Interview: The Real Coconut’s Daniella Hunter on Life in Tulum and the Upcoming LA Outpost

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Located just a two-hour drive south of the Cancun airport, Tulum is one of those mystical places completely untouched by mega resorts. Boutique hotels, fashionable shops and mind-blowing restaurants pepper the town’s single road, stretched lazily along the coast of Quintana Roo. And despite the surge in tourism over the last decade – and the businesses built to accommodate it – Tulum offers an intimate, eco-friendly snapshot of a Mexico you won’t find anywhere else.

Just ask Daniella Hunter, originally from the U.K., who moved there with her family several years ago to open up Sanara Tulum, an eco-resort featuring the now renowned Real Coconut restaurant. We sat down with her at Superba Cafe in Venice to talk about her adopted home, and the new outpost of the restaurant, which will open soon in the Gas Company Tower in Downtown LA.

 

I think almost everyone dreams of moving to a resort town and opening up a little spot on the beach – but you actually did it! When exactly did you decide to make the move?

Friends who I knew from a trip I’d taken to Egypt had moved to Mexico and were managing a dive center there. I was a single mother with a young baby at the time. Rather than figuring out working in London and childcare and all that, I thought…I’ll pick up and go to Mexico. I carried on teaching scuba diving and started doing underwater photography. That began my love of the area.
Years later, after I’d returned to the UK and met my partner, Charlie, we were coming to L.A. and I said, ‘Let’s stop in Tulum and see what it’s like.’ It had changed so much. There was so much more infrastructure, and we decided we could have a family there. Why bother with the traffic, school runs, and the mess of living here? So in a space of three months we packed up and moved to Tulum.

 

Did you always have the idea of opening up a resort?

At the time, we didn’t plan on opening a hotel. It wasn’t a big focus for us. We knew we could continue to work there. We were part of this movement of people – sort of a bohemian crowd of writers, bloggers, photographers – who wanted to move to Tulum and have a business there.
Then a friend offered to sell us a piece of land in Tulum, and we had this “if we build it, they will come” mentality. We could host friends, and friends of friends. We came up with the plans, and we built the first part of the hotel in a year.
We had a fantastic architect – Studio Arqs, they’ve gone on to win several awards within Mexico and South America – and the crew worked incredibly hard to pull it off.

There’s something about Tulum that feels untouched, more intimate. Why do you think that is?

Tulum is like a living canvas that we can paint on, and it’s our responsibility to paint it in harmony with what’s already there. We can create the buildings, but it’s about the community and the ethos. When people come to stay in Tulum, they’ve already decided to not stay in Cancun. They want something more meaningful.
Tulum is also really unique because of its layout. That road [that runs the course of Tulum] was originally put in by the woman who owns Maya Tulum, that was the gateway, the first property there. We met her a few times and she told us: ‘I didn’t know at the time, I was just putting the road in’ (it’s just 100 meters from the beach); and that completely determined how Tulum developed and grew. No big corporation could ever come in and buy up 500 meters of beachfront property, because it wasn’t clear enough to do that.

I saw that you wrote the menu for The Real Coconut and immediately started getting bookings before you even really broke ground. What was your idea behind the restaurant?

I’ve always loved Mexican food. Who doesn’t love guacamole? But you’re canceling out all the goodness of the guacamole with these deep fried corn chips. My housekeeper had taught me to make tortillas with the masa, the dough, and I’d been working on baking with coconut milks, making little cakes and things. So, I thought, I can try to make tortillas out of coconut flour. I was obsessed with figuring out how to do this.
I did a couple coconut dinner parties, making coconut cheese and everything, and everyone loved it – and asked when I was going to do another one.
With that, I thought I might take the front corner of the road [at Sanara], and create a little café for the guests staying at the hotel. We opened the restaurant one morning and said we have three breakfasts and two lunches, all using the coconut recipes. I thought, worse comes to worse, I can switch back to using corn.
Gradually we added more things and added a dinner menu. Everyone was like, “This is amazing!” People were booking the hotel because they wanted to try the restaurant. Then non-guests started coming, sometimes two or three times a day. It was surprising!

