One of the cleverest jokes I know — is it a joke? only a bon mot? — is this one:
Man: Excuse me, Miss, but how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
I thought of it because I was in New York not terribly long ago and I went with a friend to The Carnegie Club. The Carnegie Club is about as New York as it gets. Well, it’s as New York as New York gets if you’re talking about old, moneyed New York. Graffiti on a fire hydrant and a broken toilet out on the street is pretty New York, too. But conjure in your mind 1950’s jazz clubs with dark, lacquered wood and diamonds around the necks of swan-necked women. That’s the New York I mean when I say the Carnegie Club.
Danny Freedman’s write up of the club in New York magazine is dead on, so rather than spend an hour getting my own description just right, check it:
“An air of vintage class pervades this sprawling midtown cigar bar… Yellow wallpaper and hand-carved wooden bookcases stuffed with worn hardbacks give the club’s main level and large lofted hideaway the feel of an Ivy League alumni club. The crowd of men (many of them balding and dressed in jacket and tie) and some younger women (in skirts or cocktail dresses) buzz from upholstered sofa chairs and couches to the long bar. With 20 or so cigars in a glass-enclosed humidor, even non-smokers may experience a whiff of nostalgia for the days of indoor smoking as they watch how the club’s lighting catches swirls of smoke just right.”
My friend was one of the balding fellows and I was the younger woman in a cocktail dress. I have come to realize that you cannot have too many little black dresses, ladies. It’s impossible: every black dress is unique and special in its own way, sorta like us humans. My black tube dress? Too sexy for the Carnegie Club, even with a jacket. My jersey Celine with the most incredible sleeves with the impossibly gorgeous slit at the wrists? Not the one; plus, too cold for a short dress like that. But my Carven wraparound with the wool lower half and the silk upper half? Poifect! With the black high heels (bows on the toes) and the earrings and the handbag? Ooh, mama! Light ’em, boys, and peel me a grape.
And so they did and so it was that I sank into old New York that night and let the cigar smoke curl and swirl like Freedman said it would. I was buzzed and cozy in a world of cedar and tobacco and fire. Ice, too, incidentally; I had my scotch on the rocks.
I’m considering spending a month or so in New York City at my sister’s place when the renovation begins in my kitchen. I’m not sure I’ll be able to live in my house when that starts. My fridge will be what’s left of my living room. I will have to fashion a hotplate staging area for my tea in the morning. There will be more dust and I am already sneezing and coughing. All that or my amazing sister, NYC out the front door, and a good old-fashioned change of scenery? Not a difficult decision. I can work from anywhere, really.
I won’t go to the Carnegie Club every night, promise. Just Wednesdays.
Maybe Wednesdays and Saturdays.