The big rooms are pretty much gone like the dodo: the Ballroom, where once I saw British oddity Julian Clary literally cause people to fall over laughing; the Rainbow Room, most fabulous of them all, where one night I was there for the last time that Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert, West Side Story's first Maria and Tony, sang together.
The Café Carlyle hangs on, in a way, even without Bobby Short as its presiding genius, as does the Algonquin's Oak Room, and Michael Feinstein does seem to have found a way to make his club work, although it also doubles as a hotel breakfast room.
The smaller spaces and piano bars we haunted seem as far off as speakeasies or Vaudeville: The Five Oaks, home to 30s survivor Marie Blake, who made a rollicking blues out of Blondie's "Rapture"; 88s, where Karen Miller and Rochelle Seldin created a kind of cabaret salon for musical-theatre queens; Danny's Skylight Room, Rose's Turn, on an on.
One old hangout, Don't Tell Mama, hangs on. One real dive, Marie's Crisis, seems indestructible; I wonder if Sam is still playing the piano there, singing "Blue Champagne."
Luckily, some of the great ladies are still performing. In my time, my favorites included the timelessly elegant Julie Wilson:
Musical archaeologist Andrea Marcovicci, whose innate glamour is enhanced by her warmth and intelligence:
Regally sly Karen Akers; anyone who's heard her live (especially her song about a lovelorn Statue of Liberty - "who wants a date, with a large, green lady?") knows that no one more effectively combines fire and ice than she:
And, of course, Miss Eartha Kitt, about whom no more need be said than that she is Perfection:
Some of the other Grand Old Gals still make occasional appearances - Barbara Cook remains a phenomenon, and Maureen McGovern, Blossom Dearie and Barbara Carroll all come to mind, while Elaine Stritch has only gotten more and more active in recent years. Margaret Whiting is alive, but seems to have retired, and it's been many years since Lena Horne last sang.
So many, though, have gone on that big lounge in the sky; just from my memories of who used to come in for annual seasons or who were local fixtures, I can think of Dorothy Loudon, Peggy Lee, Sylvia Syms, Nancy Lamotte, Hildegarde, Jo Stafford.
Oh, dear. Too much nostalgia. Thankfully, there are some wonderful new voices out there; you likely have your favorites (do tell!), and here are two of mine:
Patricia Barber is as much as jazz star as a cabaret lady, but I'm very fond of her smoky, lazy vocals, which her deft piano playing complements just about ideally.
And then there's rising Canadian thrush Chantal Chamberland, a reflective, moody singer who turns the Eurhythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" into a saga of erotic longing.
And that's not to mention Madeline Peyroux, Jane Monheit, KT Sullivan, Mary Cleere Harran... But are they, any of them, really cabaret? I suppose I'll have to spend some time back in New York some day and find out.