 

 

It’s true that I’m never exactly thrilled to put on a bikini after eating a bunch of Mexican food. Do you think people were feeling better physically and coming for that?

Yes! Some people were of course celiac or gluten-free, but then other people didn’t care about the healthy side of it. They loved the food and the location and became avid fans. I always knew when I travelled that, even though I was getting the benefit of a vacation, I would feel worse because of the food.
I never want to create a meal in my restaurant that gave guests that bloated feeling. So I always consider that – when you combine this and that will it still be good, or will it be too heavy? It’s all about balance.
It’s almost impossible to overeat at our restaurant. I think that’s because it’s really high quality, your body knows it’s getting what it needs, and because of the way we’re playing with putting things together. You’re satisfied but not overly full.

So now you’re opening a restaurant in Los Angeles? That seems like the perfect crowd for another Real Coconut.

We knew there was a demand for it, and we get requests all the time. At the initial stages, it was hard because we had this beautiful space and concept in Tulum and how do you translate that into something really commercial?
I was a bit anti at first, but I knew at the core of it – because people connected so well with what we had in Tulum – that we had the opportunity to nourish and feed people in other places; and I couldn’t ignore that. It’s my streak too, I like expanding.

Where can Angelenos get their hands on some of these delightful dishes?

We’re opening with We Work. It’s in the Gas Tower, the big Deloitte building. We Work has three floors within there; it’s a 52-story building, a huge space.
We’ve gone in and helped change the culture of the building. They have a big space downstairs in the lobby where we’re putting the restaurant in collaboration with We Work, and it’s open to the public.
We also sell our chips and wraps at Whole Foods Market.

 

Seven Spots Daniella Loves in (and out of) Tulum

The Beach Style Boutiques

Tulum has become full of great fashion boutiques, many of which are run by friends of mine. They tend to be on the main beach road: Katie James’ byJames brand, and Cynthia Conrad. I started my own line, too: Daniella Hunter features robes and things we have in the hotel, like our beautiful bamboo sheets.

The Organic Market 

When I first went to Tulum, you couldn’t really find an organic market; but Frutas y Verduras Pool has amended that. You can also find incredible spices there, like copal, a sacred Mayan resin that they burn for all sorts of ceremonies.

The Most Interesting Ruins

In Coba you can climb the ruins, and on your way out there are a couple of villages where you can get dream catchers and baskets made by hand.

 

 

The Sage Advice

We love to visit a great friend of ours, Abuelo, one of the Mayan Elders. He lives in a village outside of Tulum. He’s a healer, but also incredibly sage, a beautiful spirit and soul to spend time with. The village adjacent to his is home to other incredible Mayan elders, and they’ve invited us to share their harvest with them.

The Street Fruit

The fruit sold on the side of the street is probably the best fruit you can get. Pineapple season, you’ll go nuts. Rambutan is also really great; it’s like a hairy leche, these red things, they’re amazing.

The Trip Out of Town

If we want to get away for a night we go to a another hotel called Jashita, 10 minutes outside of Tulum, in Soliman Bay. It’s a completely different experience.

The Best Ceviche 

While you’re in Soliman Bay go to Chamico’s! Hartwood has become really famous in Tulum as far as excellent fish and ceviche; but this place is amazing and not as well-known.

 

Jashita Hotel Soliman Bay 

 

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.

Here’s what we did.

