Cabaret enthusiasts are still mourning the crass closing of the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, but there’s an up side in the opening of the appealing, smart new 54 Below at the address where the old Studio 54 was once the place to go. It is a great new space, which I sampled with Patti LuPone as the star attraction. Much care and ingenuity has obviously gone into the design of 54 Below, and the result is an inviting room that suggests bygone speakeasy days.
One descends by stairs or elevator if needed into an inviting rectangular space with a 160 capacity. The rows of tables are nicely spaced, with booths across the back. The sight lines are excellent everywhere, a boon for both spectators and performers. A bar to the right has seating, and one can see a show well from there too. Up to three shows nightly are contemplated for the schedule, with leading performers already set to follow the LuPone opening.
There is a top-level sound system, and the lighting is felicitous, dim enough to be intimate yet bright enough to be festive. At the start there was a simple menu along with the range of drinks, but fuller bistro-style food service is planned under the direction of Executive chef André J. Marrero. One major plus for 54 Below is its Broadway location. The area can use a spot like this added to the cabaret scene. One can combine seeing a show with a late visit to the club, and there is an expectation that theater pros from Broadway shows will frequent it.
You get the feeling of a thoroughly professional set-up, not surprising given the skills applied by award-winners. The design is by theater notable John Lee Beatty and architect Richard Lewis. The lighting is by Ken Billington, another experienced theater hand. The sound design is by Peter Hylenski. Scott Wittman is creative consultant, with Phil Geoffrey Bond director of programming.
The club is managed by Tom Viertel, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel and Steven Baruch, all involved as theater producers. One might regard Club 54 as a kind of theater in itself. Among those booked for shows in June and July are Jackie Hoffman, MX Justin Vivian Bond, Rebecca Luker, Ben Vereen, Andrea McArdle, Jamie deRoy and Friends, Lea DeLaria and Jennifer Lewis. The 54 Below nightclub is at 254 West 54th Street, Phone: 866-468-7619.