As a lifelong New Yorker there are very few things that can surprise you, especially in a positive way. For someone like me who attends as many concerts, comedy shows, and plays as I can, there are only a handful of venues that can contain the amount of people that will want to come and also be someplace I will be willing to go. When you also consider what tickets go for these days that may also throw a wrench into my plans, though I have been known to overpay for shows and it stings if I am disappointed. But if it is someone I really love I will go anywhere, any time. Such is the case for someone familiar to anyone who has read this blog. I am of course talking about the very talented singer, songwriter, and actor, Levi Kreis.
When I found out Levi would be back in New York City the week of Thanksgiving I considered it a blessing. But as if that weren’t even enough, he would be performing as a new venue I had been aching to check out, 54 Below. The location is exactly what it sounds like. It is an underground club, adjacent to Studio 54, where all Broadway stars and talented singers of any and every genre are performing.
However, 54 Below isn’t exactly what it sounds like and I LOVE when I am surprised! Oh how it happens so infrequently.
Once I arrived and figured out how to get in (I have to admit that I had trouble opening the very obvious red door), I climbed down the stairs to an entertainment paradise. I had 5:30 p.m. dinner reservation for the 7 p.m. show and I was the first guest to arrive. I was treated so kindly by the staff and offered a seat while they were still setting up before the doors opened. In that brief time I got the feel of an intimate club with a close-knit workforce that was simultaneously hosting some of the biggest names in show biz. For heavens sake Patti Lapone performed when 54 Below opened its doors in June of this year.
As I sat there enjoying the hustle of the place, I got a great surprise. I got to see Levi and his partner walk in. Since I have had the pleasure to get to know Levi and his music over the last two years, I have also had the privilege of supporting his album and getting to know him personally. Getting to say a private hello and catch up for a few minutes on this particular evening before his sound check and performance made it all the more magical. I will hold those moments dear to me forever.
Then the doors opened. More and more guests were arriving. I was happy to be seated so close the stage. I was even more excited to see the beautifully crafted water bottles on the table. As a migraine patient I am on a strict regime of medication and you would not believe me if I told you how many events, parties, or clubs that I have gone to where water is the hardest commodity to come by. Right away 54 Below had won me over.
Next, as I sat there taking in the gorgeous red décor that was somehow sexy, warm, and subtle all at the same time, I couldn’t stop looking around. There were great big booths in the back, small intimate tables, and even tables that were long and perfect for bigger celebrations. The lights weren’t overwhelming and as the music played in the background that too was appropriate for the space we were in. I told you as a migraine patient light and sound are the first things we notice before we can even begin to enjoy ourselves and this place beat any bar I could set. For a good example we can turn to the menu.
Since I was there about dinnertime that was what I was looking for. When I go to a place where there is alcohol usually there is only bar food- a.k.a. greasy, salty, foods I usually can’t have. Such was not the case. The chef here has an incredible menu of which I cannot do justice here. Chef Andre trained at The French Culinary Institute in New York. I was so excited I was almost afraid I would never decide. But I ordered the first thing that jumped up at me and closed the menu. I was too full for dessert, a thought now that makes me sad but I know I will be back many, many more times and so I am comforted.
For my dinner, I had the penne pasta with broccoli, sweet sausage, and ricotta salata. Ricotta salata is my favorite kinds of cheese and I have never ever seen this on a menu so I was dancing in my seat. When this plate came out, in what seemed to be a matter of seconds, the site was breathtaking. I was eating a five star dinner and I wasn’t paying five star prices, although I would have gladly. It stands as one of my favorite meals of all time. Even the coffee was divine, another unusual beverage for a performance venue but a delightful one for me. It too was amazing.
I loved this combination of fine dining and top-notch entertainment. That this has not existed before is sad. But it has made me appreciate it all the more. Needles to say this is a place I will be recommending to everyone and anyone I can, and I think a gift card or a night out is the perfect gift this holiday season.
As for Levi, what can I say? As I tweeted that night “Oh my man I love him so..” Watching him perform live does something for my soul that I can’t describe. Even I forget just how powerful it is until I see another show. I listen to all of his albums on my iPod regularly, but I am sorry that does not compare to hearing it live. In person his voice, piano playing skills, and charm is healing and revitalizing.
The timing of this post reminds me of a special moment I shared with Levi last year. Last year as part of his fundraising campaign for his new album, I was a contributor and as an incentive I got a call from Levi on my birthday. But it wasn’t just any call and it wasn’t just any birthday. It was my thirtieth birthday and Levi was calling to wish me a happy birthday and sing my favorite song of his, “Gonna Be Alright”. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I have listened to that message countless times during this year when I am in pain during a severe migraine attack and needed help getting through. I listen when I need smile on my face. I listen when I want to remember how lucky I am.
It is nights like this where everything is “Just This Good”.
For more on why I love Levi and you should too:
For 54 Below: