Cartagena Cool Part I: The Lowdown on Latin America’s Most Alluring City

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Cartagena de Indias, the exotic port city on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, has been something of an in-the-know spot for the more adventurous traveler for years; Mick Jagger has been visiting since the ’90s, and Justin Bieber even bought a house here. And though the pace of new hotel, restaurant and retail openings might seem to indicate that Cartagena has moved up the trendometer, it’s still under-the-radar to be…exotic.

Certainly there was a time when the words “vacation” and “Colombia” just didn’t sit well within the same sentence. In the ‘70s and ‘80s the country pretty much invented the cocaine industry, courtesy of noted narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar; and that, combined with the fifty-plus-years civil war with the Peoples Revolutionary Army (FARC), didn’t inspire visions of romantic Latin American getaways.

 

 

These days, however, it’s a much different story. In the early aughts the Colombian government launched a major get-rid-of-the-dealers initiative, resulting in a relocation of the Americas coke trade to Mexico. And effective efforts to end the civil war over the last several years has seen the remaining members of FARC assimilating into Colombian society. Colombia’s murder rate is at it lowest since the early ‘70s.

Cartagena was always the jewel of Colombia, the place where even Escobar would come to escape the, um, stress of his job. Fortress walls dating back to the 17th Century surround the central Old City – a UNESCO World Heritage site – and the main tourist area, within which you’ll find hotels and restaurants to rival those in Paris or New York. Beyond the walls are the scruffier but equally interesting enclaves of Getsemani, Bocagrande, Manga, and the quaintly residential Castilogrande. We fell in love with Cartagena and other spots along the Colombian Riviera on our first visit, and have been going back regularly since. Our eminent guides have been Travel Colombia Direct (more on them in Part II), who have helped us to feel at home in the city.

 

 

As long as you’re prepared for the heat – the year round prevailing temperature being hot – Cartagena is an easy and affordable getaway. JetBlue now flies direct from JFK in less time than it takes to get to San Francisco; and once there, typical hotel and restaurant bills are a good 25% less than you’d find in a comparable big American city.

Starting at the top is the classically sophisticated Sofitel Santa Clara, recently voted best luxury hotel in South America (a Conde Nast Readers Poll); Jagger stayed in the royal suite, as he would. Less opulent and pricy but no less charming is the lovely Casa Quero, housed in a historic colonial mansion. Fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi’s Tcherassi Hotel + Spa adds wellness and pampering, and has a chic poolside restaurant.

 

Sofitel Santa Clara

 

While Cartagena is technically a beach town, the actual beaches in town are not on par with their Caribbean neighbors (more on the amazing beaches just off shore in Part II), leaving travelers to occupy themselves as one would in any cosmopolitan city – and that obviously includes shopping. The spider web of streets in the Old City are a walker’s paradise of bustling local boutiques, street vendors, and upscale jewelers, with security at the door and NASA-worthy air-conditioning. With trays of dazzling emeralds and sapphires, Lucy stands out for its selection and service; for fashionable local styles we love the charming St Dom, but we’re also happy to explore the outdoor markets and vendors, including Las Bovedas, where we have tried on many a Panama hat. (Yes, they sell them in Colombia.)

Time to eat, and the options are seemingly endless. Of course fresh fish is a staple, as is plenty of steak, all accompanied by platacones, salsa, and beer or fruit shakes. One of our favorites is La Mulata, a casual Caribbean joint that’s always packed, and has some of the best grilled fish. Head to La Cevicheria early as, come dinnertime, the wait is endless; it’s got the best ceviche in Cartagena. For an over the top Argentinian carnivore experience, nothing beats the kitschy Patagonia Asados del Sur. And two new hotspots on our radar include the lively (it’s more a bar/club than resto) La Movida, and the pristine Moshi, which combines Asian and Caribbean cuisines; it was the first time we saw crispy pig’s head carnitas on a menu.

 

La Movida 

Coming up in Cartagena Part II we venture outside the walls to find the city’s equivalent of Brooklyn (or Oakland), plus an offshore paradise.

WEEKEND IN OTTAWA: The Art, the Food…the Canadians

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Louis Bourgeois’ Maman at The National Gallery of Canada

The endlessly unsettling reality of domestic politics has once again left untold Americans staring longingly across the northern border – where, currently, hotsy Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presides over a stable economy, and a society that provides universal healthcare, as well as affordable education. (And, despite comparable gun ownership, no seems to be casually blowing each other’s heads off up there, either.)

Thusly inspired, we returned to Ottawa recently (where Trudeau delegates from an office at stately 80 Wellington Street), just in time for the Tulip Festival – an event they share with that other bastion of progressive egalitarianism, The Netherlands. Downtown was teeming with food and flower markets and, of course, Canadians – who, while we hesitate to generalize, just seem so incredibly well-mannered and welcoming all the time. And speaking of wonderful welcomes, we checked into the exceedingly stylish new Andaz Ottawa Byward Market amidst what was actually a pretty buzzy Friday afternoon lobby scene.

The real lure of Canada’s capital is the impossibly picturesque setting, bordered by the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal – and with grandiose 19th Century architecture lording breathtakingly over the city. But there’s also quite a lot to pack into a few days’ visit. And it’s bi-lingual, of course, so you can brush up on your French.

Canada also turns 150 this year – so it’s pretty much a non-stop party up North.

Here’s what we did.

 

The National Gallery of Canada

A genuine architectural masterpiece by Moshe Safdie (dating to 1989), you feel awed just walking into all the cold, concrete modernism that is The National Gallery of Canada. There’s a great collection of Pop Art that should be your first stop. But the current exhibition, Photography in Canada, 1960-2000, presents an absorbing look at contemporary life through the lenses of some of the country’s most venerable snappers. Don’t forget to pose for a selfie outside with Louise Bourgeois’ massive spider sculpture Maman – it doesn’t bite, but it looks like it might.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

From Naples to Krakow to Hamburg, you’ve seen all those uber-baroque European “Houses of God.” Still, none could prepare you for the astonishment of Ottawa’s own Notre-Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady). First, the twin silver spires, which gleam in the sunlight, as if to indicate the transmission of divinity itself. But we sat riveted within the intentionally histrionic neo-gothic interior, which suggests a path to God by means of really daring color choices. It could almost make a believer of Richard Dawkins.

Contemporary Art

There’s actually a good little scene in Ottawa. We liked the Galerie Saw, run by artists and with a decidedly socio-political bent. But we were most taken with an exhibition of Inuit (indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic) carvings at L.A. Pai, one of the city’s most influential contemporary dealers.

The Food + Drink

Ottawa – who knew? But our tastebuds were forced to shift into overdrive during our stay. We naturally dined at the Andaz’ own Feast + Revel, only to joyously discover our new favorite food ever, fiddlehead lasagna; go Canadian and also try the lamb poutine and wild boar rillette. But the city’s hottest scene is at Riviera, with its soaring-ceilinged neo-classical interior, super cute staff and life-altering dishes like venison tartare with pistachios, as well as possibly the best chicken liver pate in the universe (a big deal for us).
For lunchtime, Play Food + Wine is as fun as its name, with small plates (shiitake gnocchi, tempura eggplant) in an industrial mod setting. Though we most loved Social, a sprawling warren of rooms perfect for naughty assignations by night – but by day, we grabbed a sunny courtyard seat and indulged in the Scottish cock a leekie and a few glasses of Canadian Hinterland sparkling wine, all to a knowingly curated Britpop soundtrack. (Canada is of the Commonwealth, after all.)

Riviera Ottawa

The Shopping

Style hounds head to the Sussex Drive corridor, where cool indie boutiques like Trust Fund, Wolf & Zed and Schad offer a current view into mode Canadienne. Patrick McGahern is a legendary shop for rare and used books, should you still prefer them in physical form. Something for the home? Get your mod on at the Modern Shop, flogging designers like Tom Dixon, Jonathan Adler and Moooi.

Moscow Tea Room

If you’re going to pick one place for a night that will remain forever hazy in your mental recall center, Moscow Tea Room is absolutely it. As you might have guessed, it’s not a tea room at all. Rather, it’s a decadent, pre-Bolshevik watering hole done up in a sort of faded Czarist opulence – though a little too earnestly plush to be kitsch. There is a cocktail list, but whatever – drift your eyes straight over to the “Spirits” section of the menu, where you’ll find 19 expertly-chosen vodkas listed by shot price. Our unimaginably lovely Arab expat bartenders Zainab and Kianna (Seriously, how can you have those names and not be a reality show?) poured us ice cold Russian Standard Platinum and impressively expounded on international political matters and their love and loyalty for their adopted country. One of the best bars anywhere, period.

Stay: Andaz Ottawa Byward Market

We’d done time at the Andaz hotels in New York, WeHo, Mayakoba – but the Andaz Ottawa is easily our fave. As you enter, there’s a tiny area for check-in, leaving the rest of the lobby for lounging and socializing – of which there was much. Rooms smartly have huge floor-to-ceiling windows, all the better to frame the awesome scenery all around. And the bathrooms…cool, modern and surprisingly spacious.
The hotel’s (literally) crowning feature, though, is the rooftop Copper Spirits & Sights. Ottawa, apparently, has not exactly discovered the joys of skyward tippling – so the bar was a sensation upon opening. There’s an enclosed indoor area, an expansive, comfy-furnished outdoor terrace, and a killer cocktail list. Tequila aficionados should order the Copper Skyline; but we couldn’t resist with the bourbon-and-smoked-glass Last Man Standing. And there’s that view.

 

 

Star Chef Matthew Kenney on His New plnthouse at 1 Hotel South Beach

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Matthew Kenney’s NYC culinary mini-empire was as hot as it gets around the turn of the Millennium. His Monzu, Mezze, Canteen, Commune and Commissary perfectly embodied the new generation of restaurant-as-mediarati-social-incubator, galvanizing the in-crowd from Soho to the Flatiron to the UES.

Along the way, the star chef discovered something a bit more ideological: the joys and benefits of the plant-based lifestyle. Indeed, his 2004 book Raw Food World was just the first of seven he authored on the subject. He eventually decamped to, of all places, Oklahoma City, and began an experiment which became a philosophy – opening the world’s first plant-based culinary school – Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy – which he moved to Santa Monica in 2012.

1 Hotel South Beach

His Plantlab brand now oversees restaurants from LA to NYC to Bahrain and Miami, where his new plnthouse has done the impossible: made the already super hot 1 Hotel South Beach even hotter. We already loved 1HSB for its breezy chic style, plush Bamford Haybarn spa, and gorgeous, ocean-facing pool. (Celebs the likes of Adrian Grenier, Jessica Alba, Ellie Goulding and superstar DJ Steve Angello agree.) Now Kenney joins STK and Tom Colicchio’s Beachcraft, making the hotel one of the city’s top culinary destinations.

The casual-chic plnthouse veritably presents a new paradigm for veggie-focused cuisine, with dishes like French lentil pâté, a carrot ginger kelp noodles bowl and sprouted garbanzo hummus (see recipe below) – all perfect for maintaining the Miami beach bod, of course.

BlackBook caught up with the chef for a rather philosophical discussion about it all.

 

You once lorded over some of the hottest restaurants in NYC. Are their particular reasons you’re focusing more on California and Miami now?

