Colony Hotel Palm Beach Cabaret Casts a Timeless Spell
By Carlos Harrison
The lights are low and the room is draped in a soft glow. The soothing sounds of singer Steve Tyrell’s voice ride the melodies of a Johnny Mercer tune, winding through the audience, wrapping them in a warm embrace.
The listeners bask in the glow of a timeless place, something from a bygone era that is oh-so-now. The songs are from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s; the menu pages are lit from within by LEDs.
This is the Royal Room Cabaret at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach – a rarity, a Goldilocks space: not too big and not too small; roomy, yet intimate.
“You feel like you’re in his living room,” says Patty Lampeter, who’s visiting from Pennsylvania, and has been transfixed through song after song.
I’m there on a Tuesday night. The room is packed. Officially, it seats 90. The people are close, but not crowded. They are rapt. Eyes fixed. Heads bobbing in rhythm. Lips moving, silently mouthing the lyrics.
This is, in Lynda Case’s view, worth the drive from Fort Myers. She’s been here before, with her husband. On this night, they’ve brought another couple. But it’s clear they’re in a space all their own, captivated as Steve sings, “I’m gonna love you … Like nobody’s loved you …”
Lynda leans against her husband. Their fingers interlace. As “Come Rain or Come Shine” comes to a close, they smile. They kiss.
“We love him,” Lynda says. “We’ve been coming to see him for years.”
Credit for the cozy cabaret on the ground floor of the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach goes to the Colony’s vice president and general manager, Roger Everingham, who was inspired by the great show rooms of New York, like The Waldorf and the Carlyle, and by the architectural detail – the recessed ceiling and curved stage wall.
It opened in 2001, and quickly found a following.
“I’ve come here for years,” says Gordon Moses, whose eyes never leave the stage. “It’s a great bistro. It’s small. I like it better than the Carlyle.”
People like Moses come back again and again. So do several of the headliners. The Royal Room has hosted the likes of Ben Vereen, Diahann Carroll and former 5th Dimension duo Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.
Steve played the bandleader in “Father of the Bride.” You may have heard him singing on the radio. But the Royal Room is obviously his kind of place. He’s close enough to the people that he can see their faces and they can see his. He can let his voice fill the room when he sings. When he talks, it’s like he’s pulled up a chair at the table. And they are one.
“There’s only a couple of these places left in the world,” he says, after his show. “The cabaret is in the tradition of the great American nightclub.”
A night at the Royal Room is a carefully coordinated experience. It begins with a dinner every bit as special as the show to come. I have a macadamia goat cheese salad with sliced strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, and a filet mignon with asparagus and mashed potatoes that looks almost too good to eat – and then turns out to be even better. It’s delicate and savory at the same time, perfectly spiced to tickle the taste, but not to overwhelm.
And it’s gone by the time Steve takes the stage. Plates are whisked away and coffee cups cleared by the time he enters, gliding between the tables, touching an outstretched hand.
There’s no clinking of silverware or clanking of plates once the show begins. It’s dinner and a show, not with. Neither interferes with the enjoyment of the other.
Yet they seem to belong together. During a break between songs, Steve tells the audience that his pre-show pleasure is to watch the chef at work. “I kind of come down every night and hang out in the kitchen and watch him,” he says. “I never want to eat anyplace else and I’m not just saying that because someone asked me to.”
The intimacy is immediate. Steve steps to the stage and quickly dedicates a song to a friend’s mom in the audience, and croons, “Just the way you look to-night …”
The ambiance is deliberate, says Royal Room Entertainment Director Rob Russell. “If it was any bigger it wouldn’t be right.”
The venue matches the hotel. The Colony has been a Palm Beach icon since 1947, a place for presidents, royalty and guests from around the world. It’s a boutique hotel, in British Colonial style. There are only 90 guest rooms, including seven villas and three penthouses with Egyptian cotton sheets, granite kitchen counters and a baby grand piano. It stands just steps from Worth Avenue and mere yards from the soft sand of the beach.
The Royal Room is equally well appointed. It has butter-colored embossed walls and brass chandeliers that cast a delicate radiance. It’s quiet enough that you can hear people snapping their fingers to the music, along with the whisper of the drummer’s hi-hat cymbals.
As perfect as it may seem, Russell says it’s a work in progress, with the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach constantly pursuing ways to improve. “We’ve worked really hard to really tweak it.”
It shows. As guest David Bohrer puts it: “Every seat is a good seat.”
As he watches, Steve holds a note for an eternity … and is rewarded with heartfelt shouts and applause. He has the audience in the palm of his hand.
That, says Russell, is what it’s all about.
“My job is great because everybody leaves smiling.”