An evening with Woody

Nathan Kelly pulls up a stool at the cafe where the quirky director plays jazz.

It is the most surreal of New York City experiences, sitting at a bar when Woody Allen appears suddenly alongside you carrying a little leather briefcase. He sits down at a table less than a metre away and starts to assemble a clarinet.

As if in a scene from one of his movies, he looks but does not speak and heads to the small stage. This is not a dream. On Monday nights in New York, Woody Allen plays clarinet with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band.

On the ground floor of the legendary Carlyle Hotel is the small and classy Cafe Carlyle. Its general manager, Tony Skrelja, greets you on arrival like a long-lost friend and takes you to your seats: dining seats are $US100 ($123) a person, VIPs are $US150 a person and a seat at the bar is $US70.

The walls are covered with painted murals that borrow heavily from the works of Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, providing beautiful surroundings for fewer than 30 tables occupying the space, with diners sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to make it a truly intimate venue.

The menu is varied and eccentric (a little like Allen): roasted Amish chicken ($US38), Rocky Mountain rack of lamb ($US42), wild king salmon ($US38) and the Carlyle classic fillet mignon ($US45), which is served large, succulent and rare.

Allen has been playing at the Cafe Carlyle on Monday nights for the past 10 years. Michael's Pub, the venue at which he played for more than 25 years, closed in the late 1990s.

These Monday-night gigs have been famously cited by Allen as his reason for being unable to attend the Oscars.

Allen and the band take to the stage at 9.30pm. There is no set list; it is more like an informal jam session with all the band members joining in on the singing. After an hour, most of the band members depart, leaving just Davis on banjo and Allen on clarinet to play out the last 25 minutes.

Allen sings only the last song and is barely audible. As Davis plays the banjo, Allen cleans and packs away his clarinet and to the cheers and clapping of a small crowd makes his way out the same side door from which he so unpretentiously entered. In the lobby, Allen poses for photographs with fans and obligingly signs autographs.

To see Allen, book in advance; the venue holds only 90 and is sold out weeks in advance. See

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