Assouline’s New ‘Roma’ by Alfonso Cuarón Captures the Striking Imagery of the Oscar-Winning Director’s Latest Masterpiece

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Beginning with 1995’s Great Expectations (starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke), Alfonso Cuarón had a spectacular run of cinematic gems – Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and 2013’s George Clooney starring Gravity, for which the Mexican writer-director won a Best Director Oscar – that would surely be the envy of almost any contemporary filmmaker.

Last month his gripping new, semi-autobiographical film Roma arrived in theaters, and has since been universally hailed as an uncontested masterpiece (Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal called it, “one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and one of the most moving”). The plot is focused around a housekeeper for a middle-class Mexico City family in the 1970s – and it is a highly emotionally charged work.

 

 

Yet it is as much a visual meditation on a time gone by, taking the audience back to a place that has changed so much since then. Indeed, rarely has a film so poignantly captured the visual aesthetic of the period it is meant to evoke; which only makes the new accompanying Assouline book Roma such an essential treasure, for both fans of Cuarón, and devotees of the fine art of cinematography.

Page after page of striking images allow the reader to ruminate on a moment in Mexico City time, viscerally reminding of what an equally volatile and spellbinding a capital it really is.

“There is something about Roma,” observes venerable Mexican author Valeria Luiselli. “It produces a reverberation, it lingers inside you way after the movie has ended.”

Roma the book hits shelves in January, just in time for Oscar consideration. But consider pre-ordering it as a particularly weighty Christmas gift, for those cultured friends who simply don’t need another boring sweater or redundant bottle of booze.

 

 

 

The ‘David Bowie Is’ Exhibition Mobile App is Released…and it’s Narrated by Gary Oldman

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Seemingly celestial dwelling enigma David Bowie, the man who fell to earth for our eternal wonderment, enlightenment, and on certain days reason to live, was always looking to the grandiosity of the very Heavens (and everything under them) for inspiration. As we were once again reminded this week – which for many will forever be “Bowie Week,” as it commemorates the Starman’s birthday (the 8th), his death (the 10th), and release of his final album Blackstar (also the 8th).

Fitting then, that his virtual reality debut should also occur during this week.

Based on the record-breaking exhibit that first opened at London’s V&A Museum in 2013, and subsequently attracted over 2 million visitors on its 12-city worldwide tour, the lofty ambition of the newly released David Bowie Is Real app was to recreate as much as possible the comprehensive collection of Bowie’s art, music, fashion, and ephemera that were exhibited – and make it look thrilling on a really tiny screen.

 

Gary Oldman narrating David Bowie Is Real, image by Hideo Oida

Bowie + Gary Oldman, image by Floria Sigismondi

 

The augmented reality app (an incredible bargain at just $7.99) is a virtual and absolutely stunning walk through the exhibition, featuring 38 songs, 56 costumes, plus photos, lyric sheets, paintings, sketches – and for obscurantists, even some items that were not seen in the original V&A show. And as it turns out, Bowie’s oeuvre dazzles just as readily in compressed form.

Besides the obvious excitement and allure of being able to rummage around in Bowie’s world at our leisure, and unbothered by hundreds of fellow museum goers, narration for the experience is delivered by fellow South Londoner, and all-around artistic genius in his own right Gary Oldman. We’ve loved Oldman from the get, astonishing in roles as diverse as Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, Beethoven, and then finally winning a 2018 Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. He and Bowie worked together on the film Basquiat and in the video for DB’s “The Next Day.”

“Bowie Week” brings many mixed emotions, the sadness of loss and the joy of his life-altering influence among them. The new app, above all, will serve as a daily reminder of Bowie’s unparalleled contributions to modern art, fashion and, of course, music.

 

First Images: The Nature-Shrouded New W Costa Rica Hotel – Reserva Conchal

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Remember when winter actually necessitated January trips to Jamaica and South America? Now, with global-warming temps wreaking havoc on the Northeastern ski season, you head south simply because it seems the only reasonable thing to do.

But like, say, Tulum and Berlin, Costa Rica has gone from being a post-Millennium destination-of-the-moment to securing a regular spot on everyone’s annual “hottest destination” lists. In other words, if you haven’t been, you should really start planning to go sometime soon.

And here’s a good reason: W Hotels, having decisively ramped up their international aspirations over the past decade, now seem to have hotels popping up in a lot of just those sorts of buzzy places – the latest being, naturally, W Costa Rica – Reserva Conchal. Perched along the western edge of the northern Guanacaste Coast, despite its rather feral location, it is nevertheless stacked with all the usual urban W goodies.

