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

Celeb Fave Sugar Factory Opens Extravagant Flagship in Vegas

Sugar Factory Vegas interior
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From Chicago to Dubai, Miami to NYC’s MePa, Sugar Factory has built a mini-empire on a blunt yet grandiose philosophy: complete and total over-the-top decadence. So it only makes sense that they should build their most extravagant temple of decadence in the city of sin, Las Vegas.

And so it is that a new SF flagship has just opened on The Strip (in the super-fab Fashion Show Mall), with two stories and 22,000 square feet of pure indulgence. What high-octane wonders can you expect to encounter? A floor-to-ceiling candy dot wall; the Sugar Factory Attraction, complete with 14-seat carousel; a signature Brasserie and daiquiri bar for more grown-up treats; and (would we kid you?) the Sugar Factory Chocolate Lounge – which gives a whole new plateau to the phrase “died and went to Heaven.”

 

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On the menu(s)? Chocolate Gold fondue, the Blue Cheese Bacon Burger, BLT crepes, the King Kong Sundae, Tie Dye Milkshakes and cheeky-fun adult bevvies like the Blueberry Bikini Martini and Raspberry Watermelon Mojito (served in a goblet!).

There’s plenty of eye-candy, as well: opulent chandeliers, fiery-red booths, baroque-kitsch detailing. And, of, course, the “other” kind of eye-candy…as Sugar Factory boasts a rather incomparable (and very vocal) following of celebrity devotees, including Katy Perry, Drake, Salma Hayek, Vanessa Hudgens, Rihanna, and assorted Real Housewives. Most of whom can be heard rhapsodizing over SF’s signature, fashion-forward Couture Pops.

In a word? Bonkers.

 

Next Hip City: Düsseldorf

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Berlin is still considered the Euro capital of bleeding edge; but it’s not the only German city with genuine hipster cred. Düsseldorf, set along the Rhine River in the Ruhr region of western Germany, has a storied artistic history. Director Wim Wenders hails from here; Electro gods Kraftwerk formed here; and Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Thomas Struth attended its renowned art school, Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where photographer Andreas Gursky now teaches.

Though the population is relatively small, hovering at around 600,000, Düsseldorf has culture to spare: 26 museums, 100-plus galleries, and a large number of artists’ studios. Its pulsing creative heart is Flingern, a district to the east of the city center. Split into two, Flingern-Nord (North) and Flingern-Süd (South), the area, once home to working-class Germans, is today cool kid central. Its streets are lined with buzzy coffee shops, trendy bars, indie boutiques and the ubiquitous stamp of coolness — a taco stand.

Where Anarchy and Instagram Come Together

The best place to begin your exploration of the neighborhood is on its rough edges, along Kiefernstrasse, in Flingern-Süd. In the 1980s, this street was a haven for squatters; it’s rumored that members of the notorious Baader–Meinhof gang (aka Red Army Faction), an underground German militant group, were arrested here. Those turbulent times have passed, but the subversive streak is alive in the local art. The facades of multi-story buildings (where those former squatters now have leases) are covered with wildly colorful artwork; a long stretch of wall nearby serves as a forum for topical, generally anti-consumerist graffiti (recently spotted: “Look at your Rolex, it’s time for revolt!”).

Flingern

Kunst

The most impressive new addition to the neighborhood is Philara, a contemporary art gallery housed in a stylishly converted former glass factory. The cavernous, 20,000-square-foot space, which opened last June, features pieces from the private collection of businessman Gil Bronner; it includes notable Dusseldorf artists like Thomas Struth and Hans-Peter Feldman, top international works – including a mind-bending immersive environmental installation from Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, “Artichoke Underground” – as well as up-and-coming local talent. A rooftop sculpture garden recently opened; the ground-floor bar is set to open late spring or early summer. On view through March 28 is special exhibition of photographs from Sabine Dusend and Alex Grein, two graduates of the Dusseldorf Art Academy. You can visit with a guided tour (Fridays in English) or individually on Tuesdays.

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 An Antidote to Brats and Beer

While most of Düsseldorf’s historic Altstadt (old town) caters to beer-slugging, sausage-eating tourists, North Flingern offers plenty of trendy eateries, most on or around the district’s main thoroughfare, Ackerstrasse. Noha offers a casual, super-fresh Italian menu – but many come for the cocktails, especially the excellent Moscow Mules and well-crafted gin and tonics. Around the corner at Boeser Chinese the hand-pulled noodles are the stars of the show; be prepared to queue, there are no reservations. For street food, there’s An Banh Mi, which serves up quite good (and super-affordable) banh mi sandwiches in a California-cool environment; while tiny Pablo’s does made-to-order tacos, burritos, quesadillas and even burrito bowls. Café Lotte isn’t a café but rather a cozy little corner pub, complete with comfy sofas that make you feel like you’re drinking in someone’s living room. Café Hüftgold is a sleek spot for coffee and cake (a big thing for locals to do at around 5 pm) that is kind to the gluten-free / vegan set.