 

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

A HiFi Sean Guide to Musical Glasgow + New Crystal Waters Collab ‘Testify’

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Image by Gavin Mills
As singer of the late, great Scottish band The Soup Dragons, Sean Dickson was living high in the early 90s. Their dance-ified cover of The Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free” became a massive hit on both sides of the pond – followed by yet another chart topper, the impossibly groovy “Divine Thing.”
The group disbanded in 1995. Dickson fell in love with New York club sounds at that time – but went through a difficult period personally. Having come out, and being married and a father, he busied himself with DJing, but made no new music for some fifteen years.
A timely revelation led him to eventually hooking up with Crystal Waters – whose 1991 single “Gypsy Woman” also made her a big star – and producing the exuberant hit “Testify” under the moniker HiFi Sean. Its success has shot him straight back into the musical spotlight. He released a 2016 album, Ft., and is now ready to reconquer America – with the Testify! Remixes collection just out this week.
A Glasgow lad, we caught up with him for a chat, and also asked him to turn us on to his fave spots in Scotland’s hippest city.

You were out of music for quite awhile. What inspired you to come back as HiFi Sean?

I lost confidence in myself after a few major personal issues. So I fell back on what I have always loved doing, sharing music with others by DJng and running club nights. Eventually, I realized that a long period of time had passed and it was time for me to start making records again. I decided to go the collaborative route for my first solo album, Ft.  Working with artists whose music I loved allowed me to regain artistic confidence.

Coming out had actually sent you into something of a spiral?   

Yes, I had a nervous breakdown. To some it’s all rainbow flags and unicorns to come out, and for others, not so much. There wasn’t much of a support network for married men with children to help explain what I was feeling and experiencing.   

 

How did you come to work with Crystal Waters? She’s still a big deal in the house music scene, no?

Crystal has ten #1 Billboard dance hits to her name, including last year’s “Believe,” a collaboration featuring Sted-E and Hybrid Heights.  I love her voice and she’s someone with whom I’ve always wanted to work.  My buddy, DJ Ralphi Rosario, connected Crystal and myself.

Are you still DJing around the European dance scene, the big Ibiza clubs and such?

At the start of this month, Crystal and I played Ministry of Sound in London and Glitterbox in Ibiza.  So much fun and the crowds went mad. 

U2 is playing “Testify” before each show on their Joshua Tree tour. Do you know them personally? 

No, I don’t. I think they discovered the track because the club scene in Dublin was quick to embrace some earlier mixes of “Testify.” It’s crazy to think how many people are getting to hear it every night on that tour.  I humbly thank U2 for the support.  

What’s next for HiFi Sean? 

Five mixes of “Testify,” including the original, are being released worldwide this Friday by Defected Records. I’m excited at the prospect of more people discovering the track. The rest of my year will be spent working on a few singles, and at the start of next year I intend to be back in the studio working on a new album.  I’ve already written quite a bit of material for it and I’m pleased to say it sounds amazingly exciting, and unlike what anyone else is doing. That’s my main goal for future projects – musical exploration.  

What inspires you about Glasgow? What makes it such a unique city? 

Glasgow is home and always will be. It has so much artistic energy revolving around music, art and culture.  It’s one of those cities that really does not need to keep justifying its existence to those down south.  Glasgow is happy to do its own thing and that’s what I love about it.   

 

HiFi Sean’s Fave Glasgow Spots

The Poetry Club

A cool arts space designed for dancing and socializing. It is run by artist Jim Lambie, with whom I used to cavort around town attending parties, doing some DJing, and often getting ripped off.  I love the fact that Jim has put something back into the city’s nightlife for all the times we prospered from it.

 

 

Trans Europe Cafe 

I used to be obsessed as a teenager by a cafe called Equi’s up by Charing Cross in Glasgow. It was across the road from Tiffany’s, a ballroom in which I saw many great bands like New Order, Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. We used to stare for hours at all the pen graffiti on the cafe walls from people leaving little messages about shows they had attended. We would daydream and put ourselves into those situations.  Trans Europe Cafe somehow has the same vibe for me. Within the confines of its art deco-meets-Kraftwerk-homage is where I prefer to go when I want to relish a delicious cheddar cheese toastie and a nice cuppa.

Mono CafeMonorail Music

Top UK vegan dining spot, complete with its own essential record store inside and a brilliant live band space for local underground artists. It’s the place to meet everyone on the Glasgow band scene from the past 20 years; at the ship’s wheel is Stephen Pastel of infamous Glasgow band The Pastels.  If you’re looking for something new for your record collection this store is a must.