In general, the health and wellness lifestyle is gaining popularity. But Los Angeles has the most health-conscious community in the country – and the wellness lifestyle is building momentum in Miami. My team and I at Plantlab wanted to continue leading the charge in the wellness realm by offering beautifully designed, nourishing, raw vegan dining experiences and bringing plant-based education to a mainstream demographic in these cities. I’m really excited to be working with the 1 Hotel South Beach, because plnthouse is their first plant-based restaurant – and we are bringing our focus on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients to the hotel’s clientele in an accessible, grab-and-go form.

What first drew you to the plant based culinary philosophy/lifestyle? 

I developed an appreciation for the plant-based lifestyle, implementing this philosophy on a personal level little by little throughout the years. I worked as a chef at several fine dining restaurants in New York City, and I was somewhat turned off by raw vegan restaurants, because I found most of them to be void of the atmosphere and culinary design that would excite the guest. I noticed a disconnect between fine dining and plant-based living, so I set out to create something that combined the two.

Tell us a bit about Plantlab.

Plantlab is a lifestyle brand my team and I created to drive the sustainable health and wellness movement forward, in a number of different ways. We offer accessibility to plant-based cuisine through our restaurants, such as Plant Food + Wine in both Venice and Miami, Double Zero in NYC, Make Out in Culver City, Matthew Kenney NM at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and, of course, plnthouse.
As well, Plantlab is grooming the next generation of plant-based raw vegan chefs through The Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy, a culinary school offering courses in raw vegan cuisine at the highest level via nine global locations and an online “campus.” And we’ve just officially launched Matthew Kenney Wellness, offering retreat experiences that give guests the knowledge and tools to implement a plant-based lifestyle when they return home. Plantlab hosted a wellness retreat in Kauai this May, and the next venture will be our collaboration with Camp Âme at Turnberry Isle Miami…for a weekend retreat this July 7-9, including nutritional education, group fitness, spa services, and social events led by health, nutrition, beauty and fitness practitioners.

plnthouse at 1 Hotel South Beach

What are the benefits of a plant based diet? And some of the misconceptions?

Plants are nutrient-rich and fuel our bodies with the minerals we need to operate at our best. Plants not only provide the basis for optimal health, but a plant-based lifestyle also contributes to the overall well-being of the planet.
There tends to be a certain stigma surrounding the term ‘vegan’; people think it means you have to sacrifice all enjoyment around your food, and you’re definitely not getting enough protein, etc. But there’s no need for an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude when adopting a plant-based lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be a major shift from eating meat to suddenly gnawing on raw vegetables and nothing else. You can implement more plants into your daily routine quite easily by making small tweaks.

Why was the 1 Hotel South Beach the right locale for plnthouse? Is it a philosophical alignment?

Miami is already ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, and wellness is in the DNA of the 1 Hotel South Beach; it emanates health with a certain cool factor. It seemed like the perfect location because it’s so accessible. My hope is that people living in and traveling to Miami will realize how easy it can be to integrate a plant-based diet into their busy, on-the-go lifestyles.

What can diners expect that is new and unique about plnthouse and its menu?

The menu includes salads, wraps and sandwiches, bowls, and smoothies. Any of our smoothies can be turned into meal-replacement bowls with natural super-food granola and tropical fruits, which a lot of our guests enjoy. The One Salad is quite a crowd-pleaser and includes shaved vegetables, hemp seeds, sunflower sprouts, avocado and more. We also have really great shareable plates like sprouted garbanzo hummus and yuzu guacamole with wasabi crackers.

Can you quickly sum up your culinary mission? And the mission of Plantlab?

Our ultimate goal, through our restaurants, Culinary Academy and unique programming, is to help the world move towards a more sustainable outlook on health by offering accessibility and education about a plant-based lifestyle.

 

Matthew Kenney’s Select plnthouse Recipes

One Salad Recipe

Salad
3 cups mixed greens
1 cup shaved vegetables (carrots, fennel, radish)
2 teaspoons hemp seeds
1/2 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
1 small bunch sunflower sprouts
Chili Lime Vinaigrette Yield 389 grams
30 g jalapeno, seeded and diced
108 g lime juice
25 g coconut nectar
7.5 g salt
50 g rice vinegar
Blend everything except the olive oil. Once the mix is smooth, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
Spicy Macadamia Nuts Yield 1 cup
1 Cup raw soaked macadamia nuts
1 Tablespoon lime juice
¾ Teaspoon dark chili powder
¾ Teaspoon maple syrup
Soak the macadamia nuts overnight. The next day rinse the nuts and strain to remove excess water. Toss the nuts in the lime, salt, maple, lime and chili powder. Transfer the marinated nuts to teflex lined dehydrator trays and dehydrate until dry at 115 (approximately 24-48 hours).

Sprouted Garbanzo Hummus Recipe

Garbanzo Beans
2 cups dry garbanzo beans
Soak garbanzo beans overnight then drain and rinse. Put garbanzo beans in a flat container then cover with cheesecloth and allow to sprout overnight. Once sprouted rinse the beans then place in a rondo with 2 quarts of water. Skim any foam while beans are cooking.
Hummus
2.5 Cups sprouted and cooked garbanzo beans
2 Cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
¼ Cup tahini
½ Tablespoon salt
¼ Cup olive oil – poured in slowly
Put the everything except the olive oil in food processor and start blending. Slowly pour in olive oil until smooth.
Yuzu Guacamole
Yuzu Guacamole
2 Avocadoes
2 Teaspoons salt
¼ Teaspoon yuzu extract
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Teaspoon rice vinegar
Garnish
Shaved daikon radish
Pickled jalapeno
Wasabi sprouts

FIRST IMAGES: Ace Hotel Chicago

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Having conquered the NYC – LA – London triumvirate, it seemed kind of inevitable that the Ace Hotel brand would go on to plant its flag in the Windy City. But rather than landing in the the more obvious hipster playland of Wicker Park / Bucktown, the new Ace Hotel Chicago will open in a more central location near Fulton Market.

