At the dawn of the roaring '20s, thrill-seeking locals and tourists would travel up to Harlem hotspots like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom. These adventurers referred to their exploits as "slumming," as they were among the first places where ethnically diverse audiences could gather for dining and dancing. In fact, you could get a filet mignon for $2.25.
Well, you can't travel back in time, but you're no longer required to "Take the 'A' Train" uptown for the big band ballroom feel of yesteryear. Smack dab in the middle of Restaurant Row (46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues) sits Swing 46, a place with thoroughly modern food, moderate prices, and the hits that made dancers Lindy Hop to exhaustion.
The George Gee Swing Orchestra performs every Sunday at Swing 46.
Swing 46 can be as interactive as you'd like, since the club offers dancing lessons before the evening's main attraction. The featured entertainment the night we attended was the George Gee Swing Orchestra, a bouncy and buoyant outfit of a dozen or so members that knock out the hits like Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge smacks out homers.
Beyond that, the club exudes an atmosphere of days gone by with amber light design, tiered seating, and an actual ballroom-sized dance floor. The bands tend to specialize in mid-tempo tunes that are easy on the feet, so there won't be any high heels flying across the room. But if you're looking to see how your grandparents wooed each other in the days before rock 'n' roll, this spot delivers serious bang for the buck.
Add to that that the menu serves up the staples (coconut shrimp? Check. Surf 'n' turf? You bet.) at a level of perfection that suggests they need neither a ballroom nor a live band, because the food here could stand next to any in Gotham. That Swing 46 thrives on a block literally surrounded by competitors on Restaurant Row says something. And they serve a pork chop that will make you want to keep this place in your regular rotation, if you're local.
It's also worth mentioning that the bar has a distinctly retro feel as well, and while the drinks aren't trendy, the mixologists make sure the classics are done right.
And finally, the servers manage to do precisely as you'd hope: they're genuinely friendly without being robotic or phony (which you will encounter at places this close to the bright lights of Broadway), and they are swift and stealthy, too. Drinks and food appear as if by magic, and empty plates scarcely have a moment to get cold before they vanish.
So, whether you want to sample the music of a simpler time, brush up on your steps, or simply enjoy a memorable meal at reasonable prices, Swing 46 should be on your dance card for a great evening on the town.
349 W. 46th St., 212-262-9554, swing46.nyc