 

 

Barrowland Ballroom

Infamous and legendary in every way; when I started The Soup Dragons, I could only dream I would ever headline this venue. Eventually I did, in the days leading up to Christmas 1990 – best present ever.  I have seen everybody here from The Cramps to The Beastie Boys to Echo and The Bunnymen, and hundreds more. It just oozes early 1940s Glasgow architecture and that starry ceiling looks as good from the stage as it does looking up at your fave band. The sprung floor ballroom really gets bouncy when the crowd gets moving.

The Berkeley Suite 

The Berkeley Suite – a converted 1980s casino – is now a favorite spot for all things disco and dazzling. Deep red Twin Peaks vibes in this classy club venue. You can see your fave disco DJs and soulheads merge for a cool night out on the town, where “banging” is a term that’s never used.

 

 

Boardwalk Empire: A Plush Weekend Getaway at Atlantic City’s Borgata

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There’s always been a lot of drama in Atlantic City. After all, it was once, as Steve Buscemi so diabolically demonstrated on Boardwalk Empire, a hub of nefarious activity. As we learned from that show, just building the roads in and out was a life or death enterprise. And while there have been more goings than comings (at least of the real estate variety) of late – the last of which, with the closing of the Taj Mahal casino in the summer of 2016, bore the name of our current Commander-in-Tweet – we never pass up a chance to hit one of our fave weekend getaways: the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

On a recent long weekend, we alighted in the plush lobby of the Water Club just in time for Friday cocktail hour (okay, it’s always sort of cocktail hour in AC.) The WC is the Borgata’s boutique-hotel-within-a-hotel, where we would be laying our heads. And for the next few days we just got lost in in the opulence of the city’s plushest resort – while reacquainting ourselves with the charms of downtown and its well-trod boardwalk.

Here were the highs, and, thanks to our lack of finesse at the craps table, one minor low.

 

 

The View

With a combined 2800 guest rooms the hotel complex is pretty much an empire unto itself. The fact that’s it’s not on the boardwalk, but a couple of miles inland, distances it from some of the less, you know, glamorous establishments. Our sleek room on the 27th floor of the Water Club afforded us a spectacular view of the harbor and Atlantic Ocean – a great start.

Going Japanese

Walkways lined with shops lead from both hotels and converge on the casino floor and some world class dining establishments. On our first night, we opted for sumptuous Japanese at chef Michael Schulson’s buzzy Izakaya. Edamame dumplings exploded with a broth of sake and truffles (food of the Gods, veritably) and were small enough that we didn’t feel guilty that we ordered two. An entree of salt & pepper flounder with red chili relish, nori, and shishito was equally delish. After a slightly fuzzy, sake-soaked post-dinner walk around the tables we headed back to the room, with plans for a busy day to follow.

 

 

A Bloody Sunny Start

Our fave spot for breakfast was the Water Club’s lobby level Sunroom, a lush oasis of cascading waterfalls and plentiful plant life. So, perfect for lingering rapturously over a lobster & bacon omelette and a Water Club Classic bloody mary.

Swimming, Beer

We spent the morning having a swim or three, starting at the top, literally, with the Water Club’s Immersion Spa – 32 floors above the casino. Floating in the 80-foot long infinity pool with 360-degree views of the Atlantic shore had us feeling worlds away from the New York City anxiety and stress. Back at lobby level we lounged at both the indoor pool with dual jacuzzis, and the Borgata’s outdoor pool, which is conveniently located next to its super fun Beer Garden.

 

 

Over the Boardwalk

Atlantic City itself has a windswept charm that recalls a simpler time. The fact that some of the boardwalk casinos are shuttered lends the place a distinct air of mystery, but also a curious calm. The Hamptons it is definitely not. A leisurely walk on the boardwalk, requisite sun, seagulls and funky pizza joints in place, made for a genuinely enjoyably mellow afternoon.

