Women want to take their clothes off for you… if you’re a diner at Duane Park, the scintillating burlesque dining experience in New York’s NoHo neighborhood (there’s scantily clad men too). There may be no cure for Covid-19, but there is a cure for the accompanying 2020-into-2021 blues: FIRE and FLESH! New York is back, baby!

Duane Park is now located on Bowery and Bleecker Streets (moved from their original location on Duane and Park). Honeysuckle joined them for one of their first in-person, inside, performances.

And the city’s recovery couldn’t come soon enough for the talented and economically specialist burlesque dancers. “The pandemic really shut us down,” says cabaret artist Amber Ray. “A lot of us were either on unemployment or had to find new jobs. And I’m at an age where it’s like, should I even be doing this anymore? Because it’s such a struggle and here I am trying to do this art and I’ve accomplished pretty much what I wanted to… but then after tonight, I got a couple of standing O’s and I’m like, ‘Yes, I’ve still got it motherfucker!’”

The reason everyone's smiling Amber Ray @amberraycabaret

“These women are artists,” says producer/manager and actor Jonathan Burwell, also known for his 14+ seasons with the Metropolitan Opera. The acts range from the unbelievable, such as Pearls Daily’s electric onstage presence (fans of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel may recognize her Old Hollywood aesthetic), to the unimaginable, like Hungarian dancer Laszlo Major’s aerial routine. And if that’s not hot enough for you, internationally-renowned artist Syrena Nikole dazzles with real fire-eating.

While the fire is eaten onstage, the audience gets treated to a pre-fixe menu as classy and tasteful as the décor. The desserts were a real treat, petit fours brought out on a tiered platter served by amazing wait staff dressed in white guayaberas. (We highly recommend the excellent key lime!)

The crowd is an essential element in these rousing performances. Global recording artist Melike Konur, who emcees at Duane Park, commands the assembly before each performance. The rules seem pretty simple. No flash photography and the more noise you make, the more clothes come off. Attendees at the show we saw seemed to be of two types: groups of women celebrating a girls’ night out - ages ranging from young Pride-goers to lusty matures 50+ - and couples on a bomb-ass date (the ladies by far made the most noise.)

Bringing down the house Melike Konur @melikeonearth_

Entering Duane Park, you get the sense of a world without Covid. Tables are spaced a normal distance apart, no plexiglass or other accommodations. The audience’s behavior doesn’t hint at any trouble brewing outside the doors or show any particular caution or anxiety inside. Though management makes every effort to comply with the necessary safety regulations, including required masks for staff and performers, it feels almost as if you’ve been transported to a place where Covid never happened. All the performers and staff are grateful for the return to their lives as usual, and so are the people in the crowd.

Duane Park’s brilliant live jazz band provides the backbone to the sinfully good visuals. Here we are just coming out of our pandemic shells to be met by bombastic trumpet, thunderous drums, sonorous bass and that piano. For Laszlo’s high-wire act, in which he spins and twirls intensely fast around a suspended hula-hoop-sized ring while wearing point shoes, Melike sings (a personal fave) Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited,” and David Fauntleroy plays the piano so hard, you’d swear the keys were going to fly off.

Last but not least are the hard-working women who, dancers in their own right, support the women onstage by catching the flying clothes. The industry term for them is “kittens,” and the kitten role provides a place for up and comers to learn the ropes and also dazzle the eyes. Meeeow.

“I draw inspiration from everyone I watch,” says kitten Samantha Ortt. “I see the best of the best on a regular basis working here. I get to learn from the best of professional burlesque performers in the city… and the world arguably.”

Samantha Ortt @theblueeyedbombshell

So grab a date, or a group of rowdy friends, head on down to Duane Park and escape the boiling temperatures of the city in a room that’s arguably hotter than our current heat wave.

Words & Photos Sam C Long @samuelclemenslong