Still and all, this will put the hotel just a couple of blocks from the perpetually trendy W. Randolph Street dining corridor. To that end, they have enlisted Jason Vincent (Thrillist‘s 2016 Chef of the Year), who racked up the accolades with the opening last year of his by now exalted Logan Square restaurant Giant. There will also be a rooftop bar and Chicago’s first Stumptown Coffee on site.

Interiors are by LA design studio Commune, with detailing meant to evoke Chicago architectural icon Mies van der Rohe. And as with other Ace Hotels, there will be assorted public event spaces, which will act as social hubs and incubators for music, art, tech, film and the like. Expect the hotel to be a particular galvanizing force for the local creative types.

Reservations are already being taken for an official September 1 opening – and since we love autumn in Chicago, expect to find us there. But those without the patience can book a “preview” stay, as early as July 1 – which comes with the best amenity of all: the right to stay you stayed there before everyone else. (And 10% of the reservation cost goes to support Ace community partners Little Black Pearl, Young Chicago Authors and 826CHI

 

Spending a Perfect Day (+ Night) in Paris with Neo-Jazz Songstress ALA.NI

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Like many a Londoner, Brit singer ALA.NI finally tired of all the building sites and construction mess in Blighty’s capital, and made her way to Paris – where erecting ugly new skyscrapers is relegated to aesthetically-challenged bastions of business like La Defense. The creative results of the move were a glorious new album, You and I, which is a dazzling, unapologetic paean to the glory days of jazz-pop divas like Billie, Ella and, surely, Mdm. Piaf.

Her greatest inspiration, other than maybe Paris itself?

“Love!,” she exclaims. “It leads us all. In its ups and downs. The album is a tale of a love affair that takes place over a year – from the first look, the first kiss, the anticipation of what’s to come, the longing, the reality, the heartbreak and the renewal.”

To be sure, tracks like “Roses & Wine” and “Ol’Fashioned Kiss” sparkle with a sexy, retro cool, and are delightfully free of trendy embellishment. While “Darkness at Noon” is a simmering, anguished bit of noir heartbreak, just waiting for a David Lynch scene to soundtrack.

But surely our favorite is “Cherry Blossom,” the sound of new love blossoming in springtime (“Fall for me / Long for me / Always be a friend to me”), in all its languid, hopeful, sensual and unbelievably irresistible beauty.

“I wrote ‘Cherry Blossom’ whilst in Grenada,” she recalls. “At 3am, with the crickets and sea stirring, the lyrics and melody came to me. This combo very rarely happens with such ease, so I took the moment fully. The lyrics express, like cherry blossoms, the impermanence of life and love. For that moment of existence, you must embrace it all and declare yourself as lost, taken by the wind.”

She’ll be appearing live at NYC’s Rockwood Hall Music Hall June 19, and Central Park Summerstage on the 21st. But hoping to catch a bit of her inspiration, we asked ALA.NI to take us through her perfect Paris day, from the patisseries to the bookshops to a grand, historic venue where she did cartwheels onstage.

 

 

Breakfast

Parisians don’t really do breakfast. Being a Brit, if I go out for breakfast I want a large fry up! It’s all cafes and croissants here. But I’m not a coffee drinker, so its patisseries and boulangeries for me; and I am in the best city in the world for making flour and water into fantastical culinary delights. I love the cocoa bread from Maison Landemaine and anything and everything from Dalloyau. A “Millefeuille Vanille” for breakfast is perfectly acceptable. Best apricot jam to have on your croissant is Alain Millet.

 

Lunch

The Yard is my absolute favorite for lunch. Its described as “Modern French.” For me it’s a bit Scandinavian too, rustic and delicious comfort food. The menu changes every day, the best are the three times cooked potatoes, cut in a cool cross hatch design. Details, I like the details. Rabbit in tarragon sauce. Wonderful mackerel salads, grilled marrow in the bone. It’s hard to practice vegetarianism here. Great wines too.

Shop

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse has the best chocolate in the whole wide world! Take it from a girl who wanted to marry Willy Wonka. The factory shop in Bastille is worth a visit; as a choco-phile, I often find myself in the courtyard of the factory, just sniffing the air and letting out sounds of sheer delight.
Yvon Lambert bookshop. I can spend hours in there looking at art and photography books. And fighting for the one chair in the whole shop.

 

Culture

The Phono Museum is a must visit if you have any interest in the history of music. Wax cylinders, phonographs, huge vintage twin gramophones, specially designed for those old school 1900’s bashment “soundsystem” parties! So much to see to make you appreciate that your mini iPod player has come a very, very long way.

Dinner

I love Lapérouse for dinner. Its secret little Salon Privé is dripping with all kinds of antique, scandalous bad behavior. It’s a rabbit warren of a building dating from 1766, with secret passages hidden in the walls. Wonder what they needed those for?

 

Music Venue

Chatelet Theatre is one of my favorite venues in Paris. I have seen Pina Bausch dance company there a few times, and it is magnificent because the stage is so huge. I had the opportunity to perform there last autumn and during soundcheck I was doing no-handed cartwheels across the massive stage. I just wanted to feel the space. Luckily I didn’t land on my head.

Nightcap

I’m always hungry. I have endless munchies and I’m not much of drinker, so any late night food spots are good for me. There are no 24-hour bagel shops like in London or New York, but Babylone Bis creole restaurant is like a “knock twice” speakeasy that is open from 8PM-5AM. Perfect for midnight feasting.

