THE BLOG
12/12/2014 01:25 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2015

On the Culture Front: The Happiest Hour, Battle of the Belgians, The Complete Last Waltz and more

It hard to find the silver lining in the cold, blustery weather and increasingly shorter days that mark December in New York, but one thing is the guilt for staying indoors completely evaporates. If you step inside The Happiest Hour, a newly opened cozy and radiantly lit West Village bar, a shrine to whimsical fun emerges -- think tiki bar meets craft cocktails. Fun drink names include "What the Doctor Ordered" and my favorite, "Fall from the Tree." You can choose your liquor, which adds to the fun. Classics like Tom Collins and Manhattan are solid choices when you're craving the familiar. It's not a bad idea to come hungry as their burger is a tasty delight that melds the immediate pleasures of Shake Shack and In & Out with the refinement of a proper restaurant burger. Drop in for New Year's Eve and get the burger with a sparkling cocktail for $20. Grilled Cheese with a tomato soup dip is also a sure bet to melt the frost.

On the theater front, Simon Stephens' The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time taps into the boy-on-a-quest genre with a savvy fast-paced play that's part mystery and part family drama. Marianne Elliott's kinetic staging utilizes a talented cast and groundbreaking lights and sets that challenge notions of time and space.

Down at Classic Stage Company, John Doyle is remaking Rodgers and Hammerstein's little known musical Allegro with Our Townish vibes and an equally Americana-infused band that doubles as the cast or is it the other way around. With paired down arrangements and the distance between the musician and actor eliminated, the songs come alive with a searing urgency that feels both poignant and timely.

Bill Condon's touch on Side Show is equally felt, reviving the mostly forgotten musical by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger. Every element of the show is vividly realized, creating the illusion that the stage is constantly aglow. For a show that traffics in appearances and their deception this feels more than fitting. Songs like the opening number "Come Look at the Freaks" and "I Will Never Leave You" stand out as do Erin Davie and Emily Padgett's performances as the Hilton Sisters, but what really resonates is the way Condon, Russell and Krieger tie their plight to the universal feeling of alienation.

When the sun sets before the afternoon ends, it's easy to feel a bleakness slipping in. In those moments, I'm thankful for Jimmy's no. 43, where an intimate cave-like space provides the perfect winter refuge. This past weekend Jimmy hosted his popular Battle of the Belgians event that pits Belgian beers against American-style Belgians. Notable standouts included Stillwater's Bourbon Barrel Stout and their Black Saison, which melded two seemingly different styles into a smooth coherent taste that went down almost as easily as slices of the tender, whole roasted pig that threatened to steal attention away from the beers as it was carried through the restaurant.

On the music front, a new "literature and rock and roll" San Francisco-based journal Radio Silence celebrated their third issue with a concert at Le Poisson Rouge that was as eclectic as they come. Highlights included journalist Greil Marcus riffing on a Lou Reed anecdote and the novelist Sam Lipsyte fronting a metal band that included James Murphy on drums. A very stoned-looking Stephin Merritt was also on hand with his guitar to sing a few awesomely off-kilter love songs. All in all, a one of a kind evening.

I also felt lucky to be present for the singularly spectacular recreation of The Band's farewell concert known as "The Last Waltz," also the name of Scorsese's vividly captured if biased documentary. With a legendary lineup of guest performers including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and Joni Mitchell, it's a daunting act to follow. The Complete Last Waltz, as it was billed at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, displayed a powerhouse of talent for a whopping four hours. Antibalas played the introductory waltz from a balcony and supplied the rest of the show with irresistible brass. House keyboardist Marco Benevento fused a devil-may-care energy with a virtuosic precision that evoked Garth Hudson's greatest licks. As for the guests, Elvis Perkins put on his best post-Newport Dylan garb and Wilco's Nels Cline blazed through expansive riffs a la Clapton. It's hard to boil such a night down to highlights but personal favorites included "Up on Cripple Creek" full band rendition of "I Shall Be Released" that felt more like a oratorio than a regular song.