And all through the land, everything was frozen. Bear with me. This is a happy-ending story. It is not satire, however. Every word is true.
Undeterred by predictions of a weather Armageddon (a “bomb cyclone” predicted for the East Coast – plunging temperatures, rain, snow, rapid freezing of everything – great!), we see that the remarkable jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut is playing in DC at the Carlyle Room (not to be confused with the shuttered Carlyle Club in Alexandria which still appears on the internet as a live venue). We have seen Cyrus probably a dozen times over many years in New York, DC, Reston, and Maryland (a concert at his former high school). He remains one of the premier if not the best, living jazz improvisors in America. https://www.cyruschestnut.net/about
We reserve tickets and amazingly the site lets us pick our table. We get Table 14 directly in front of the stage.
Seeing the food prices are somewhat high and there is a limited menu, we make the fateful decision to eat elsewhere. After making and canceling at least one reservation, we settle on a new place that looks great on the internet and is close to the music venue:
Dine in a bright expansive warm filled space, where glam and modern design highlighted by bright color palettes with deep rich wood finishes.
Weather be dammed, we have a plan. I will not name the restaurant, however. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m feeling generous.
We should have known better by seeing this on the reservations portion of the website, following a long warning about the dress code (“Guests that arrive in t-shirts may not be allowed access into the venue and no refund or credits will be provided. Make sure to inform ALL guests!”) followed by this:
There will be a minimum $350.00 cleaning fee for tables/groups which require excessive cleaning due to the party’s inappropriate conduct such as, but not limited to, vomit, cake fights, intentional pouring of liquor on the table/carpet.
But as noted the place was very close to the Carlyle Room. How bad can it be? We decide to go boldly where …. you know.
As predicted, the night is frigid beyond imagination and street parking is almost non-existent. We finally park several blocks away from the restaurant. Our new theory is that we walk to the restaurant, walk from there to the music venue, then walk back to the car. It immediately apparent that this plan is preposterous. The wind is blowing and temperatures are already in the mid-teens and falling. Nevertheless, we’re here and we’re going.
The restaurant is, well, noisy. Really really noisy, with multiple large TV screens everywhere. Evidently, this more night club than restaurant. But who wants to go out to a club, pay high prices for drinks and watch TV? Many people it seems. The place is packed. Everyone is talking loudly because they can’t otherwise be heard over the blaring music.
But I digress. We are told by the very polite gentleman tending the door that he will call the elevator to take us to the restaurant upstairs. I mention that I hope it’s not as noisy up there and he assures me not to worry, they will be happy to lower the volume of the music. Uh huh. We go up and … it’s just like downstairs. We order what turns out to be mediocre food, but it is promptly delivered by our very polite waitress. We eat. The bill comes.
I stare disbelievingly at the check where there is 20 percent “service charge” added. Since this is what I would have tipped anyway, I am only mildly alarmed, though still concerned whether this is a “forced tip” or something the restaurant planned to keep, hoping that we would tip the waitress independently.
We didn’t. The automatic surcharge was never disclosed on the restaurant website, so I decided this was indeed the substitute for the tip, notwithstanding that the charging bill arrived with a space for Tip to be added. I remain hopeful that the service charge” was given to the wait staff. I am assured by someone familiar with the DC bar scene that it is almost certain the charge did go to the staff. If so, good. If not, well, they should have disclosed the practice on the website.
We leave, hoofing back to the car in temperatures that now feel like single digits. I’ve been alive a long time but don’t recall anything like this. Nevertheless, we make it to the car, and after I stop shivering, drive around to the Carlyle Room to discover there is no valet parking. But then a Christmas miracle occurs.
There is parking space less than 50 feet from the front door. It has a confusing sign about a time-restricted loading zone, but this is not unusual for DC which is famous for bizarre and inexplicable parking signage.
We gamble and park there. We have an hour before the planned show time so the very polite lady at the door escorts us into the adjacent Brennan’s Bar, which is practically empty. Fine. We wait.
Finally, well after the 9:15 show time, we are admitted to the Room and our front table. This is what we see:
Now the second miracle occurs. Cyrus appears with his trio members, a female bass player and drummer. As with every other performance we have seen, Cyrus is a powerhouse on the piano, improvising tunes from Charlie Brown’s Christmas, throwing in Beethoven’s Für Elise (with the warning “this is not the Für Elise you’re expecting”—wasn’t) and generally making new music at every turn. His bandmates seem constantly bemused by what he is doing but they keep up. Overall, it is an extraordinary performance, as we have come to expect from Cyrus Chestnut. Sadly, it was witnessed by only a handful of people. The earlier show had been sold out, so we have to think the “weather is frightful” was largely responsible.
The Carlyle Room has no minimum beyond the ticket purchase which is highly unusual. The room is huge, more than 80 tables, widely separated, and as noted earlier you can pre-reserve where you want to sit, also very unusual. The Room has been open four months and with better promotion should have a permanent place in the DC entertainment scene, which could use another good jazz venue especially following the demise of Twins. We had dessert, a great chocolate cake slice — with whipped cream and raspberries. Keep an eye on this place. https://www.carlyleroom.com
All in all then, an extraordinary evening. We persevered through the weather, the noisy crowded restaurant/club with mediocre food and ended up front & center at a great jazz performance. A metaphor for the entire year. Don’t give up. Happy Holidays!!!!!