 

 

The site? A 2300-acre nature reserve, with all its attendant wildlife (time to make some new monkey friends?), near to pristine beaches and world class surfing. Yet inside, interiors by W’s in-house Mr. Important design team seamlessly weaves together nature and urbanity.

To wit, beds slotted into wooden enclosures, topped by abstract floral murals, with fish bone wood sofa structures in the suites; the WET Deck with expansive infinity pool; the private Zona Azul Beach Club; a contemporary AWAY Spa; and six different epicurean experiences, for city sophistication in the jungle…including poolside Latin-Medi dining at Cocina de Mercado, and the stylish Living Room Bar for tapas and cocktails.

And oh, yeah – in January, it will be 90 degrees there.

 

BlackBook Exclusive: ‘Bad Santa’ Cocktail Recipes from Johnny Swet’s Grand Republic Cocktail Club

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We’ve been a fan of Johnny Swet (Jimmy at The James, Skylark, Rogue & Canon) since as long as our booze-tinted memory allows. So no surprise, we have been enamored with the exalted mixology alchemist’s latest BKNY tippling mecca, Grand Republic Cocktail Club, since it opened at the far end of Greenpoint Avenue earlier this year. It’s dark, cozy…and the expertly made drinks elicit epicurean appreciation with every sip.

To celebrate their first holiday season, Swet and Co. have devised a cheeky pop-up theme and called it – with obvious nods to Billy Bob Thornton -“Bad Santa”…complete with a dedicated menu of drinks with names like Over Proof Eggnog and Super Drunk Uncle. For those not inclined towards Rock Center ice-skating excursions, this is where you absolutely need to be, to hide out from the stress and seasonal-defective obligation to be ‘merry and bright,’ especially during these last couple of weeks of December, erm…cheer.

So come for the sparkly holiday décor, stay for the specially crafted seasonal sips, and the especially great company. GRCC is the perfect antidote to all those sugar plum fairies and candy cane, um…whatevers.

Let nothing you dismay…

 

Grand Republic Cocktail Club Holiday Cocktail Recipes

Christmas Viagra Colada (pictured above)

In a Tin:
1.75 oz Mezcal
2 oz Coconut Mix*
.5 oz Blue Curaçao
.5 oz Lime Juice
Shake to Temperature with Ice
Strain into a Coup
No Garnish
*equal parts of Coconut Cream and Coconut Milk

Willie’s Old Fashioned

In a Mixing Glass:
2 oz Bourbon
.5 oz Tobacco infused Simple Syrup
4 Dashes Orange Bitters
Stir with Ice
Strain into Rocks Glass/Ice
Orange Twist

 

 

Bad Santa

In a Tin:
1 oz Everclear
1.5 oz Peppermint Schnapps
1 oz Dark Chocolate Syrup
Shake with Ice
Strain Rocks Glass/Ice
Candy cane Garnish

 

After a Very Dark Year, Cocteau Twins’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ Will Brighten Your Holiday Season

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If you haven’t followed the enigmatic saga of the Cocteau Twins since their astonishing 1982 debut Garlands, it’s perhaps a bit hard to grasp the monumental gravity of the news that Elizabeth Fraser will join Massive Attack onstage during their spring 2019 tour – which will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of their landmark 1998 album Mezzanine.

But stepping back from that particular exhilaration, the occasion of Christmas Eve after such a trying, harrowing year – at home and across the globe – seems perfectly right to revisit the Cocteaus’ somewhat obscure 1993 Snow EP, for which they uncharacteristically covered a pair of very familiar holiday classics: “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman.” The latter gets a fairly and charmingly straight up treatment, considering their penchant for hallucinatory atmospherics. But it’s the update of the former that yet manages to decisively warm our winterized – and slightly hardened – hearts 25 years later.

 

 

Indeed, Ms. Fraser still enchants with her ethereal, but perhaps slightly-less-fantastical-than-usual vocal performance; while Robyn Guthrie and Simon Raymonde escort the snowy standard benevolently into their dreamlike aesthetic universe.

And as Elizabeth lilts, “Later on, we’ll conspire / As we dream by the fire / To face unafraid, the plans that we’ve made / Walking in a winter wonderland,” you just might let yourself believe everything is going to be okay.