Opera, Naughty Angels and Extraordinary Snails: A Rather Elegant Whirl Through Paris

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Above Image: Palais Garnier

What we had always most loved about Paris was its stubborn resistance to change. Vive la ville de la lumière!

But “branded” hipster encroachment has worryingly taken over such districts as the Bastille, Pigalle, and Belleville. And frankly, we’ve already had enough of the goofy facial hair and over-produced cocktails back in New York.

So, upon our most recent visit to the French capital, we decided to skip the hip, and revisit some of the things that for us make Paris so…intemporel. To her we never tire of saying, ne changez jamais, don’t ever change.

 

Tour the Palais Garnier

Sure, there’s La Scala in Milan and Staatsoper in Vienna; but Paris’s oh-so-grandiosely-grand opera house has something more of the intrigue about it – after all, this is where Le Fantôme was born. Fittingly, we exchanged philosophical arrows with our brilliantly eccentric guide and, ultimately, we lost. She also regaled us with the history of seating hierarchy (N.B. Ask about tickets for the “hidden” seats, which can be booked for just 10 euro.)

Revisit Georges at The Pompidou

It was the pinnacle of all Parisian super-fabulousness when it debuted back in 2000 (remember how optimistic we were back then?). But Georges – the crown jewel of the Costes empire – is once again, or perhaps maybe still, tres fashionable…which is very well with us, since we’d go for the view alone. Perched spectacularly atop the Centre Pompidou museum, its space age decor now seems a brilliantly futuristic counterpoint to all that grumpy hipster old-timeyness. But the international menu dazzles like the vistas of Paris, including possibly the most awesome croque monsieur in the city, and the appropriately titled Extraordinary Snails.

 

Take in a Gripoix Glass Jewelry Workshop

Renowned for the Chanel Gripoix jewels, worn by the likes of Rihanna and Emma Watson, this workshop, opened on the gorgeous Place des Victoires in late 2015, sells the brand’s own dazzling collection. Upstairs we watched as bespoke (note correct use of word) pieces were being created for moneyed clients. But on the ground floor, you can buy strikingly colorful necklaces, earrings and brooches for surprisingly approachable prices.

Go “Behind the Scent” at Serge Lutens

He’s the mystical French guru of fragrance. And entering his flagship boutique, hidden mysteriously away amidst the gardens of the Palais Royal, is like being welcomed into a sacred space. There are secret hideaways with astrological references and nautical charts, an upstairs sanctuary done up with Asian wall panels, even a Virtual Reality room…with medieval furnishings. The ethereal signature scents have magically poetic descriptions – for instance “Deliver us from Good! Jasmine petals are as white as snow. Black is my religion.” (La religieuse) and “She’s a rose with thorns, don’t mess with her. She’s a girl who goes to extremes. When she can, she soothes; and when she wants … !” (La fille de Berlin). An experience.

 

Get Bespoke Shoes Made at Non-Bespoke Prices

Tucked away in the charming Passage des Deux Pavillons in the 1st Arrondissement, Derville is an unassuming little shop that makes some of the best custom shoes in Paris. And they can be had for as little as…$700. The trick? They use a machine for the soles – though you’d never know it. And not just for business types, the shoes come in colors like pink, orange and sky blue.

Have a Glamorous Dinner at Mini Palais

Part of the awe-inspiring Grand Palais museum and exhibition complex, this is the place to go when you’ve had enough of all those charmingly low-key bistrotheques. Despite the name, it’s a statement restaurant in the best sense. Climb a grand staircase, enter into a dramatic foyer, and emerge into a dining room with arched windows, high ceilings and impeccable style. The menu is by Eric Frechon, Paris’ most exalted chef: lemon potato gnocchi, cod in tamarind crust, roasted scallops with fine truffle muslin. There’s also a plush outdoor terrace amidst the classical columns.

 

Stay: The Hilton Paris Opera

Face it, you’d stay for the name alone. It says to everyone, “Yes, I am staying somewhere grand in Paris.” Recently made over, there’s now a contemporary sparkle to its 19th Century majesty. The rooms have been done up with a stylish, modern elegance – and those looking out towards Gare Saint Lazare offer supreme Parisian-street-life watching.
But we spent most of our time in Le Grand Salon, literally a listed historic monument – with forty-five-foot ceilings, glittering chandeliers and cool, modern furnishings. You can breakfast like the Marquess of Something-or-Other, or try to spot the naughty angels amongst the stunning frescoes over a few rounds of Hugo Saint Germain champagne cocktails. There’s a Le Pain Quotidien on site, as well, should you need something a little less, say, imposing, for an important biz lunch.
And just step out of the hotel in you’re in Lazare, the casual but super buzzy new bistro – also from the many Michelin-starred Eric Frechon – in the station of the same name. The sausages and mashed potatoes are genuinely life-altering.

 

  • Hilton Paris Opera
  • Hilton Paris Opera
  • Hilton Paris Opera

Cannabis Tourism: Las Vegas Comes to the Party

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As Nevada nears the expected July 1st start date for its emergent recreational marijuana program, tourists, 21 years and older, will be able buy pot while visiting Las Vegas and other Nevada cities. Nevada officials are hoping this will make the state even friendlier to tourists, and those in the cannabis industry agree.

Nevada is one of eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana. It already had legal medical pot. Medical dispensaries started opening in 2015. The state now has 55, mostly in Las Vegas or surrounding Clark County.

Attitudes regarding marijuana regulation have also changed as other states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Alaska) have passed their own laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Even though marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and state lawmakers are cautious about running afoul of the Justice Department, voters, on the other hand, have forged ahead. The public opinion tipping point may have occurred as 56% of US voters surveyed said they would support legalization.

