London’s Firmdale Opens Whitby Hotel in NYC

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Images by Simon Brown 

We’ve never met a Firmdale hotel we didn’t utterly adore. Their eight London properties are amongst the capital’s buzziest (The Soho Hotel), most fashionable (The Ham Yard), and most dashingly elegant (The Knightsbridge). All of those qualities came magnificently together in their first US property, the Crosby Street Hotel – which opened in Soho, NYC 2009.

Now they’ve taken all that panache uptown…to W. 56th Street specifically. The new Whitby Hotel has just debuted, a few blocks from Central Park – a perfect counter to the area’s concentration of glitzy luxe hotels and old classics. Firstly, the rooms bear the instantly recognizable aesthetic stamp of inimitable designer-partner Kit Kemp – with their brightly mod color patterns and alluringly tactile fabrics. A wall of windows frames awesome views of the area’s towering edifices.

Playtime is also important (imperative?) here. For cocktails and bites there’s the The Whitby Bar, opening to the public March 19, is an exotic mixture of the baroque and contemporary – with walls adorned with striking plate displays. The Whitby Theater should finally take screening events out of those musty old Midtown screening rooms.

And best of all, American address, English heart – don’t forget to book a proper and very stylish Afternoon Tea at the Whitby. Lovely.

LISTEN: Spooky New Tricky Song From ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Soundtrack

Ghost in the Shell
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Any of you waiting around for Scarlett Johansson to make Girl With a Pearl Earring 2: Back to Delft, should just let it go and resign yourselves to her new, unchallenged title of Chief Cinematic Ass-Kickstress. To wit, a live-action Ghost in the Shell is finally hitting the American big screen this month – and guess who’s playing the lead character, The Major?

Such dystopian ass-kicking needs a proper soundtrack, of course. And March 31 (the day the film is in theaters) will see the release of Music Inspired by the Motion Picture Ghost in the Shell. The appropriately provocative list of participants includes DJ Shadow, superstar German DJ Boys Noize, electro pioneer Gary Numan, LA synth poppers IO Echo, and enigmatic trip-hop god Tricky.

We have a first listen to the latter’s appropriately eerie but particularly seductive new track “Escape.”

 

INTERVIEW: Chef Jean-Georges & Creative Director Paulette Cole on the New abcV Restaurant

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Step into abc carpet & home, or one of the three dining options: abc kitchen, abc cocina, and the new abcV, and you haven’t just left the stressful streets of NYC’s busy Flatiron behind – you’ve actually made a choice to commune with a thoughtfully considered, if you will allow, alternate way of life – Mindful Living, as introduced by the famed restaurateur Jean Georges and his partner and Creative Director / Owner of abc Paulette Cole. The third restaurant in their trilogy, abcV has just opened as the newest entry in the 18/19th St. abc empire.

For 32 years, Paulette Cole has cultivated and shaped with a curator’s eye and a youthful, spirited passion veritably every inch of the store’s space, surely hoping to have visitors take home not just two, three, four exquisite purchases (a Danish modern sofa, a Moroccan wool rug, a pink sapphire & diamond necklace from Marseilles), but also a different way of living their lives.

Surely no one has been more transformed by their contact with Cole’s magical thinking than Jean-Georges Vongerichten – celebrity chef and purveyor of multiple glamorous dining hotspots from New York to London to Hong Kong. Jean Georges and Paulette first met in 2009 and, sufficiently inspired, he opened abc kitchen the following year within the store; by 2013 he had taken over abc’s other restaurant space, debuting abc cocina to rapturous acclaim. (The New York Times’ Pete Wells rhapsodized how, “The vegetables were so tender and seasonal” and that the restaurant “puts you in the excellent dilemma of not knowing which you like better, the food or its sauce.”)

 

 

 

Yet it is their third project together, abcV, which is perhaps the culmination and true embodiment of their now shared philosophy. For Jean-Georges, who built such an exalted culinary reputation on elevated versions of charred squab, toasted foie-gras and spicy glazed baby back ribs, a fully committed vegetarian restaurant may seem at first unexpected – but it actually harks back to his upbringing in France.