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Stay

There are no hotels in Flingern, but you can easily get there in 15 minutes by hopping a tram from The Fritz Hotel in central Karlstadt. The three-star design property has chic, serviceable rooms, but the standout is the restaurant, Frau Franzi, with a selection of lovely, innovative small plates (try the fried artichoke with mashed eggplant and the perfectly grilled roast beef). Don’t skip dessert: the chocolate confection is a clever combination of ice cream and hazelnut parfait crafted to look like miniature mushrooms.

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GOODNIGHT MR. LEWIS: Actor – NYC Nightlife Legend Wass Stevens on Transplanting to LA

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Images by Travis Emery 

The departure of actor and legendary club doorman Wass Stevens may indeed be a eureka moment. He was most recently seen manning the ropes at Avenue, and has been the main man at virtually every posh nightspot over the last few decades. But New York is no longer the only town with nightlife game. So he’s moving to Los Angeles to help launch the massive Tao Group openings there; Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Tao are among the brands the group believes will dominate the left coast…and Wass is a partner in the group.

A recent article in Time Out citing the 15 Best Dance Clubs in America included only two in  NYC, Output and Good Room (which I designed). Both are ironically in Brooklyn. Tons of operators are looking for places to make wonderful, but hefty NYC regulations and high rents prevent success. Smaller spots thrive, but the Big Apple mega-club experience is going the way of the subway token.

Wass is a throwback to an era when doorpersons were the Tim Gunns of nightlife. Style got you in, not a Black Card and a wiliness to buy bottles. Today they are required to sell those bottles as well as recognize the in-crowd. But Wass will bring his personal celebrity to LA, leaving one to wonder if there is anyone in the game here who can fill his shoes in NYC.  I caught up with him as he scurried to beat the snowstorm. His going away party has been postponed to another night.

 

Tell me about the move to LA.

My acting career is now at a place where, coming off of Sundance, the premiere of “John Wick 2,” my series “Public Morals,” “House of Cards,” and many of my other more recent projects, my gut told me it was time to take the leap. I’m incredibly excited about my amazing LA team, my agents at Abrams Artists who I absolutely love, my lawyer Ryan Levine, my manager Andrew Tetenbaum who is NY based but is essentially bi-coastal…and I need to be in the Mecca of the film and television industry. For the first few times I was in LA, I didn’t have the credits or experience necessary to really stake my claim. Now I do. When added to the opening of the LA opening of my second home in NYC, Avenue, everything was pointing me westward. Sometimes, especially with those kind of hints, you just have to take your shot…

As your acting career takes off do you see a time when you won’t be doing a door?

With the opening of entire Hollywood block of Tao Group venues, I’ll have a West Coast home base, and a group of friends and colleagues I’ve worked with for years. I’ll be running the door at Avenue LA, so let’s squash the erroneous rumors of my “retirement” here and now; but I’m cutting back to three nights from the six, so that I can truly focus on my acting career; and in the coming year I plan to start producing and directing my own projects. First up is the music video for my band DOG, which will be released in conjunction with our first EP of all original music entitled, “New York City Hustle” – written by me and my bass player and “brother” Alex Valenti. Of course, all the band members had input in the creative process. Its old school, badass rock & roll, with a glam flavor.

What will you miss most about New York?

I’ll miss the pace, its “in your face” quality. When I was last in LA setting myself up for the move, it took 15 minutes to get a coffee – I was losing it! That will take some getting used to. But I’ll be coming back on a regular basis for my tattoo shop Rivington Tattoo NYC, and for acting and band gig. So when I need a shot in the ass, New York will always be here.

It will, yes.

As a born and raised New Yorker, I’ve also felt living anywhere else would be like getting dropped to the minor leagues after playing pro my entire life. I’ve dabbled in other cities, Miami back its heyday when I opened Sinatra Bar, and a few pilot seasons in LA years ago; but I always knew it was temporary. I’ve completely changed my life course several times, law, clubs, acting, and have been thinking, longing to dive into the creative fields that keep me alive and sane: acting, writing and music.

You always look fantastic. Do clothes make the man?