Colorado and Washington have fully legalized cannabis for recreational use since 2014, so with larger state populations, it would seem logical that those states would be bigger markets for cannabis. But those with knowledge of the marijuana industry believe that Nevada, and Vegas in particular, represents an even greater opportunity. According to a survey by Love Home Swap, the Las Vegas Strip attracted over 39 million tourists annually, making it the most visited tourist attraction in the world over both the Eiffel Tower and Times Square. If even a small percentage of tourists buy cannabis in Vegas, the numbers will be huge. In the not too distant future, we could see annual cannabis market in Vegas growing to anywhere between $500 million to $1 billion.

Despite rules against smoking pot in hotel rooms or outdoors, legal marijuana may provide an extra incentive for tourists. Already known for some of the world’s best hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and entertainment, and now we’ll have hopefully become known for the best cannabis experience as well.

“I think Las Vegas has the potential of being the new cannabis tourists center in the United States, overtaking Colorado, if not in actual sales, but in perception.”

How does the tax revenue help Nevada?

For one, Gov. Brian Sandoval most recently projected that recreational marijuana sales will bring in more than $60 million in state revenue over the next two years. Revenue collected from the cultivation will be funneled toward schools, and revenue from recreational marijuana sales tax will go towards the state’s rainy day fund.
Starting in July, all marijuana — both medical and recreational — will be taxed 15 percent at the cultivation transaction level, but only recreational marijuana have a state excise tax of 10 percent, both medical and recreational will have the applicable local sales tax (8.25% in Clark County) and a 3 percent local gross revenue fee.

Nevada’s Medical Marijuana Program

For fear that the medical marijuana program could be smothered by the new recreational program; lawmakers have made it easier to be a part of the medical program and decreased the tax on medical by 10 percent. The new bill will make the medical program more accessible to Nevada citizens, by streamlining the program, and folding the administrative duties into the Department of Taxation.
“What’s important is that you’re creating that delta between medical and recreational costs – it’s keeping the cost down for medical,” Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, who sponsored the tax bill.
The medical marijuana program already was at risk due to bureaucracy which limited the number of people pursuing medical cards. While medical cards used to cost about $100 for a year’s value, the cards now will cost half the price ($50) because background checks no longer are required. Additionally, the cards will now be good for two years. Because recreational marijuana is now legal and anyone can get product, there is no point in doing the background checks. The Department of Public Health will continue to issue the medical cards.

Facts on Community Impact of Legalization

The marijuana industry has grown significantly since 2000 and federal officials maintain that the legalization of marijuana will contribute to the increase of youth and adolescent use because it will make marijuana easier to obtain, reduce its perceived risks with more adult role models smoking it.
However, studies in Colorado have shown no connection between legalized marijuana and youth marijuana use. In Colorado teen use is lower than the national average; fewer teens report using marijuana than said they did prior to legalization. Surveys conducted in Colorado interviewed over 17,000 students in middle & high school showing that from 2009 to 2015 the rates in which teenagers smoked marijuana has decreased. The state of Colorado has also seen the percentage of teenagers who have smoked marijuana in the past 30 days drop to 21%, from 25%. Colorado believes, underage use will continue to decrease with their implementation of strict age limits, and risk awareness programs.
In 2014, Colorado invested $2 million generated from marijuana sales tax revenue on campaigns aimed at anti-marijuana education of minors and double that amount, $4 million in 2015 (out of a total projected marijuana sales tax revenue of $125 million). The current campaigns provide information on marijuana laws, the impacts of youth use, the dangers of driving under the influence of any drug, and the harmful side effects of using marijuana.

BlackBook Interview: ‘The Voice’ Finalist Kat Robichaud’s Guide to Outré San Francisco Nightlife

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Image by Mike Lloyd Photography

If you know her as the 2013 finalist on The Voice, you might have something of a different impression of Kat Robichaud. On the show, the Raleigh born singer exhibited glimmers of the flamboyant performer she would go on to become; but it was only after it was all over that the ringleader of her own “Misfit Cabaret” would fully emerge.

Misfit Cabaret is also the name of her fantastical new album, out this Friday, June 2, through RED. It is an unbridled, over-the-top riot of influences, from glam rock to classic Broadway. The grandiose”Bully” comes off like Sheer Heart Attack era Queen, while the Ziggy-esque “A Song for David Bowie” is perhaps the most dazzling posthumous tribute to the Thin White Duke yet (“You prettiest star / I’ll leave a light on for whenever you come home”). It’s surely the most the preposterously, wondrously extravagant music you’ll hear in 2017.

The equally extravagant show from which the album takes its title has been running for two years now at San Francisco’s historic Great Star Theater; though she has also recently taken it on the road to Seattle.

We chatted with the outlandishly glamorous Ms. Robichaud about The Voice, the misfit life, and the importance of being yourself at all costs. We also asked her to guide us through some of SF’s most dazzling and outré nightlife spots.

 

What exactly is “Misfit Cabaret”?

Misfit Cabaret is a splendiferous variety show centered around magical music with a rotating cast of eccentric performers. Each show is completely different– with changing themes such as the cult filmed Cinepheilia and the naughty nautical Whimsea. From burlesque to drag to circus to magic, you never know what you’re going to see.

The album pretty much shuns every current musical trend. Who are some of the specific influences? We can hear everything from opera to glam rock, Pulp to Dresden Dolls.

I’m definitely not trying to follow a trend. I just write what I love and what serves the specific theme of the show best. My four favorite artists are David Bowie, Queen, Marilyn Manson and Amanda Palmer in her various states. I’m also a huge fan of Broadway musicals, my dad introduced me to all the heavy hitters when I was a kid (The Sound of Music, Oliver, Cabaret, Rocky Horror…) and they definitely made their mark.

