After a decade of building a solid reputation with comedians and their crowds at Gotham City Comedy Club, when Chris Mazzilli decided to move his Gotham City into a larger venue last winter, the native New Yorker (and former stand-up) saw an opportunity.
“Since I still had this space,” Mazzilli says of Gotham City’s former location, “I thought, ‘There’s a need for a music and jazz club that doesn’t exist in the city right now.’” And with that—and months of planning—this spring, the 115-seat Metropolitan Room at 34 West 22nd Street was born. “You have your Don’t Tell Mama’s and your Duplexes, and they serve a certain purpose. And, then you have rooms like the Algonquin, Feinstein’s and the Carlyle,” he acknowledges. “I wanted to go right to the middle and put on shows of that quality but at a better price point—a place with really great talent, a classy environment and state-of-the-art sound and lights. Not to take away from any of the other rooms,” Mazzilli defends, “but the average man can’t afford a $60 to $85 cover!”
Although Helen’s in Chelsea has continued to flourish, not since Arci’s Place, which closed a few years ago, has Manhattan really had a room where working Joes can savor a sophisticated space while enjoying the likes of Billy Stritch, Karen Mason, Jim Caruso or a comedic singing duo like Michael Holland and Karen Mack.
By offering a swanky setting (with a new $60,000 sound and lighting system) and a $15 cover (plus two-drink minimum), ever since Mazzilli opened his doors, folks have been flocking. “They’re steadily building a name as a great overall listening room that’s friendly to all kinds of music,” says singer-comedian Karen Mack. “And that’s a huge plus for creative hybrids like Michael and me,” says the performer who’ll be appearing there with Holland in their popular Gashole show on July 13 and 17 and August 3 and 17. Furthermore, Holland notes, “anybody who dares put Gashole on the same stage as Billy Stritch is obviously trying to do something different. And because no one’s really sure if Karen and I are a music act or a comedy show or a bad acid trip—or a good one, for all I know,” Holland laughs, “I feel like the Metropolitan Room is a perfect fit.” Booking polished acts is something Mazzilli is keen on, “but we’re also thinking outside the box,” he says. Looking to attract the best of Broadway, Mazzilli says, “There are a lot of tremendously talented people out there who are not doing this kind of stuff. So we’re actually approaching people, saying, ‘Hey, we think you’re great. Why don’t you put a show together and come work here?’” (To that end, look for Hot Feet star Keith David to make his cabaret debut at the Metropolitan Room this September. “He does Nat King Cole like nobody’s business,” Mazzilli reports.)
“The biggest challenge is that you’ve got to put your time in and do your homework,” Mazzilli concludes. “We hired very good people and put a lot of time and thought into this. And since we’ve opened, I have been to every single show and said goodnight to every single customer. And there’s three things I keep hearing: ‘The show was fantastic. The lights and sound are the best we’ve ever seen and heard. And, it was a true New York experience.’”
—Actor-writer David Drake contributes a monthly column, "The Cabaret Beat," to the Playbill subscription issue.