Clothing, more specifically style, is a crucial element to creating your personal “brand.” Not enough people pay attention to details and appearance. Let me be clear, I don’t think that these things “make the man” as you asked; heart, soul, integrity, talent, courage are a few of the qualities that do. But first impressions do count, and that includes how a person presents themselves. As an aside, I’m taking about 5000 pounds of clothes and shoes to LA; so yes, I still think clothes are important.

 

Wass Stevens image 2

 

 

 

 

GOODNIGHT MR. LEWIS: Panel Celebrates ‘No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988-1999’ Book

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No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988-1999 (powerHouse Books) has surprised a lot of people. At the Samsung 837 space panel discussion on the book and the marvelous era it remembers the author, DJ Stretch Armstrong, told me that he was pleasantly surprised it was going into its second printing. He was also surprised that it was now being sold in museum shops – a recognition of the efforts to impress from untold numbers of graphic designers and club folks back in the day. In an age before the internet a physical notice of an upcoming event was, of course, the best way to promote.

Flyers were mailed, handed out on street corners and at club and event exit doors. Like mailmen, flyer distributors braved all weathers and the wraths of the streets to deliver party promos. A cottage industry employing thousands of people then disappeared with a technological leap…and the art of the flyer was relegated to club openings and very special events.

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The 837 panel was moderated by Armstrong, along with co-author and Hip-Hop chronicler Evan Auerbach. Several hundred people came to support (and also enjoy all the virtual reality and gizmos offered at 837); Giant Step’s Maurice Bernstein actually put the event together in celebration of this unique space’s one-year anniversary. (He had helped curate the programming at 837 for the first six months.)

The panel also included nightlife legends DJ Db Burkeman, Jessica Rosenblum, Bill Spector, DJ Clark Kent and myself. It was a lively discussion about the way things were back when and what is missing today. I offered my plan to make nightlife great again: build a great wall between Bushwick and Williamsburg and make the Williamsburgers pay for it.

After the panel the crowd got their groove on to DJ sets by Clark Kent, Hex Hector and Jazzy Nice.

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Paris’ Sur Mesure is Doing a Month of Astronaut Food Dinners

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Last year President Obama, much to the chagrin of so many American dreamers, slashed NASA’s fiscal year 2017 budget to $19 billion. It flew in the face of a pop culture moment which had brought space back into the general consciousness: Astronaut Wives Club was a hit television show for ABC…and Matt Damon was wracking up impressive box office numbers in The Martian.

Even still, our fascination with space travel and our exaltation of the brave men and women who call it a vocation will always be there. And the fashionable gastronomic temple Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx at Paris’ plush Mandarin Oriental hotel has come up with a brilliant way of sharing a bit of their experience.

Every Tuesday this March, the restaurant is hosting a different but out-of-this-world dinner, with a menu based on chef Marx’s culinary creations for French Astronaut Thomas Pesquet – which were designed as “special occasion” meals during his six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.

“The food produced for space does not have the same taste on Earth as it does in orbit, Marx explains. “Weightlessness redirects blood and other fluids to the top of the body obstructing astronauts’ sinuses. Olfactory capacities in particular, and with them the perception of flavors, are altered. To enhance the dishes, space food often has more salt than average. Thomas Pesquet shared my menu the first time with his colleagues for Christmas. And from what I know, they were not disappointed!”

The dishes don’t really sound far out: Lucullus ox tongue, chicken supreme with morel mushrooms, apple gingerbread, and the like. Joining in the intergalactic experience is the hotel’s Bar 8, which will offer exclusive Stardust and Starman cocktails.

Bonus feature? Sur Mesure’s already futurist-minimalist interior will be further done up in spaceship-chic detailing.

At last, Michelin stars get to meet the real thing.

Your New Favorite Chicago Hotel: The Robey

Robey @AdrianGaut courtesy of GRUPO HABITA (37)
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Images by Adrian Gaut

Though Mexico’s Grupo Habita lord over a mini-empire of boutique hotels in their home country, their expansion into the US has been somewhat careful and methodical. Indeed, after opening the art-and-fashion-fave Americano in New York’s Chelsea in 2011, they waited more than five years before debuting in another American city.

And so it is that Chicago’s hip Wicker Park neighborhood is now home to The Robey – recently unveiled in the renowned Northwest Tower building, dating to 1929. The striking Art Deco edifice remains stunningly intact – but inside, the brand’s inimitable sense of style is everywhere you look. The structure’s unique triangular design means the sleek, black-white-and-glass rooms are flooded with light; while the gorgeous public spaces are a combination of Corbusian modernism and warm urban-rustic.

Interestingly, there’s a sister building next door, The Hollander, with long-term-stay spaces.