Especially with a song like “Artists” – it seems there is something of the defiant, “us against them” spirit about the record.

I grew up as an outcast and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling; which is where most of the songs on the album come from. “Artists” is actually about how we as a society need to do a better job as human beings and how we need to truly learn from the past. Photo journalists take pictures from war and they somehow become art in a really fucked up way. In the song, I’m pleading with these photo journalists (and artists and musicians and creators) to try and paint us in a more favorable light, so we’re not so horrifying in the future, but really it’s sarcasm. We need to stop whitewashing history.

 

Misfit Cabaret image by Zoart Photography

What was The Voice experience like?

It was wonderful and horrifying at the same time. You go from being a hometown artist to having 15 million people watching you with zero ramp-up time. All of a sudden everyone is judging you and loving you and hating you. You have to have rhino thick skin, which is why we have to take a psych test before auditioning. (My favorite question was “Do you like fire?” And it was a yes or no question. I mean, yes, I love fire, but no, I do not want to use it to burn a building down, if that’s what you’re getting at.) While you’re on the show, the producers and everyone that works on The Voice are trying their best to take care of you and to make sure you’re ok, but you are in a crazy bubble where it’s hard to think straight. The most important lesson I took from the show was to always be myself.

The attention was surely helpful. But did it affect you as an artist?

Yes. It forced me to repel every notion that I could ever be a pop artist and pushed me further to be myself and let the wonderful world of weird consume me. There was definitely a drop-off of fans who thought I was going to put out a pop album when I got off the show, and didn’t like the glam rock or unbridled theatricality. But I’ve slowly replaced the drop-off pop and country fans with the niche weirdos and lovely darling misfits that get what I’m doing.

Your live show is theatrical and visceral. Will you tour it?

We’re still only two years old in SF. But we did just take the show to Seattle for the first time and it was a huge success. We will definitely take it back to Seattle soon, and we’re looking to expand to LA, Vegas, Portland, Vancouver, and so on. I’m hoping the album gains enough traction to help us tour further, and I would love to see what Raleigh thinks of my new act. To be able to take my show and have a successful run in my hometown would feel pretty great.

 

Kat Robichaud’s Guide to San Francisco Nightlife 

The Great Star Theater

This historical diamond-in-the-rough has been around since 1925 and has been a home to Chinese opera, kung fu movies, and even boasts the celebrity resident of Bruce Lee ,who crashed on its couch back in the day. In recent years, local magician Paul Nathan took over as proprietor, spiffed the place up with a new movie screen, new projectors, new lighting and a new sound system. The theater now plays host to all kinds of off-kilter shows, including my show, Misfit Cabaret! I’m a sucker for old, worn-in and loved things, so the vintage red theater seats, the gorgeous blood red velvet curtains, and the kitschy rainbow bulb proscenium tugs on all my heart strings.

The Stud

Stud has been a San Francisco institution since 1966 and it’s my favorite dive drag bar in the city. Old mascot heads nest above the long wooden bar, along with a train set, a mixture of deco and 50s era lighting fixtures, and the occasional lava lamp. This is the place to see the nitty gritty avant-garde drag shows while showing off your new wig to the mirrored walls. There’s also a really great karaoke night, hosted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s Flora Goodthyme.

The Tonga Room

Where else are you going to dance to a cover band on a boat floating in a basement pool on a Wednesday night? This place is like Disneyland for adults, and my black heart laughs whenever I see children peering into the windows and being told they can’t go in. HA! They even have the ceiling rigged so that it rains into the pool every 30 minutes while the band plays CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”. It’s so delightfully cheesy in the best way possible. Get a fishbowl drink and split it with friends. Their rum pour will sneak up on you.

 

Hotel Utah

It’s a music venue! It’s a bar! It’s a pirate ship! Actually, it’s one of the oldest music venues in San Francisco and boasts the best local and touring up-and-coming bands. The drinks are cheap, the staff is friendly, there’s a pinball machine behind a stack of glasses, and the whole thing is literally a pieced-together pirate ship, complete with a mermaid figurehead that hovers over the stage. There’s even a cute balcony with seats. Famous people that have come out for this open mic include Robin Williams, John Mayer, Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Cho.

DNA Lounge

The melting pot of San Franciscans, DNA brings people together. The first time I went was to see Hubba Hubba Revue, the biggest burlesque show in SF. While I was there, I saw an ad for a Bowie drag show, which I promptly bought tickets to. During the Bowie show, I saw a performance from Bowie tribute band The First Church of The Sacred Silversexual, and was blown away. And that band introduced me to pretty much everyone I know in the Bay Area. So DNA is responsible for my success in the city, and I’m sure a lot of performers can say that. Besides bringing in some pretty big touring bands (I’m playing with Amanda Palmer on May 23rd), they also have Bootie Mashup parties every Saturday, Death Guild goth nights, and every weird themed party you could possibly dream up. It’s loud and industrial and messy and the drinks are really strong. And…they’re smart enough to own a 24 hour pizza joint right next door, because after a night of drinking and screaming your head off, greasy pizza is a necessity.

 

Soul Purification, Good Tequila and Creative De-Stressing in Cabo San Lucas

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It goes without saying that one would rather be staring out into Mexico’s calm, beautiful blue Gulf of California than watching the endless American political tsunamis raging across our television sets every day. So when Cabo San Lucas came calling, we couldn’t pack our bags fast enough.

But our destination was not one of Cabo’s overamped celebrity resorts. Rather, we dropped our bags at the gorgeous, family-owned Hacienda Encantada Resort & Residences – perfect for those more discerning travelers (like us) seeking something a little more creative and personal.

