Once upon a time, in a land called The New York I Used To Know, music clubs dotted the landscape. From cozy cabarets like Eighty Eights and Rose’s Turn, swanky supper clubs like Reno Sweeney and divey rock venues like The Bottom Line, live entertainment was everywhere. Sadly, those and too many others are gone. Happily, in its new location on East 32nd Street, is The Cutting Room, a hip nightspot with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, a casual supper club menu and a stage that’s home to music legends and cabaret performers alike.
My partner and I went to the Cutting Room to see Elaine Brier, a friend and former co-worker of mine, in her show Put Your Funny Where Your Mouth Is. My first thought when I saw the space was “Now THIS is a nightclub!” Old fashioned strip lights framed the awning and there was an oversized electric guitar in the window, painted with trippy, colorful images by artist Mark Kostabi. Inside, a guitar-shaped bar hugged the wall to the right and to the left was the Beatles Lounge – a little nook that resembled a plush library, with individual photographic portraits of the Fab Four. A twinkle-lit stairway led past a fabulous chandelier fashioned from 18 electric guitars, balconies on either side looked over the main bar and in the far left corner, another ornate room celebrated Elaine’s, the now-defunct East Side restaurant and celebrity hangout. At the back were doors that led into the Theatre – a funky showroom which featured modern art, table seating for 200, two balconies with private seating and a stage framed by a rococo arch.
The room was packed with old friends from my days in cabaret. This was sure to be a great crowd! We grabbed a table at the back and began with a couple of cocktails: the Windy Day for my partner – vanilla vodka, pineapple juice, sugar, and fresh lemon and lime juice. The subtle flavor of the vanilla mellowed out the sweetness and acidity of the pineapple, making for a nice smooth drink. I went with the Hot for Teacher – house-infused jalapeño tequila, fresh lemon, cilantro, and honey, served on the rocks. Like a spicy margarita, this cocktail packed a real kick!
We ordered some appetizers to share: the Fish Tacos, with lightly fried tilapia, pineapple pico de gallo and an avocado-lime crema – the fish was firm and clean-tasting, with lime and cilantro adding nice bright notes. The Spicy Lamb Sliders were presented on brioche toast, topped with roasted cherry tomatoes and a touch of tztatziki – a yogurt-dill sauce. Juicy and savory, the lamb had a pleasant gaminess that was tasty and comforting. One of the biggest surprises was the Reuben Cigars – all the elements of a traditional Reuben sandwich: corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, rolled up in a flour dough wrapper, deep fried and served with mustard and Russian dressing. While I’m not a fan of sauerkraut, the amount used was just enough to create the signature Reuben taste, without overpowering, resulting in a deliciously balanced bite, like Jewish deli egg rolls!
As for our main courses, my Lobster Roll was tasty enough, evoking beachy, seaside flavors – lobster in a lemon yogurt-cilantro aioli, cucumber, avocado, red onion, tomato and cilantro. I do wish, however, that the lobster itself had been more present; with so many ingredients, it got lost in the crowd, as it were. My partner’s Super Lump Crab Cakes were fried to a perfect golden brown, with chunks of sweet lump crab meat, the classic flavor of Old Bay seasoning and a touch of heat that made the dish really pop. The spicy remoulade was a nice accompaniment, as were the mesclun greens on the side.
We ordered a dessert to share: the Orange Chocolate Cake, which didn’t taste of orange at all; rather it had the flavor and consistency of a chocolate blackout cake. Possibly ordered from an outside supplier, it was a good cake – moist and chocolatey, but unremarkable. The Banana Split might’ve been a better choice – a deconstructed version of the classic sundae, with bruléed bananas, vanilla ice cream, walnuts, fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
Elaine’s show began. This was her first one-woman show in 13 years, as she’s been busy raising her three daughters, while still singing and slinging drinks at Don’t Tell Mama. The audience was studded with people from all parts of Elaine’s life – family, piano bar fans and past and present co-workers. Everyone was excited to see her and she hit the stage to a rousing ovation, singing a parody of “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” from Annie. Comedy was on this menu, so we got a Facebook-themed takeoff of “You’ve Got A Friend” and “You’re Havin’ My Baby!” from her list of beloved terrible songs. Speaking of babies, we were also treated to a sweet, funny ode to motherhood, called simply “Mom Song,” which she wrote with musical director Nate Buccieri. Some touching moments included “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” a quiet ballad called “Here Is A Song” and the clever “Beatle Song,” by Elaine and John McMahon, which brought tears to my eyes, as always. Her patter was sharp, funny and scathingly honest and the crowd ate it up! Joined by Laura Pavles and Tara Moran on harmonies, she wrapped up her set with a silly ditty from “The Flintstones,” a parody of Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” written as a tribute to her years in piano bars and killer versions of a Rolling Stones classic and the bombastic finale from the film Fame, with the crowd singing along and giving her two standing ovations!
With a diverse roster of performers, a diverse menu that includes everything from salads to Surf & Turf and comfortable surroundings filled with music-inspired art, you should make The Cutting Room a nightlife destination in NYC!