By Terry Trucco
Hotels and piano bars go together like cocktail shakers and martinis. So why, in the city of Broadway and countless preternaturally talented musicians, has the hotel piano bar become a borderline endangered species?
Count Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle and the Rum House at the Edison among the plucky stalwarts that have staved off the twin threats of recession and changing music tastes and kept their lounge pianos playing.
To this small but tenacious assembly add Millesime’s M Salon at the Carlton Hotel. This week the ground-floor hotel lounge unveiled a new musical line-up featuring performers and DJs Wednesday through Friday evenings, a Burlesque jazz brunch Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm and piano cabaret on Saturday nights from 8 pm to midnight.
With wood paneled walls the color of semi-sweet cocoa, mirror insets and tiger print
club chairs surrounding a small stage, this wordly/glam lair in a 1904 building is a natural for cabaret (even if you can’t see the stage from every table). The same can be said for Michael Garin and Mardie Millit, the musical duo playing Saturday nights.
Garin, a pianist and composer currently working on a Broadway adaptation of Sleepless in Seattle, racked up late-might stints at the Hotel Elysee Monkey Bar, Birdland, the Rainbow Room and Limelight before teaming up five years ago with Millit, whose stage credits include Eliza in My Fair Lady and Musetta in La Boheme. Partners on and off stage, they’ve appeared at the Edison Rum House and the Metropolitan Room, where their satiric show Sleepless in September ran for months, and played Elaine’s, the buzzy East Side bistro, for three years until its demise in May.
“Old school hotel music” is how Millit describes their rep which flitted from “Night and Day” and “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” to “La Vie en Rose” during the snippet we caught this week. But their standards come with a wink, like Millit’s outfit – a full-skirted Betty Draper cocktail dress, updated with a saucy shoulder tattoo. How do they decide what to play? “We just feel the room,” says Millit. “If the song we just played dies, we know what to play — and not to play — next.”
And how do they feel about the future of hotel cabaret? “The next cool thing is usually the least cool thing, ” says Garin. So should we expect an upward spike in the number of hotel piano bars?
“We’re analog,” he says. “I play a 1926 Steinway from the machine age. There’s a warmth and intimacy to this experience. People sit next to people. It’s not a click and a mouse. Cabaret is the least computerized thing in the world. What better way to get away from everything and relax at the end of the day?”
What better way, indeed?
Salon M at the Carlton Hotel, 88 Madison Avenue at East 29th Street; for reservations call 212 889-7200 or visit Opentable.com. Two drink minimum.