Last night I went to the super swanky (and super expensive – I was comped) Cafe Carlyle on Madison Avenue in New York City to see Ute Lemper perform her astoundingly good Cabaret act.
Now, you might be thinking: Taking a cab across town hardly counts as travel.
Well, let me tell you, I’ve traveled plenty; I’ve been on an archeological dig in the Middle East, and trekking in the Costa Rican rainforest. I’ve been mugged in Buenos Aires, and been sailing in Turkey. I’ve lounged on Caribbean beaches and been a lounge singer in Parisian cafes. (oh, yes, I have many secrets!), and this little taxi ride across town took me farther away than any of those. Because to go to the Cafe Carlyle is to travel through time.
First there’s the Carlyle itself: swanky doesn’t begin to describe it. The furnishings are luxurious, the walls are painted with spectacular (and spectacularly restored) murals. The rooms have marble baths, the hallways are wallpapered in luxe ultra-suede, the chandeliers of Venetian glass. In the Cafe, men must wear jackets, and women — well, they must look fabulous.
The Hotel drips with sophistication borne of tradition, and taste, and history. (Full disclosure: the original family owners of The Carlyle are family friends.) I imagine that The Carlyle always feels other-worldly: the $26 cocktails, the tuxedo-ed clientele. But in the current financial crisis, it felt positively surreal. Women in evening gown sipped champagne as they laughed at something their impossibly dashing date had said. Waiters called everyone sir and madam. The murmur of money was in the air.
Then there was Ute Lemper. She looks like a 1940’s movie star: all angles and eyebrows and red, red lips. And she sings the songs of 1920’s Germany, making the whole evening feel, look and sound as decadent as it must have nearly a century ago. In her black bowler hat she channeled Marlene Dietrich, singing her heart out, and breaking mine. (And just so you know, her new album is coming out sometime this Spring.)
Because there is something bittersweet about the end of decadance; of course it was wrong. Greed is what fueled this crisis. And look what happened to Germany once the decadence was done.
But still – to be in the room, watching Ute Lemper in her sequined gown, hearing her delve deeply into songs that are as relevant today as they were all those decades ago — it was romantic, and beautiful, and moving, and transportive.
I may have only taken a taxi ride – but I traveled through time, across an ocean, to a place where glamour lives, champagne flows, and sequins sparkle for all they’re worth.