Meatballs and Chris Rock

That evening’s dinner was at the newly opened Angeline by Michael Symon, the James Beard and Iron Chef award winner’s ode to classic Italian food. The menu had few surprises, just perfect takes on chicken parm, Caesar salad, and our fave, “Mom’s Meatballs.” On to the main event, as we packed into the on-site, 1000 seat Music Box Theater for a set from the still provocative Chris Rock, who was touring his Total Blackout show. (N.B. The theater also hosts a weekly burlesque show.)

 

Angeline by Michael Symon

Losing With Dignity

As the word casino features prominently in the Borgata’s name, there was no chance of ever losing sight of the hotel’s hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables. We limited ourselves to a modest bankroll, with which we managed to hang on to for close to an hour, before surrendering it at a blackjack table. The loss was well worth it for the great people watching, and a couple of gratis cocktails.

The Nightcap

A final nightcap was proffered in the form of good old bottle service at the hotel’s glammy mega club Premier – an over the top DJ emporium, which is promising a rebirth of nightlife in AC. Judging by the shenanigans we witnessed, we’d say they’re on to something.

 

 

Third Wave Coffee, Psychedelic Cathedrals + Jean-Paul Gaultier: Montreal Turns 375

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The news at home is perpetually unsettling, the conversation endlessly divisive. So what better time to hop the quick flight over the border to one of BlackBook‘s most beloved destinations than during Montreal’s dazzling, year-long 375th birthday celebration? Canada’s grooviest city has divided the events into four seasonal themes – with summer and fall still to go, obviously.

On our most recent trip, we immersed ourselves in the celebratory cultural offerings, while also taking time to stroll the beautiful McGill campus and the city’s many green parks, imbibe a few fizzy champagne cocktails at the Ritz Carlton, and indulge in the city’s exceptional designer and vintage shopping.

Here were some of our faves…

Divine Lighting

Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica is hosting AURA, a radical new show of music and illumination. Revealing the Basilica’s exquisite collection of statuary, Moment Factory (the same design and production studio that is artfully lighting up the Jacques-Cartier Bridge nightly) has designed an immersive experience that both sonically and visually captivates – enlivening the grandness of the cathedral interior with a psychedelic multimedia spectacle, featuring august orchestral sounds and a dramatic light spectacle. You’ll never look at being in church the same way again.

 

The Daily Grind

Montreal’s perpetual buzz might partially be due to its residents’ obsession with coffee. And not just any coffee, but ‘third wave’ coffee, where sourcing and production, origin and output all get equal attention. This artisanal focus is being championed by numerous local purveyors, which is why scheduling a cafe crawl with Thom Seivewright, the founder of Living Like a Local, is the best way to experience some of the city’s best offerings in the grooviest spots. These include Dispatch, where the sleek, minimalist interiors and packaging design rival the handpicked, farm-to-counter coffee selection. Some other must-sips are Cafe Osmo, in the Notman House, Le Moineau Masque in The Plat (one of the city’s hippest ‘hoods), and Crew Collective & Cafe, which is also a members-only co-working space and basement nightclub, located in the utterly spectacular former Royal Bank building in Old Montreal.

 

Crew Collective & Cafe

Avant-Garde Circus Folk

Cirque du Soleil was actually birthed in Montreal. And the experimental circus troupe’s latest show, VOLTA, is a spellbinding story about the freedom to choose and blazing your own trail – albeit in flamboyant costumes and roller skates. As you might expect, the transformational sets, lighting, original music and general choreographed mayhem assault the senses from all sides. VOLTA even features a full on BMX park, mounted on stage, where riders drop in to deliver breathtaking stunts.

