54 Below Changes the Concept of Dinner Theater for the Way, Way Better

I am a dinner theater survivor.

That’s right, I have been known to sing Neil Sedaka songs while wearing wigs and false eyelashes, while octogenarians and kids eat prime rib and ask why the iced tea is so cold*.

It’s by far the hardest acting job I ever did. To warm up before a show, to say heartfelt lines, and to sing and dance to the best of your abilities while the scent of mashed potatoes waft through the air and servers drop dinner rolls on the floor is truly a difficult act.

Which is why it’s great that 54 Below has improved this ancient form of theater.

At this swanky supper club, orders for food and drinks are taken before the show. You sit at the table, enjoy a leisurely meal, and then take it the best of what the city has to offer, from cabarets featuring Broadway’s brightest to workshops of new musicals backed by Darren Criss’ production company.

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The space is classic supper club – dark wood, burgundy fabric, and well dressed servers. All of the servers here are gorgeous, so you indeed start eating with your eyes first. Though I didn’t photograph it, be sure to order the drink made with bourbon, paprika, and orange bitters. It’s really mellow, with brightness, a hit of spice, and a slightly sweet, buttery finish – almost like toffee. 

IMG_20140317_184838_243 Charcuterie plate (captured after it was demolished and as lights were dimming)

SO worthwhile! This plate is filled with soft, creamy brie, a tangy fontina-type cheese, and a wedge of lovely, rather mild blue cheese. Add to that juicy olives, marcona almost, cornichons, and a bevy of cured meats and you have yourself a really great meal! The smoky chorizo is especially excellent.

IMG_20140317_184902_159 Caesar salad

The only true misstep of the night. Fried shallots and torn basil are delicious, fresh takes on this classic dish, but they don’t save it. What did the dressing – the MOST important part of a Caesar salad – taste like? Beats me. There couldn’t have been more than a scant half teaspoon on this acre of romaine. It was like they were daring me to find it. Not a fan.
IMG_20140317_185214_371 Steak tartare

Here’s the stuff. I could have used some tabasco but other than that, it’s quite good. Coarsely chopped beef mixed with capers, mustard, and pepper get a final, luxurious touch when you mix in the raw quail egg. It’s rich but not heavy and is really well salted, which is key to a tasty tartare. Like I said, it could really use some heat, but what couldn’t? Schmear it on the toast points and you might even be able to pretend that you are in Paris, except that here, you can get ice cubes in your water.

Look, this food is not worth seeking out unless you are here to see  a show. It’s mundane and expensive. But it does the trick, and is leagues better than that hot turkey sandwich of yesteryear’s dinner theaters. Plus, it helps you reach your minimum without getting wasted on watered down vodka sodas.

And it does NOT make me have flashbacks to the old days. Thankfully.

*Yes, that was an actual question by a patron. Could I even make that up?