“When I was growing up,” JG recalls, “meat was expensive. So [we ate] a lot of grains and vegetables. The excess of the 80s and 90s, where people had a big steak with two string beans on the side…I never ate that way. For me, life is a balance.”

And for Cole, it was “an invitation to create at the highest level without compromises, and also to deliver the kind of deliciousness that only Jean-Georges can. That, combined with a mission that is in service to our personal and planetary wellness.”

To be sure, both make reference often to “plant intelligence” (Jean-Georges is not so fond of the word “vegetarian”), with Cole emphasizing that human evolution is leading us not only to care more about what we put in our bodies – but also how it effects the entire ecosystem. The numbers suggest they are on to the next big thing: market researchers Statistic Brain released a 2016 study confirming that 53% of vegetarians are strongly driven by health concerns, 47% by environmental.

“This restaurant is about paying attention to the natural order,” says Cole. “We play a lot with the bio-mimicry, the magic of it. Like how if you cut open a tomato, it looks like a heart – and it has lycopene that feeds the heart. If you cut a carrot, it looks like an eye – and it has vitamin A for the eyes. Cauliflower and walnuts feed the brain, celery feeds the bones. All you have to do is pay attention.”

 

 

As a luxury plant-based eatery, abcV actually plays to the zeitgeist more than one might at first imagine: The Robb Report last year cited vegan cuisine as one of the hottest culinary trends. And a September 2015 New York Times story titled Vegans Go Glam noted how veganism was on its way to replacing its “dowdy, spartan image with a new look: glamorous, prosperous, sexy and epidermally beaming with health.”

Yet important as they are, the heady concepts recede behind the actual experience of abcV, with the typically fantastical décor, inspired, of course, by the store’s inimitable aesthetic tenets: “sacred spaces.” Indeed, with its sharp, uncluttered and very white interiors, punctuated by bold splashes of color and whimsically rustic lighting fixtures, the restaurant feels playful, soothing, zen – almost anti-urban.

The menus attest to their commitment to reinventing vegetarian cuisine for the most sophisticated of palettes – and they’ve enlisted Chef de Cuisine Neal Harden as their culinary accomplice. Breakfast might include dosas with Swiss chard; fresh steamed tofu roasted cauliflower with harissa; or the wild blueberry bowl with jungle peanut butter. Lunch brings beluga lentils with chili oil & black vinegar; shallot & herb labnah; and avocado lettuce cups. Follow it with vegan matcha creme brulee, of course.

Organic cold press juices and restorative tonics (meant to rejuvenate the heart, brain or spirit) are Heaven on Earth; but if you’re feeling a little naughty, opt for a pomegranate martini or blood orange mimosa.

Undoubtedly, abcV is signaling the future. Last year The Guardian reported that Millennials and Instagram are behind a 350% increase in the number of vegetarians over the past decade – and this is a generation that does not hesitate to spend a significant portion of their income on eating good food in great restaurants.

“The world is going this way,” Jean-Georges observes. “People now want to know where ingredients come from. If it’s a carrot salad, where are the carrots from?”

Or as Cole so thoughtfully puts it, “It’s very important to us to represent a more conscious relationship to the planet and to the food we eat.”

 

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Sotheby’s Auction Fetes Swinging 60s London

Lot 158 David Bailey, Box of pin ups (est.£5,000-7,000)
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Box of Pin-ups by David Bailey

You could readily make a case that London in the 60s was the coolest place to be…ever. Mick & Keith, Paul & John, Mary Quant, Twiggy…Blow Up. There is arguably no parallel.

Sotheby’s London will be capturing all that wild spirit as part of a landmark auction, Made in Britain, taking place April 5. All of the decade’s provocative style and outre glamour is captured in classic photographs by the likes of David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Bert Stern – from Julie Christie to Marianne Faithfull to the notorious Kray Twins.

A pre-sale exhibition will take place March 31 – April 4; and on the 2nd, the Sunday at Sotheby’s: Gallery Talks will focus on the show.

