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BWW Review: BILLY STRITCH at The West Bank Cafe

Billy Stritch puts the FINE in fine dining

BWW Review: BILLY STRITCH at The West Bank Cafe

The West Bank Cafe had a very near miss with disaster during the pandemic. The loss of this neighborhood bistro would have been unbearable for those of us who live in Hell's Kitchen. Thanks to some ingenuity and a well-timed fundraiser, the West Bank is still lighting up the night at the corner of 42nd Street and 9th Avenue. The downstairs Laurie Beechman Theatre is still awaiting a grand re-opening, but the restaurant upstairs is doing a brisk business.

One of the wise decisions they've made is to add live dinner music to their fine dining experience Wednesday-Sunday evenings. But these are not your usual lounge pianists. Tonight I was fortunate enough to catch a set by the crown prince of what remains of New York cafe society, Billy Stritch. For those of you not familiar with Mr. Stritch's artistry, first of all, shame on you. Secondly, get down to the West Bank Cafe next Sunday between 7 and 9 PM and treat yourself.

Billy Stritch is, in the best sense, a reminder of another time. A time when the same people who wrote America's popular music also wrote Broadway shows. A time when people dressed up to eat out. A time when Blossom Dearie haunted the West Village and Dorothy Parker reigned at the Algonquin. A time when The Stork Club, and El Morocco, and the Copacabana were required stops for the "see and be seen" set. He wears this latter-day noblesse oblige as comfortably as a Saville Row suit.

Usually, when you see Billy Stritch, it's in combination with some other amazing artist; great singers like Marilyn Maye. He is the heart and soul of Jim Caruso's Broadway open-mic, Cast Party at Birdland. And he was for years the musical director, arranger, and all-around Pal Friday for Liza Minnelli. So it's a wonderful thing to see him take the stage as a solo act. "Dinner music" is really too small a term for what he's doing at the West Bank Cafe. That implies something that's occurring in the background. His smart jazz arrangements of classics from the Great American Songbook are very much front and center. And he sings with the elegance of Bobby Short or Mel Tormé or Tony Bennett.

His set included smooth takes on tunes by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers (with both Hart and Hammerstein,) Cy Coleman, Sammy Cahn, and Burt Bacharach. A particular favorite was a lesser-known Gershwin song, "Isn't It a Pity?" This quirky, conditional love song momentarily quieted the clink of wine glasses and the din of dropping salad forks. It's not every artist that can make magic under those conditions, but Mr. Stritch is no ordinary artist.

But don't take my word for it. Get down to the West Bank Cafe next Sunday evening and check out Billy Stritch yourself. You will thank me.

To learn more about Billy Stritch's other projects, look him up at billystritch.com. To make dinner reservations and enjoy the other dinner artists at the West Bank Cafe, visit their website, westbankcafe.com.


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