Duane Park looks like subdued rococo and sounds like robust, funky jazz. The dining room is skillfully run, cuisine imaginative. (A three course meal is included with admission.) Burlesque tonight (I saw Soulesque) is flat out terrific. Rarely have I watched an entire program of attractive women who revel in sexuality with sass, taste, and grace. (Too many merely simply strip to pasties and thongs arrogantly promenading.)
The cocktail menu is inventive. We sampled a concoction called pompom: champagne, pomegranate juice, lemon twist; a subtle digestif and mood enhancer. My companion moved on to Chardonnay, I to Montepulciano, both well selected. Dessert was paired with a flavorful Moscato and very good coffee. (As I drink decaf, this is often less a given than it might seem.) At our request, attentive service was timed to allow for leisurely conversation.
Intriguing appetizers include in part: sugar snap peas + strawberries, calabrian chile-cured black olive salsa; cucumber, pine nuts, chèvre, mint and crispy semolina octopus or beer-braised pork belly with chimichurri aioli. We opted for jumbo lump crab, fava bean skordalia, smoked espelette pepper ‘deviled egg,’ and open ravioli artichoke barigoule with toasted almond-mushroom stroganoff. The first was fresh but without much character, the second, an inspired combination of savory ingredients and nuanced seasoning waiting in its own juices inside a large, thin ravioli.
Main dish selections in part: seared black sea bass, quinoa, lentil, beet salad, crispy beets with balsamic glaze and red wine-braised beef short rib, buttermilk mashed potatoes, haricots verts. There’s also a vegan/gluten free entrée. We opted for grilled beef tenderloin, herbed potato latke, watercress, avocado caesar, verjus reduction and forbidden rice-crusted Nova Scotia salmon, asparagus, green garlic soubise; smoked salmon roe.
Both dishes were excellent. The latka was fat and moist with outer crunch; tenderloin cooked to perfection and so tasty I need neither salt nor pepper. My companion’s salmon was succulent. A layer of new-to-me, crisp black rice and soft (not mushy) salmon roe created appealing contrast. A side of asparagus arrived ideally al dente.
Among desserts: Coconut creme brûlée, caramelized banana, toasted coconut shortbread and strawberry trifle, strawberries, meringue, whipped cream. We shared Duane Park’s decadent chocolate cake- chocolate ganache, chocolate crumb, chocolate malt ice cream and pistachio cake, cherry sorbet, candied pistachio. The chocolate dessert is superb, much lighter than one might expect and scrumptious with the malt ice cream. The pistachio dish barely tasted like the namesake.
A four piece band assembles under stairs to the balcony from which the ladies enter. Aaron Marcellus makes his way down and among tables soulfully singing Adele’s “Rolling in The Deep.” Our host rouses the house encouraging us to make enthusiastic noise, discerns where birthdays are, and welcomes us to a high class “tits and ass” show. He’s stylish and can clearly sing, but alas, other lyrics are buried by the volume of the band.
Each performer is introduced. Tonight’s “kitten,” the fresh-faced Anadelia, tells us she’s paying her on- stage dues at less notable venues. Here, she prettily catches and carries costume parts – for the time being.
The first entertainer, Bang Bang Luna, oozes and oomphs her way down the stairs in long, translucent pink chiffon edged in marabou. Opening a front clasp, she waves the wrap like butterfly wings, twirls, flirts and disposes of it. Beneath is a bra, then heart pasties; a bikini bottom with side pompoms ceremonially untied to reveal the matching thong. Shimmering thigh-highs catch the light. The lady poses, but is never static. Fluid movement is graceful and proud. Bang Bang has a way with arms. Walking the room, she bends over, wiggles, caresses…
When later, the artist returns, it’s all in white and silver, tulle skirt tied with a bow in front. An exposed bustier stops under her pasty-covered breasts. Removing this means unlacing the ribbon back as well as unhooking a fitted front. She milks anticipation. Two large feather fans arrive to sweep, cover, and reveal.
Gigi Bonbon has a head of startling red curls spot-lit by a green rhinestone mask and fringed costume. Panels cascade down the front and back. Bon Bon’s remarkable (leg) extension issues a choreographed split. She whirls around and, on her knees, provokes. Shimmy is an art. Knees bend to punctuate. Shoulders rotate; glances sizzle. Upper body on the floor, her white rear ascends. She rises, turning to tease…running hands along appreciated limbs.
The artist’s second round finds her wrapped head to toe in a white feather coat. She might be a character from Gatsby…or Gypsy Rose Lee. Parading is elegant. The coat opens and falls. Bonbon toys with spaghetti straps. She unbinds her hair whooshing it around as if reckless; pushes against and rides down the wall.
Allison is an acrobat, a contortionist, a dancer. When she reaches the small stage, a platform rises to show off configurations often based on the floor. The performer may be double jointed so easily does she curve backwards snake-like, pulling her head through supporting legs. Strength is a marvel.
Black sequins and paillettes cover and restrain. One leg shoots up parallel to her standing figure. Bending in reverse the performer makes a vertical circle. A handstand is fluid. Weight on her prone chest, legs wave and cross. Music and moves rhyme. Allison undulates, curls…in full control. A woman of power.
Soulesque closes with Marcellus’ rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
The show is polished, its burlesque artists accomplished. Different hosts and performers fill the bill. Do a little research when choosing your evening.
Duane Park 308 Bowery (Closed Sunday & Monday)