Christmas at The Carlyle

“We lit a candle for lost souls,” he said. “Now more than ever is a time to pray for lost souls.”

 

THE NEXT DAY I spoke with the hotel’s general manager, James McBride, who was in Dix Bay huddling with Rosewood executives about next year’s budget for their resorts in the Caribbean. He said business at the Carlyle was up 8 percent on the year. Last weekend both the $15,000-a-night Empire suite, which occupies both the 28th and 29th floors, and room 1812, where Jackie O. used to live ($5,000 a night), were occupied.

Monday night. Woody Allen on the clarinet at Café Carlyle. The show has been sold out every night this season, just like it has been for the last decade. Tickets are $150; $70 for standing room.

The couple sitting across from me was from Jacksonville, Fla. They visit New York every year. “We finally decided to splurge,” the man said. Earlier that afternoon, he’d bought a sweater, which at 40 percent off was still more money than he would normally have spent on a sweater  For dinner, he and his wife each had the $55 Dover sole.

Woody took the stage. Silence as he quickly peeled off a brown sweater and pieced together his old clarinet, his head down. He softly suggested “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” to the banjo player, who passed the message along to the rest of the band. Once the music got going, it didn’t stop, save for a few brief pauses between songs. Woody’s cheeks inflated to what appeared to be half of his body size. The actress Stockard Channing sat staring and smiling.

After the show I spoke with Woody.

“We’ve been doing it for, I don’t know, 35 years or something, 40 years, and we just enjoy playing,” he said. “We’d be happy to play in our living room for ourselves—at least I would be—but the band likes to play for people, so I play for people. “

Anything to say about the recession’s impact on New York?

“I haven’t noticed it yet,” he said. “I’m sure during the upcoming year, it’ll hit, and I’m not looking forward to it.”

“Mr. Allen, can I just shake your hand?” a woman interjected.

“Sure, but don’t get ink on you.”

I spoke to the great Elaine Stritch, who lives in the hotel in a large, corner, one-room apartment—what would be called a “bed sit”—on the lobby phone.

“Walk up and down Madison Avenue and there are a lot of empty storefronts, places that are for rent, that’s what scares me,” she said when I asked about the recession. But! Sure, some Broadway shows are closing, but that might not be all bad. “We need more shinola and less shit,” she said. “All due respect to the Disney Company, but you know, they could cool it a little.

“I think a lot of people are going to come out of this better off,” she continued. “I think it’ll be good for people to have to go through this and make sacrifices and come out on the other side. And maybe, hopefully, people will start to care a little more about their fellow man than they did before. And they’ll start helping their fellow man and then maybe they can start feeling better about themselves. We’ve got to help each other out, you know, it’s the only way.”

smorgan@observer.com