/ The DC Traveler
Washington DC — By Jon Rochetti on January 20, 2010 at 8:22 am

Review: Dinner and Dancing at The Carlyle Club

I had high hope for celebrating a birthday at The Carlyle Club in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC on a recent Saturday night in January.   The club, billed as a classic supper club, offers a 1940s style night club experience with live music and dancing a la Fred and Ginger.

And while the dancing and music were wonderfully delightful, the dining experience was lackluster, due to the kitchen and wait staff needing some serious attention.

Upon entering the open and somewhat art deco-themed restaurant, the first thing I noticed was the lighting was WAY TOO bright.  The numerous hotel ballroom style chandeliers hanging from a Pianowhite suspended ceiling, combined with too many flush mounted ceiling cans, multiple wall sconces, and other lamps made the atmosphere much brighter than what a restaurant offering this type of experience should be.  The entire restaurant needs to be dimmed by about a 50% to make it dark enough to offer a romantic, club-like experience.

The large bar overlooks the dining room, with bar seats, small tables and a seating railing directly overlooking the dining room. 

The layout of the comfortable dining room looks as if the design was taken from a classic song and dance movie.  Three rows of tables start with two-person “couples tables” located next to the dance floor, with both seats facing the stage.  The second row holds larger tables and the last row consists of classic black leather supper club-style booths.

On a high note, the jazz trio (piano, base and drums) that evening was fantastic.  They played three amazing 45-minute sets of non-stop jazz classics and standards, from Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” to “The ‘In’ Crowd” by Ramsey Lewis.   The musicians were very high caliber and well-rehearsed professionals.  Song after recognizable song made the crowd get up and dance on the large parquet dance floor, which offers lots of room to move around.  Most nights, the first set starts nightly at 8:00. 

The patrons included mostly novice dancers, as well as one couple that had obviously taken a few formal dancing lessons.  Yet you could still have a conservation at the table as the amplification of the music and singer were not overpowering.

Most people that night were dressed up in suits and dresses, yet one younger couple, casually dressed in blue jeans,  looked very out of place.  I was a bit surprised that the club allowed them in, as apparently there’s no dress code.

Most evenings the club offers live jazz entertainment, many nights with no cover charge.  The music ranges from a solo piano player to a full orchestra.  On nights with headliners, national acts or special performers, a cover charge (usually $10 – $35 per person), dinner purchase or 2-drink minimum may be applied. 

Cab Calloway and OrchestraOn most Fridays, Doc Scantlinbrings his 15 piece big band orchestra to the Carlyle for a trip back to the days of zoot-suits, spats and swinging jazz.

Sadly, the dining experience wasn’t as enjoyable as the music and dancing.  Our waiter seemed to struggle all night and the kitchen staff needs a bit of focus on the basics.  I suspect our waiter was a bit too inexperienced (or perhaps untrained) for this caliber and price point of restaurant.

First, one thing I greatly dislike is to be addressed as “You guys,” especially while dining at a nice restaurant.  I think wait staffs should be better trained to address diners in a more professional manner.  I must have heard “you guys” at least eight times over the evening.

After being seated, we didn’t see a waiter to take our initial drink order for 5-10 minutes.  And even thought it was a Saturday night, the restaurant was less than half full.

When finally approached, I inquired about one of the four champagnes The Carlyle Club offers by the bottle, yet surprisingly, the waiter couldn’t tell me a thing about it.  He had to leave to attempt to get more information, only to come back a few minutes later with virtually no additional information on this $50+ bottle.  I thought it I had asked simple question — if the champagne was a brut champagne or not?

I had to think someone on the staff had at some point sampled this champagne, a bartender or manager, someone.  The waiter came back more than 5 minutes later after his second quest to answer my question and handed me a paper printout describing the champagne from the winery’s website that his manager had printed.  I was simply looking for a “yes” or “no” answer, and was a bit surprised that he was still both unable to answer the question and expected me to determine what they were selling. 

What I read told me that I would most likely not enjoy that champagne so I ordered another, more expensive (about $65) bottle.  A couple minutes later the waiter returned with a bottle, and informed me they were out.  But in its place, he brought a significantly more expensive ($100+) bottle of Veuve Clicquot to the table.

I felt he put me in an uncomfortable situation to have to say “no,” especially since the price point of the alternative was more than $50 over my initial choice.  He should have simply stated that Veuve Clicquot was all they had that evening and let me make the choice before bringing it to the table.  So I ordered a very enjoyable bottle of California Cabernet from their wine list, which offers a nice representational collection.

The Carlyle Club’s menu is traditional American, a bit limited and not very imaginative.  It offers classics reflecting the club’s 1940s era theme – steaks, crab cakes, crab-stuffed lobster, lamb chops, and roasted chicken ($19 – $32,) plus a couple daily specials.

Of the five appetizers ($7 – $10,) three are simply smaller versions of main course offerings – crab cakes, seared scallops and a portabella mushroom Napoleon, which somewhat limits a diner’s options.

A daily soup (beef vegetable on the night I dined there) and three salads ($8 – $9) round out the menu. 

We both orders salads and steaks.  The salads were fresh but the dressings were a bit bland, even though the descriptions implied otherwise.  My “mixed greens with goat cheese and a sherry truffle vinaigrette” was 95% baby spinach, and I suspect there was no more than a ¼ oz. of goat cheese on my plate, but it was still good.  The evening’s special wilted spinach salad with bacon dressing was very nice.  The bread rolls however were served dried out, probably from sitting in a steamer bin for too long and seemed more like the type you’d expect in a cafeteria.

Our steaks were served perfectly cooked as ordered.  The 8 oz.  filet mignon ($28) was almost fork tender and served with a rich and flavorful port wine demi glace.  The 12 oz. New York strip steak, a special of the night for $25, was also very good.  However, the roasted potatoes and baby carrots arrived so cool, it seemed that they had been sitting out for at least 15 minutes.   The mashed potatoes served with the filet were also not very hot.  And it didn’t help that the dinner plates were not preheated to help keep the food warm.

When the waiter came to check on us, I asked for another serving of “hot” potato. Yet after waiting about 10 minutes, was served a plate of even cooler potatoes.  So I gave up attempting to get hot potatoes as by this time, as I was more then half finished with my steak.

For dessert, we split a tasty chocolate layer cake, from the list of several desserts described by our waiter.

For three courses, expect to pay around $45 – $60 per person, plus wine and cocktails.

The Carlyle Club is a fun date-night restaurant or a place to celebrate a special event, so plan on dressing up a bit and definitely leave the children at home.  

We had a ball dancing the night away…but perhaps next time, we’ll have dinner somewhere else and just have a cocktail or two in the Carlyle’s bar and enjoy the show.

The Carlyle Club
411 John Carlyle Street
Alexandria, Virginia, 22314  (map it)

Hours – Open Wednesdays – Saturdays.  Weekdays from 5:00 p.m.,  Saturday from 6:00.  Closing time varies from 10:00 until midnight.

Reservations – Highly recommended, and are available by phone or through Open Table.

Nearest Metro Subway Station – King Street – Blue & Yellow line, then a 5-block walk or car ride.

Parking – Limited metered street parking is available or park in garage below the building ($5.00 on weekends).

Images – Flickrpiano, Cab Calloway

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