But what we love most about Habita hotels, of course, is that they are galvanizing forces for the local creative classes. So, expect a particularly artistic scene to coalesce around its ground floor Cafe Robey (great for a lunchtime kale caesar salad or pork belly cassoulet), its 13th floor Up & Up lounge (with impressive terrace), and, coming in spring…a rooftop pool and its attendant Cabana Club party spot, serving Greek specialties and cocktails along with spectacular views.

Best of all, the Robey’s location means you’re near all the cool kid action – especially city’s notably iconoclastic music scene.

 

GOODNIGHT MR LEWIS: NYC’s Goldbar Celebrates its 10th

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Goldbar, the brilliant lounge/club on Broome Street, just celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary. It was a black tie, champagne fest, with all the beautiful people in attendance…and me.
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It was just days before The Box celebrated its decade of fabulousness. In human years, that means these nightspots are basically 100 years old. Add to that 1OAK just celebrating its 10th, and it begs the question of what allows them to not only survive but to thrive, while so many others wilt under the pressures of an ever changing nightlife landscape.
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 GoldBar started as a club-too-far on the edge of Little Italy and Soho. Being away from the maddening crowds proved to be a winning idea.
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It always catered to a well-healed crowd, original owners Jayma Cardoso, “Gentleman” Jamie Mulholland and Robert McKinley created a celebrity studded spot that was always a stop for those in the know. They were also into a more progressive style of music than that featured in most bottle boites; and Robert McKinley had designed what, in my opinion, remains one of the best rooms in town. Most importantly, its reasonably small size meant that it rarely compromised its door.
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Over time, as the scene evolved, so did Goldbar. Led by new owner Shaun Rose and his partners Jonny “The Lover” Lennon and Luke Sosnowski, it’s now possibly better than ever, and inside word has it that it will be expanding to other spaces in its second decade.
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The club world, of course, has now been divided into Manhattan and Brooklyn. Still, it says something that three of the remaining top spots have been around for a decade; in Madmen, remember, it was explained that “New” is the best word in marketing…but “Nostalgia” is a potent second. Many regulars now consider them homes away from home – even if the players pulling the strings understand the necessity of constant reinvention – while holding on to the values that got them there.
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A Loupe Art Guide to Bushwick Featuring Austin Phelps

Bushwick Collective
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Above image: Bushwick Collective 

If you were looking to the future of how we will ultimately come to interact with art in this digital century, the exhilarating new app Loupe would be a great place to start. Allowing essentially anyone to live with a thoughtfully curated “virtual gallery” (streaming on your phone, on your laptop, on your television screen…), it eliminates a significant layer of distance between the public and the sometimes “elite” world of art.

It has won celebrity fans – like Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers – but also attracted top artistic talent, including Brooklyn based photographer-painter Austin Phelps. In the first of a BlackBook-Loupe collaboration series, Phelps gives us a guide to the Bushwick neighborhood he calls home, revealing where the local creative community can most likely be found on any given day or night.

 

  • Austin Phelps "Back"
  • Austin Phelps "Drip"
  • Austin Phelps "Muse
  • Austin Phelps

 

“Living in New York City has been so influential to my art,” he enthuses. “From the fashion to the music to the melting pot of people, I am very grateful to have endless amounts of inspiration surround me. I’m a huge fan of color and showcasing a palette that the viewer may have not seen before – and am obsessed with Abstract Expressionism. My paintings are certainly influenced by de Kooning and Picasso.”

Here is his artistic guide to Bushwick.

 

Bushwick Collective

The Bushwick Collective is an outdoor street art gallery showcasing amazing graffiti and murals by artists from around the world. Located in the hub of Bushwick, it’s a great place to wander, see beautiful art and grab a drink.

Bushwick Open Studios

Started in 2006, Bushwick Open Studios is an annual art festival showcasing local artists and has become one of the largest outdoor art events in the world! An amazing experience to wander into the studios of so many talented artists, view film screenings and hear live music. A true celebration of all the arts.

Syndicated

Gorgeous restaurant and bar serving seasonal ingredients, craft beer and great cocktails. This space also has a small theater where they screen $3 movies for all of those film lovers. You can enjoy a delicious meal (smoked lamb ribs, bacon butter meatballs) while watching a classic movie.

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Image courtesy of Bushwick Daily 

Alphaville

Everyone’s favorite dive bar, music venue and restaurant serving great burgers, fried chicken and pumpkin pie. Known for booking amazing local artists, DJs and musicians, it’s a great place to grab a bite and see an awesome show.

Bossa Nova Civic Club

This dark and foggy tropical techno bar is the best place to dance in Bushwick. Come here for the delicious cocktails and to dance your face off to local experimental DJs.

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Image courtesy of Bushwick Daily