Plugged In, Well-Fed

We were particularly privileged to spend time at the Society for Arts and Technologies. Set up in an abandoned public market in Montreal’s former Red Light District, the 20-year-old SAT bills itself as an incubator of talent, and center for research in emerging technologies. Inviting “visionary artists, techno-poets, enlightened artisans, atypical engineers and unconventional thinkers” to connect and create original work, it boasts over 30,000 members. The non-profit is also community-minded, even lobbying successfully to legalize skateboarding in the adjacent Peace Park.
Dining at Foodlab, atop SAT, is as adventurous as the centre’s programming. We were served a locavore-driven, eclectic menu (no poutine here), complemented by a renowned wine selection. Exchanges between chefs, sommeliers, mixologists and “audacious foodies” are also hosted regularly here. Post-dinner we were ushered into a Buckminster Fuller-esque dome, where we laid our well-fed bodies on giant beanbags and tripped out in the semi-dark over a cosmic show of mesmerizing light and sound.

 

Foodlab

Curated History Lessons

You may wonder (as did we) what those captivating projections on the buildings are as you traverse Old Montreal by night. Created by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, Cite Memoire invites viewers to meet a cast of notable historical characters involved in the evolution of the city. More than 20 poetic tableaux are brought to life through image, words and music, emerging from the walls and the ground, infused with just the right dose of whimsy. You can download the free app for maximum effect.
The newly opened Fort Ville-Marie pavilion at the Montreal Archaeology and History Complex, Point-a-Calliere, has dusted the former musty fustiness off the site of the city’s birthplace. The museum itself is built atop a restored sewer tunnel, which now features a walk-through light installation by the aforementioned Moment Factory. Props to the museum’s passionate curatorial team, who created a uniquely engaging experience – where visitors can view the actual archaeological dig site through a reinforced glass floor (the only one like it in the world, we were told), allowing the opportunity to connect with the very origins of the city.

 

Room With a Dazzling View

Au Sommet Place Ville Marie rightfully boasts the most beautiful view of Montreal. The 360 degree observation deck also currently hosts the #MTLGO exhibit, an interactive video portrait series of 55 notable Montrealers. We playfully clicked our way through the various personalities and perspectives, getting to know Olympic athletes like Jennifer Abel and Caroline Ouellette, choreographer Marie Chouinard, comedian Sugar Sammy, conductor Kent Nagano, DJ Ghislain Poirier, circus troop Les 7 Doigts de la Main, and restaurateur Martin Picard. (Alas, no Arcade Fire pics.)
From hockey to gastronomy, performance art, language (of course, everyone here speaks fluent English and French) and neighborhoods like the Plateau Mont-Royal and Vieux Montreal, we loved tagging points of interest on iPads as we moved along the exhibition’s perimeter, enjoying the panoramic view. As a nice little touch, everyone receives a printout of their customized journey to pursue at leisure.
Our hunger for knowledge turned to actual hunger – so we dined at the observatory’s spectacular restaurant, Les Enfants Terribles. Serving a mix of old and new Quebec cuisine (paired with a glass of one of their refreshing roses), the only thing we enjoyed more than the frites was the jaw-dropping view.

 

Au Sommet Place Ville Marie

Puppeteers and Fashion Shows

After a mouthwatering morning croissant – Montreal, by the way, has seen a boom in boulangeries and patisseries all across the city in the last few years – we set out for an arts-focused final day.
A Nous la Rue brings together 60 street theatre companies from six countries (France, Spain, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and, of course, Canada), taking over Montreal’s streets every day in July with over 800 performances. We were particularly enchanted by the Big Little Girl, who brazenly squatted to pee as part of her performance; the dog who ‘panted’ as he trotted close behind her; and the enormous Deep Sea Diver. The “giants” enacted a touching story of Montreal via pulleys and strings controlled by dozens of energetic, red velvet-clad puppeteers.
Being as we are so sartorially obsessed, we also made a point of visiting the McCord Museum’s “Fashioning Expo 67” and Jean Paul Gaultier’s landmark show “Love is Love” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – both up through October, and not to be missed.
(N.B. We’re planning to return for “A Crack In Everything,” a paean to the recently deceased and deeply lamented Leonard Cohen, coming to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal  (MAC) in November.)

