Gone are the days of empresarios Steve Rubell, pointing at and picking out people with a certain style at the disco door. And his cohort, Ian Schrager, counting the cash in a belfry while every celebrity around the globe was ushered in thru VIP passageways. The infamous Studio 54 that hustled disco music, drugs, celebrityism (my new word) and the sexual revolution across the dance floor is but a whisper and sneeze into the gargantuan coke spoon that once descended from the rafters.
The debris from one of Liza’s, Capote’s, Divine’s and Warhol’s binges have been cleaned up and in its place is Feinstein’s/54 Below (Yes, performer and pianist Michael Feinstein is involved in this cabaret/restaurant). What lurks in the basement today is a bit more contemporary and palatable than the time when Bianca Jagger rode a horse butt-naked like Lady Godiva from basement corral to balcony and all the rumors and charades in the bathrooms. The historic location on 54th Street between 8th and 9th Aves was reborn in 1998 as a venue for the Roundabout Theatre Company.
Next to the retired disco and current day theatre is a red-hot canopy hovering over a wooden door with provincial red ropes and a congenial doorman. Once you descend the steps at 54 Below, you are greeted by a fabulous host or hostess and enter the grand room just a few steps lower. The crimson and copper walls and state-of-the art lighting warm up the room like an exclusive yurt, a rathskeller for the ages, a place where you know thespians and musicians are under the roof.
Taking center stage is a beautiful grand piano sharing the limelight with enough space for strings, timpani and a brass section. Every night is a different artist or group with a rotation of the hottest talent from Broadway, nightlife as well as big and small screen crooners. The seating is perfect from every angle but I recommend one of the plush semi-circle banquettes in the back row.
The menu is designed by Executive Chef Lynn Bound with select options including a prix fixe menu. The choices fit every desire with entrees to include but not limited to: Espresso-Marinated Hanger Steak, Duck Confit Salad, Ratatouille Shepherd’s Pie and nightly specials like Braised Lamb Chops. My recommendation is to start with the Charcuterie and Cheese Plate.
Save room for one of their fabulous desserts like Coconut Chocolate Pie or Caramel Profiteroles (above) with vanilla gelato, salted maple caramel sauce, popcorn and sea salt.
Like the iconic disco of the ‘70s, Feinstein’s/54Below is one of those memorable New York experiences. There are very few places that you will find this level of talent while dining in beautiful surroundings with current day headliners like Patti Lupone, Michael Feinstein, Laura Benanti, Donna McKechnie and more — as in Melba Moore. In the coming weeks expect to see performances by Ben Vereen, Soundheim Unplugged, Alice Ripley & Emily Skinner, Liliane Montevecchi, Josh Young and Late Night Broadway…
While the cuisine is inventive, flavorful and as noteworthy as the Broadway belters who often arrive without notice, be prepared to dig a little deep into the pockets of your Jordache Jeans when the check arrives. This is not a bargain basement lounge but a platform and dining room for professionals to show off their very best.
Like the days of disco, hitting the high notes can be deliciously intoxicating.
254 W 54TH ST.
New York, NY 10019
Photos: Marc Bryan-Brown