Groovy, baby.

  • Marianne Faithfull by Terence Donovan
  • Twiggy by Bert Stern
  • The Kray Brothers by David Bailey
  • Julie Christie by Terence Donovan

FIRST LOOK: Delta and Alessi Team up for Stylish In-Air Dining

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Airport security won’t be getting cheerier anytime soon. But once boarded, things are looking decidedly up for the perpetual traveler.

To wit, the fabulously groovy new Delta partnership with Italian design house Alessi – which we were privileged to have a peek at before its official launch on April 1. The airline, long America’s “cool” carrier, has been ratcheting up the comfort and luxury of late, with plush new seats, wifi access on most flights, bigger overhead bins, notable-chef-created meals and seasonal wine offerings. But this new program brings a welcome dose of style at 30,000 feet.

The Alessi for Delta collection includes signature mod flatware, stylishly patterned trays, stark bone china, curvy crystal glassware…even the tabletop accessories – napkin rings, salt & pepper shakers – get a clever reinvention. It all makes reference to popular items created and inspired by some of Alessi’s most renowned designers; but smartly, feedback was also solicited from both passengers and flight attendants during the design process.

“Alessi was a natural choice for Delta,” says the company’s President Alberto Alessi. “We have worked with some of the most exciting designers in our international network to create the most innovative and advanced in-flight collection in the contemporary design scene.”

Here’s what it looks like.

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Sexy New EP ‘Verses’ From Aussie Duo Lastlings

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It’s true, springtime brings all manner of new urges. Australia has even taken to exporting them.

Indeed, the sensual, dreamlike EP Verses, from cool Aussie duo Lastlings, flaunts just the sort of alluring grooves and slinky sounds to likely cause the flora to begin blooming all around us – especially the libidinous lead single “Urges.” The brother / sister pair of Josh and Amy Dowdle have a particular talent for marrying ethereal sonics (“Stranger” and “I’m Here” have some very Cocteau Twins moments) and slithery, elegant R&B (steamy tracks like “You” and “Time”).

Amy D’s earthy, breathy vocal delivery makes it all so terribly irresistible.

BlackBook premiere’s the EP here. But you’ll surely hear more from them in this space, as we expect ours to be an ongoing love-affair.

 

LA Sushi Hotspot KazuNori opens in New York’s NoMad

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When Sugarfish opened its first outpost in New York’s Flatiron this past November, the celeb-beloved Cali sushi hotspot became the city’s toughest reservation. Now its sister restaurant, Downtown LA’s “Original Hand Roll Bar” KazuNori (named for Sugarfish founding chef Kazunori Nozawa) has debuted just a shade north in NoMad. The intimate spot serves rapturous 3- 4- 5- and 6-roll set menus, including crab, toro, snapper and yellowtail…pretty much to die for. Book ahead, obviously.

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Extravagant New Blood and Glass Album ‘Punk Shadows’

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We hit the Montreal music scene whenever possible – as it’s never afraid to flaunt its more outré, sometimes seditionary inclinations.

One of our new faves is the flamboyant foursome Blood and Glass. Despite their rather dangerous sounding moniker, they’re actually more like some sort of subversive post-punk-pop circus, with outlandish frontwoman Lisa Moore coming on like an uninhibited cross between Nena Hagen and A Clockwork Orange.

Their new album, the intriguingly titled Punk Shadows (which BlackBook premiere’s here), is a fearless, madcap run through their utterly extravagant collective musical psyche. To wit, the oddball synth-pop of”Block of Ice” builds into a dissonant explosion of operatic metal; “Nowheresville” comes off like Cyndi Lauper genuinely losing her sanity; the glorious “Hop the Fence” is impossibly infectious new-wave calypso; and the title track layers an exuberant vocal over an alluring sonic intercontinentalism, that readily recalls Peter Gabriel.

Our favorite, “Chlorine Dreams,” is a spooky, evocative spoken word piece (“In came a hurricane of tears / Out came the vultures.”), which is best approached in an extremely calm state of mind.