 

Jean Paul Gaultier at the Museum of Fine Arts

 

Behind The Shoot: Gaudess + Laduree Getting Glam at the Baccarat Hotel

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What happens when some Uptown cool kids get together with a Downtown style icon at one of New York’s most glamorous hotels, to wear fancy jewelry and eat even fancier cookies? You get a take away of a lot of really fabulous images.

And so it was that the new campaign for the rebranding of Gaudess jewelry came to life. They’re already known, under the direction of CEO-Designer Amy Walko, for decorating such famous necks and wrists as those of Paz de la Huerta, Kristin Davis, Shakira and Addison Riecke (star of Sofia Coppola’s new film Beguiled). But when artist Ondine Viñao turned on her camera at the plush, uber-fabulous Baccarat Hotel, it was to capture the chemistry between fashion doyenne Lauren Ezersky, a trio of young influencers – social media star Eileen Kelly, budding artist-photographer Jude Liana, young fashion scenester Scarlett Hubbard.

 

 

It was all the vision of high-profile Creative Consultant Elizabeth Cohen (her clients have included everyone from Jessica Simpson to Shanghai Fashion Week), who acted as Creative Director on the campaign – uniquely bringing together such marquee luxury brands for the shoot.

Some of the fashions were provided by New York’s most exalted vintage shop What Goes Around Comes Around. But it was the very chic confections provided by the Laduree shop in Soho that everyone seemed most excited about – as they were a perfect aesthetic complement to Gaudess’ dazzling new collection. (And, of course, they’re also incredibly yummy.)

 

 

(Credits: Gaudess – Owner / Designer: Amy Walko; Campaign Creative Director : Elizabeth Cohen; Photographer: Ondine Vinao; Hair Artist: Laurent DuFourg; Makeup Artist: Sandy Linter; Fashion stylist: Jasmine Caccamo; Models: Killer and a sweet thang / aka Eileen Kelly, Lauren Ezersky, Jude Liana)

 

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

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Continuing our exploration of the seductive Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias (see Part I of the story), we ventured out of the walled city to see how the locals live.

A 10-minute walk directly south of the Old City, and past the Parque del Centenario, brought us to Getsemani, the town’s once very sketchy but now colorful bohemian hub. Strolling its quiet (during the day at least), narrow, tree-lined streets we came across all manor of intriguing urban life: old men playing dominoes in dusty front rooms – front doors and windows are often wide open, presumably to encourage a little circulation – which double as industrious, home-based businesses (i.e. beauty parlors), and stray cats and dogs lounging in the sun. In the evenings the bars fill up, and enthusiastic party people take over.

 

 

It was in Getsemani, and more specifically at Demente, a hip but romantic restaurant with a soaring atrium and amazing pizza, that we first met Julian Baker of Travel Colombia Direct – our insider for all things Cartagena. While Baker still sounds like the British prep schooler that he is, nine years in Colombia have infused him with a very South American cosmopolitanism, along with an excellent grasp of Spanish. His lovely Cartagenan wife Juliana, a jewelry designer, is also an advisor to the travel company.

“It’s a unique beautiful city,” Julian enthused, “with some of the most charming people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. This place has something for everyone: typical and international gastronomy, pumping nightlife, first class hotels, fantastic shopping, history, art and culture. All wrapped up in year-round sunny days, local beaches and nearby islands – a magical place, that will take your breath away if you give her the chance to.”

Dinner and drinks at Demente gave way to a midnight stroll through the hot streets; kids were still up playing football in front of the old church and portable refreshment carts supplied unnecessary yet delicious, sugary nightcaps. We stumbled back to our hotel, the bewitching Casa Pizarro, while the street scenes played out until dawn.

 

 

For the record, another great hotel choice in the neighborhood is Monterrey, on Getsemani’s northern perimeter. It has a rooftop pool and bar with a magnificent 360-degree view of the city…for just $80 a night.