Perched high above the stunning Sea of Cortez, overlooking rugged coastline, Hacienda’s unique appeal extends further than it’s dramatic topography. With a uniquely curated lineup of amenities and activities, an exceptional collection of local artworks, and a staff so friendly as to feel familiar, we wanted for nothing – and left Cabo already planning our return. 

 

 

“The essence of our family is to serve and try our best to be a great host,” said the resort’s gracious Gabriel Ibarra. “So I think what makes us special is that we try to pass this idea along to all of our employees through a very common saying: “Mi casa es tu casa. Our guests don’t feel that they are in a traditional hotel or resort at Hacienda Encantada.”

And we couldn’t agree more. There’s no one-vibe-fits-all here. Every staff member we encountered wasn’t just solicitous, but warmly welcomed us into their “home” with helpful suggestions based on our individual moods and interests. 

Here’s what we did.

 

Soul Cleansing

Aside from an exhaustive array of restorative treatments, therapeutic massages and fabulous facials on the menu, the opportunity to experience the ancient Mexican tradition of Temazcal was not to be missed. Temazcal means “house of steam,” from the native Nahuatl language, and is promoted as a “purification for the body and the soul.” Once inside the small, round chamber, hot stones are splashed with medicinal herb-infused water during the 90-minute session, for the ultimate in healing relaxation. Just a note, this native ritual cleanse requires four guests.

 

 

One if by . . . horse!

We loved the romantic allure of taking a horseback riding tour along the property, where panoramic views of Cabo San Lucas bay and the land’s end were just a gallop away. Make sure to book in advance though, as this equine option is only available on Fridays at the resort.

Tequila!

Staged on the outdoor terrace of the resort’s Barolo Restaurant, our tasting flight was led by the resort’s resident “sommelier.” Little did we know – or really care by the end – that tequila can only be called such if it is produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco (and in some select municipalities). Much like French Champagne, this agave-based distilled spirit is unique to the region and is known as “mezcal” anywhere else. Our favorite, after tasting six distinct varieties, was Blanco, or silver tequila. This popular ‘unaged’ tequila never touches wood, thereby delivering the purest notes of agave. Yes, we’ll take another shot please.

 

 

Mexican Flavors

Who better than the resort’s expert chefs to teach guests how to create one of the signature dishes of Mexico? During our al fresco cooking class, we watched – and then tasted – as our teacher expertly chopped onions and cilantro – the trick to the latter being, just bunch it up, stems and all, and dice finely. Combined in a traditional, volcanic stone molcajete (a mortar and pestle), pieces of gorgeous, ripe avocado met the freshest jalapeño, and was then topped off with lemon juice and sea salt. Can you say melt in your mouth? It did!

Sister Act

Taking a break from the sedate environs of Hacienda Encantada, we visited the resort’s sister property in downtown Cabo. Marina Fiesta boasted a lively poolside bar, La Palapa (it’s covered by a giant thatched roof) and four restaurants, all located along the bustling main drag. We dined at Los Deseos and were treated to a table side demonstration of the house speciality, heated Mexican cheese infused with tequila. Our gracious server was a good sport, taking our requests for more – and more – in amiable stride as he worked two spoons to serve us the deliciously gooey concoction.

 

 

Set Sail

No trip would be complete without seeing the Arch of Cabo San Lucas. And the best way is by boat, sailing by this distinctive rock formation at the southernmost tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Suffering from erosion in recent years, it now looks like a dinosaur drinking water. Accessing ‘El Arco’ on foot is best done in October when sea levels fall and you can walk under the arch. However, stopping off nearby at Amor (Lover’s) or Divorcio beaches (depending on your state of heart) can be done any time of year by boat. 

“Home” Cooking

To say we ate well at Hacienda Encatada is a significant understatement. There’s eight (yes, eight) venues, and we recommend trying them all during your stay. There’s of course ‘a la carte’ tacos every night at El Eden, ancestral Mexican cuisine at classy La Trajinera (reservations required and there’s a dress code), and ceviche and sushi at El Patio. The breakfast buffet (both American and Mexican) at Las Marias will have you dining on a balcony cliffside. Be sure to order the ‘off-the-menu’ Mexican coffee, a spicy and sweet elixir (a tip from Gabriel).
There’s even good pizza if you’re feeling homesick, at Il Forno. But the standout is Los Riscos. With its mesquite grill, and ethereal views, it was genuinely our favorite.

 

 

 

Art Everywhere

Seriously, everywhere. The lobby, public areas and restaurants were all decorated with original paintings by notable artists including José María Velasco, Jesus Helguera and Diego Rivera. Talavera vases from Puebla, hand-painted pottery and handmade lamps from Tonala, Jalisco, and ceramic sculptures by artist Rodo Padilla, are an eye-catching mix of art and craft.
You’ll notice the beautifully carved wooden furniture (a colorfully painted bench on every floor of the building we stayed in, the newest on the property), made by local Mexican carpenters. There were also several ornate iron pieces wrought by indigenous artisans. The entire resort is a celebration of Mexican architecture and design – with the exception of the rugs and the ‘gobelino’ located in the lobby, which we were told were imported from Europe.
The resort’s luxurious suites and spacious villas also include ceramic tableware made in the state of Jalisco, and mirrors with copper frames constructed in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Additionally, handmade wool carpets adorn the floors, woven in Oaxaca. Even the ceramic bath accessories are brought directly from Dolores Hidalgo Guanajuato. (We also liked the eco-friendly products themselves.) And as might be expected, the image of the lizard and iguana figure prominently throughout the resort – emblematic in numerous handmade sculptures and decorations. Though if you get the chance, try to make friends with a real one.