Their live shows are beyond imagination and description – so it may be worth hopping a plane to Montreal to catch their record release gig at Cafe Cleopatra on the 21st. Look for us there.

 

A (Very) Insider Guide to London Eating and Drinking

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Above image: Oldroyd

There was a time not all too long ago, when eating well in London meant hitting up some unassuming corner dive where they just happened to make a great curry. But the city’s post-Millennial food revolution has gone so far as to cause French culinary god Alain Ducasse to actually call it the best dining city in the world now.

Super trendy hotspots abound: celeb-bedecked Chiltern Firehouse; Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House; The Clove Club in hipsterwhelmed Shoreditch. But what if you just wanted to hit the capital for a few genuinely great meals (or a good pint), with lots of local charm, and without all the glam trimmings (and puffed up prices)?

To that end, we asked New York girl-about-town Rachel Felder, who would admit to London being a sort of spiritual home, for her best under-the-radar picks (from hip Islington to pretty Primrose Hill), which she elaborates on below.All appear in her fabulous new book Insider London (Harper Collins), in which she takes the reader on a whirl through what can be a rather apoplexy-inducing city, whittling it down to the absolute gems of dining, drinking, shopping, hotels and culture. With its striking photography, it is a masterstroke of Englishness: stylish, eccentric and utterly brilliant.

 

Oldroyd

This tiny duplex restaurant, tucked quietly down one of the main thoroughfares in Islington, serves truly wonderful Italian food in a setting that’s relaxed and mellow. It’s an ideal spot for a date, or just a leisurely lunch with friends on a weekend.

Rochelle Canteen

Shoreditch has become intensely hipster-ified over the last several years, but this hidden little spot is marvelously low key, although it’s just a few blocks from the area’s trendy bustle nearby. It’s essentially the extension of a catering business; open just during the day, breakfast is particularly good here, especially the granola, which is made on the premises.

Lemonia

This is a truly neighborhoody restaurant in one of London’s most charming areas, Primrose Hill, a genteel little nook that’s an easy stroll from Camden. The Greek food is authentic and delicious – especially the spanakopita, or flaky spinach pie – and it’s also a great spot for people watching, including, occasionally, a sighting of one of celebs that lives nearby.

 

  • Rochelle Canteen
  • The Duck & Rice
  • Tayyabs
  • 69 Colebrooke Row

 

Tayyabs

It’s not hard to find a good Indian restaurant in London, but this one might well be one of the best. It’s unpretentious and friendly, with truly wonderful (and filling and not overly expensive) food; you’ll rarely see a tourist at this East End spot, but it’s pretty much always crowded with people from the neighborhood and beyond.

Beigel Bake

For decades, this fabulous (and fabulously cheap) bakery has been beloved for its doughy bagels (aka beigels). Unlike almost everything in London, it’s open 24 hours, and pretty much always busy – so the bagels are always fresh (and, frequently, warm too.) There are plenty of fillings offered, but, personally, I love the bagels here just plain, eaten while walking down Brick Lane.

Marksman

There’s something undeniably inviting about a classic pub; this one, quite near the Columbia Road market in East London, makes you feel like a regular even on the first visit. But it has something extra: a seriously excellent restaurant upstairs, especially for traditional British Sunday roast lunch.

69 Colebrooke Row

Although it’s in the heart of Islington, this elegant cocktail bar has a truly insidery feel: it’s in a residential nook, on an unglitzy corner, without big signage or any fanfare. It’s got a real feeling of glamour – more that of an Italian champagne bar circa 1958 than a North London bar today – without being overly fancy or stuffy.

The Duck and Rice

A pub atmosphere and inventive Chinese food might seem like an odd combination, but at The Duck and Rice it somehow works. Downstairs, the focus is on beer and light bites; upstairs, the food is more of a priority. (The specialty is, appropriately enough, Cantonese style roast duck; but the Singapore fried noodles are also fabulous.) It’s in the heart of Soho and lively, even on a weeknight evening, although it’s understandably packed on weekends.

 

  • Marksman
  • Lemonia
  • Tayyabs
  • Beigel Bake