While the best shopping in Cartagena is in the Old City, we discovered the marvelous Artesanias de Colombia around the corner from our hotel, which retails beautiful, handmade local housewares and clothing. Moving farther afield we headed west to Bocagrande, Cartagena’s downtown and beach area, where new chain hotels and shopping malls are bringing modern gentrification to the area. We saved our water sports for more exotic locales, but found the charmingly ramshackle beachfront restaurant Kiosco El Bony, where we dug into a lunch of fried fish and coconut rice, all washed down with a couple of bottles of Aguila beer.

 

Artesanias de Colombia

 

Cartagena is surrounded by water and we were eager to get out on it. The best way to hit the waves is to charter a small private boat and head to the Rosario Islands (a cluster of about 30), about an hour off shore, with plenty of options for swimming, beaching, eating and drinking; a few even have hotels. Travel Colombia Direct organizes day trips and more, including yoga retreats, like this one in October. For something a little less elaborate, grab a taxi and head 30 minutes northeast of the city to the dusty town of Manzanillo Del Mar, where the beach is beautiful and quiet and you can grab lunch at one of the cheap and cheerful local restaurants.

On our last night we had a wonderful tapas dinner at the cool, international Spanish/Colombian restaurant Caffé Lunatico, on one of Getsemani’s quiet side streets. Afterwards we headed back to the Old City, joined the locals at Café del Mar, an always buzzing bar/restaurant on top of the 17th Century city wall, where we watched the sun set into the ocean.

Just as we found ourselves doing, you’ll likely spend the final hours of your trip to Cartagena planning your return.

 

Rosario Islands 

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: Chicago’s Aviary Bar is Coming to the Mandarin Oriental NYC

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Lorded over as it is by arguably America’s ultimate godhead (and rule-breaking) chef, scoring a rezzy and actually dining at Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago has surely been the most exalted “I’ve eaten there” foodie accessory since it opened in 2005. But its corresponding cocktail bar Aviary, which debuted in 2011, offers perhaps even greater fodder for dinner party bragging rights – with its bizarre tipples resembling high-concept science and art projects.

We had the kooky pleasure of experiencing both at a 2016 pop-up in Madrid. But the Aviary will actually finally get a permanent second home, when it debuts this August at the plush Mandarin Oriental New York. It will be perched dazzlingly above Central Park, on the hotel’s 35th floor, with an appropriately theatrical design by Adam D. Tihany of Tihany Design – whose inimitable style also graces the Per Se restaurant in the Time Warner Center (where the hotel is located).

The 90-seat lounge will offer – as in Chicago – an interactive experience, with a glass-enclosed, fully-viewable Drink Kitchen. After all, watching the cocktail alchemist’s as work is worth at least a quarter of the actual price of the your drink. Another carry over from the original is The Office, an even more exclusive bar in an already exclusive bar – but with a retro vibe and with a drinks program geared towards those with more classical (read: less outlandishly outrageous) tastes.

Either way, bring your imagination.

 

 

This is the Keith Haring Inspired Winning Artwork for the Moxy Hotel’s #BlankCanvas Competition

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Somewhere along the way, hotels decided that buying serious (or sometimes dubious) art collections and installing them around the rooms and public spaces was a really good idea. But a better one would seemingly be for hotels to actually support young art world talent.

To wit, the Moxy Hotel Times Square competition #BlankCanvas, in which artists were asked to submit designs that could be transformed into…(wait for it) a 14-story, 20 x 120 mural gracing the West Atrium. The winner (out of 2600 submissions from 46 countries) was Nicholas Lokasasmita, whose work is noticeably inspired by the late Keith Haring.

“Keith will always be my biggest inspiration in the making of my artwork,” he explains. “I’m really inspired by the spontaneous bold stroke and automatism of the shape. For the Moxy piece, I created a handmade pattern using my rough brush and black ink on paper, then digitalized it for larger medium format. I also mixed around the colors using Photoshop to create a more colorful and playful look.”

The hotel itself is scheduled for a September opening, at which time guests and non-guests will have the opportunity to stare in awe at the gargantuan finished piece.