Swing Time Reprise in Alexandria
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, November 2, 2007
Finding a place for dinner and dancing -- especially in the style of supper clubs seen in old Astaire-and-Rogers films, where you could swing from your table onto the dance floor as the orchestra played -- is a bit of a challenge in the Washington area.
But if you're looking for old-fashioned romance and entertainment, try the new Carlyle Club in Alexandria, where the sounds of the swing era play in an atmosphere unlike anything else on the night-life scene.
Owner Brennan Reilly says he wants "live music seven nights a week," whether that's a piano player tickling the ivories of the restaurant's baby grand at dinner, evening performances by local jazz bands such as Satin Doll Trio or weekend-long appearances by the likes of the Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey orchestras. (Never mind that every one of those famed World War II-era bandleaders has passed away.) "It seemed like the kind of thing people would like if it existed," Reilly says. He and his wife have been working to open a supper club for about five years, he adds. "Nightclubs have been gearing younger than they used to be," Reilly says. "There's not too many clubs out there that I would feel comfortable going to, as someone over 40."
Inspiration for the Carlyle came from the legendary nightspots of New York and Chicago, from the art deco logo to the blue velvet curtains that hang on the wall and the rich carpet underfoot, which Reilly had custom-made in England from a 1930s pattern.
A sea of tables curves gently around the stage, each decorated with a miniature lamp atop a white tablecloth. They're spaced at such a distance that the room feels lively, but you don't feel like you're involved in your neighbors' conversation. High-backed semicircular booths, covered in sleek black leather, line the walls.
Directly in front of the stage, a small hardwood dance floor invites a fox trot or two, but it's going to get crowded once the swing dancers descend.
The only wrong note is the dull bar in the rear, where overly bright lights and white-on-white decor are at odds with the rest of the room. The trade-off: Raised a good three or four feet above the dining room, the bar area has a perfect view of the stage and dance floor.
The club really kicks into gear this weekend with two nights featuring Doc Scantlin and His Imperial Palms Orchestra. (Scantlin returns to the Carlyle on Nov. 15 and 30.) The Glenn Miller Orchestra will play Thursday and Nov. 9. The Cab Calloway Orchestra is there Nov. 16 and 17. For major events, such as Scantlin or one of the big-name orchestras, the Carlyle will offer two shows a night -- usually at 7:30 and 10. The earlier performance includes a four-course prix-fixe menu in the ticket price, which ranges from $75 to $100. (Tax, tip and drinks aren't included.) The menu is heavy on the classics -- oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktail, filet mignon -- and seafood dishes.
Of course, you don't have to have dinner to attend -- non-guaranteed seats in the bar are $25 for most shows, and late shows are general admission, with seating in the dining room, for about the same price. Also, on nights when there's a smaller act, such as locals Radio King Orchestra or Satin Doll Trio, there's no cover charge or set menu.
The club is still growing; the wine program, which will eventually offer 40 wines by the glass and a "buy one, get one 25 percent off" promotion on bottles, isn't quite ready, and the calendar has several empty dates that will be filled soon, Reilly says. But would-be Fred and Gingers will welcome this spot.