturday, the bands are always great, and the atmosphere is intimate and laid back at the same time. No cover charge on Wednesday and Thursday.
But i still moan for the close of the oak room, before I had a chance to go.

Mar. 04 2012 12:16 PM

Oh...I'm too TIRED to go out tonight...(YAWN)

Feb. 27 2012 08:21 PM
Tony from FL

This is a sad day.
"And where's the concern for Dorothy Parker and perhaps the most enduring literary landmark in America? Where was the Municipal Art Society on all this?"

The first poster hit the nail on the head with the question regarding the passing of literary history. I suppose we can download a photo of the room to our iPad, turn on a recording of the music of Alec Wilder and read Dorothy Parker on our Kindle.

Feb. 27 2012 08:54 AM
Jacqueline from Greenwich Village

Yes, we all lament the closing of the Oak Room. And yes, money is a big part of it, just as it was when Cole Porter's piano was silenced at the Waldorf. And while there may be younger people who like the Great American Songbook, most of those who patronize big hotels couldn't care less about it. Try finding a civilized hotel lounge for a drink in the midtown area -- very few, and even the Algonquin lobby charged $20 for a martini.

An era is coming to an end--no more Oak Room, no more proper glasses for Manhattans at Sardi's.

As for the price of a show, I'd scrimp to see Steve Ross transport an audience into that era now waning with a skillful, and always new interpretation, or Elaine Stritch rip me heart out at the Carlyle.

And where's the concern for Dorothy Parker and perhaps the most enduring literary landmark in America? Where was the Municipal Art Society on all this?

Feb. 26 2012 12:19 PM
Francesca Blumenthal from New York

Cabaret singers not only perform the great old American songbook in their many different styles. They also introduce us to exciting new songs and songwriters. Many of the singers are also good actors,
so their songs become stories, and the singers can take on characters. The more intimate atmospheres
sometimes make you feel as if the performer is singing to you, as a confidant. So there is drama, romance,
comedy ...up close and full of surprises.

Feb. 25 2012 10:16 PM
Arbutus Dave from Maryland

Of course it closed. Jazz is cerebral.

Feb. 25 2012 09:45 AM
Nancy Barell from NYC

It is a truly a sad day that the Oak Room closed. In a fantastic city like New York we need and deserve better. The Carlyle is way too pricey and Feinstein's doesn't have the panache of the Oak Room. Olde New York is gone. he 54 Club won't take its place because quasi jazz artists won't be booked and it will just be more broadway. I remember fondly when Bill Henderson, Dena De Rose and Eric Comstock did their tribute to Hollywood music at the time of the 9/11 disaster.

Rainbow and Stars was a fabulous place that bit the dust all too soon.

Its too bad that money is always the bottom line for these corporations

Feb. 25 2012 08:41 AM
Jim EIgo from NYC

The Oak Room May Be Gone, but Jack Kleinsinger's Highlights In Jazz Series is keeping the flame alive:

New York’s Longest Running Jazz Concert Series
(40th Season)

Highlights in Jazz Presents Cabaret Jazz Thursday, March 8 at 8PM at TRIBECA Performing Arts Center

Featuring Barbara Carroll with Jay Leonhart
Paula West with the George Mesterhazy Quartet
AND Aaron Weinstein Violin
$40 / Students $37.50 Special Offer to Main Stage Members $37.50

All Shows at:
TRIBECA Performing Arts Center
Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers Street
TRIBECA Box Office at (212) 220-1460

Feb. 25 2012 06:01 AM
Craig Baumeister from Vancouver, WA

For an affordable evening, go to Feinstein's on Thursday nights for Broadway Ballyhoo. $25 is the top price, only a 1 drink minimum, and the food is good, too. 4 performers entertain in an intimate setting for an hour. Just go. Good luck to Below 54 - we'll be there next time we're in town.

Feb. 24 2012 09:46 PM
Lee Gelber from Astoria

The news about the closing of the Oak Room at the historic Algonquin Hotel is sad. However, I have fond memories of seeing a very young Michael Feinstein, the late Nancy LaMott, cabaret legend Julie Wilson, the witty and wonderful Mary Cleere Haran who we lost last year in a terrible traffic accident, Jessica Molaskey and Barbara Carroll.
Yes, there are other venues - the Cafe Carlyle is small in size but high in price and Feinstein's at The Regency can't be mistaken for the 92nd Street Y either. The Metropolitan Room needs some better PR or an enhanced ad budget and what the club planned for the basement at Studio 54 - we'll wait and see.

Feb. 24 2012 05:14 PM
Beth DuMont from California, from nyc

Love, love cabaret. Sad about the Oak room, but we still have Cafe Carlyle and Feinsteins.

Hope the new venue is a hit and will go when next in nyc.

Feb. 24 2012 05:03 PM
Paul Brustowicz from Middletown, NJ

Wow! Oak Room closed! I'm glad I had a few drinks there last summer. I saw one of Jessica Molaskey's solo performances there.
You can always visit the Carlisle Cafe for John Pizzarelli, Jessica Molaskey or Steve Tyrell. Just bring your credit card or lots of cash.

Feb. 24 2012 04:16 PM

This is AWFUL news! One fond memory I have from the 80s when the Oak Room was being AGAIN renovated: I was the only person at the makeshift bar, consisting of a 4 by 8 sheet of plywood on saw-horses! The bartender and I had a great conversation about HIS history there. Here in New Orleans the closing of Le Chat Noir is also a tragic event. Andrea Marcovicci had appeared there several times to great acclaim. There are almost no places for singers like myself in New Orleans to perform "cabaret". I DO have a few gigs doing the usual jazz and trad genres, but even they are slowly disappearing. Sad.

Feb. 24 2012 02:36 PM
Carol from NYC

Sad. I think it just boils down to money. There are plenty of lounge lovers and cabaret lovers....but who can aford it? It's not easy to relax and enjoy when you start questioning how much money it's costing.....and the owners must make their money. Gone are those days when you could sit for hours; you're constantly being asked - another one? - Forget the the booze!

Feb. 24 2012 09:27 AM
Bernie from UWS

Allow me to be contrarion for a moment: I don't think that we need cabarets to interpret the music of Gershwin, Porter, Sondheim, etc. Places like Lincoln Center's American Songbook series and Joe's Pub have capably brought this tradition further into the present than the Oak Room ever did. Times change and that venue didn't.

Feb. 23 2012 03:00 PM
LES from WDC

One of the great, great things about New York City is that, amazingly, Cabaret still lives. A link to the glory days of Tin Pan Alley and a certain sophisticated, albeit increasingly expensive, form of entertainment. I can think of nowhere else in the United States where this artform could be sustained. But, alas, the last flickering embers gradually appear to be dying out, which is ironic since the American Song book deeply permeates American popular culture, from movie soundtracks to the music played at shopping malls.

Feb. 23 2012 11:45 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau county

The Algonquin Room has a resident cat named Mathilda. She must now wear a leash because the power mad mayor is against this tradition. There is really no food being served in the lobby. Maybe a nice glass of champagne. It was so cool to have this beautiful cat greeting the guests. I'd love to put a leash on the mayor's mouth. His administration also handed out a ticket to a pregnant woman for resting on the subway's entrance steps. What a bastard. Yeah, I am civil.

Feb. 23 2012 09:45 AM

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