A Merry Christmas to you and yours.

 

 

 

 

No Snow Again This Christmas?? Take a Magical ‘Sleigh Ride’ With SHEL

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If you live in one of those global-warming ravaged states (where one can once again expect it to be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit all through the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day) we have the next best thing to an actual cover of snow. The lovely, and gloriously ornate Colorado sisters SHEL (who are more likely to be decked in florid, neo-Victoriana than boughs of holly) recorded this magical cover of one of our perennial winter faves, “Sleigh Ride” – complete with mandolin, whimsical strings and breathily ethereal vocals.

Even better is the fantastical accompanying video – which uses a sort of Tim Burton influenced shadow box theatre to tell the story of a beautiful, magical holiday romance triumphing over the forces of evil. Perhaps a hopeful metaphor for our lamentable times?

And while they’re helping you to conjure a bit of holiday wonderment, make sure to purchase one of their distinctly stylish “I Know You’re Real St Nicholas” t-shirts, to keep the magic going all year long. Oh, and their 2016 CD Just Crazy Enough features this awesome cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

It’s grand, just holding your hand…

 

This Long Lost Redd Kross Cover of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ Will Totally Blow You Away

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Redd Kross were LA post-punk’s glamtastic iconoclasts, as American as glitter-dusted apple pie, but with a charmingly unapologetic Anglophilic bent. Rocker brothers Steve and Jeff McDonald brought the band back in 2004, and have been valiantly attempting to resuscitate rock & roll ever since.

Venerable indie label Merge has just joined the cause, this week reissuing their long forgotten 1984 album Teen Babes From Monsanto – a collection of mostly covers of songs by the Stones, Bowie and, most surprisingly, ABBA.

And no exaggeration, their shockingly unheralded, glam-metal update of the Swedish quartet’s classic “Dancing Queen” has veritably rescued us from an otherwise dark and troubled 2018 – sending us into fits of Euro-pop ecstasy. So, naturally, we just had to share.

Warning: You may find yourself dancing unselfconsciously around the room for hours on end, with this song on perpetual repeat.

Enjoy!

 

Thai Puppets, Vanishing Spies & One Very Glamorous Party: BlackBook Returns to Bangkok, Part II

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(Continuing on from Part I…)

 

During our visit to Thailand’s urban jewel, we must admit that we spent a great deal of time taking advantage of everything the glamorous new Waldorf Astoria had on offer. Even breakfast each morning at the upper lobby’s Brasserie presented us with a double-sided buffet: one with eggs, bagels and cheeses that were of course familiar, the other with Thai dim sum, rice, and spices that were less so…and where a dark, jellied, century egg was our chicken embryo option.

Across the lobby was the stately, light-filled, lounge/tea room Peacock Alley, where we did indeed have afternoon tea. Rising a couple of floors brought us to the magnificent 16th floor outdoor pool and spa where we spent a few hours before sunset watching a dramatic, monsoon season storm blow by, before indulging in a traditional Thai massage, which felt like doing yoga while lying down, and assisted. Naked.

 

 

Silk, and textiles in general, have played a large part in Thailand’s evolution; and inarguably no one had a greater impact on the Thai silk industry than the American businessman Jim Thompson did in the 1950s and 60s. His eye for design, and idea to employ thousands of stay at home Thai women as weavers, brought his company huge success. Adding an air of mystery to his legend, Thompson, at various times also a spy, architect, and military officer, disappeared into the Malaysian highlands in 1967 while on simply an everyday walk. His body was never found.

Before that, however, he completed his pièce de résistance in the form of a massive residence created from the bones of six old up-country Thai houses, which he used to display the impressive collection of antiques and valuables he’d collected over the decades. Our tour of his house/museum, and the surrounding Baan Krua neighborhood, where we saw small home silk factories in action, was fascinating and eye opening; and a stop at the onsite gift shop where Thompson silks were on display in abundance was a big win for us…and for the gift shop.

 

 

Back at the Waldorf, that night’s dinner was at the 56th floor restaurant Bull & Bear, a traditional, dark paneled and Deco themed bistro that specializes in the surf and turf staples of Wall Street watering holes – hence the name and eponymous recreation of the famous statue. While dining we were entertained by a floorshow performance of Hun Krabok, or Thai puppets. (Note: it’s quite possible that this was part of the opening week celebrations, so please don’t blame us if a 4-foot long wooden marionette doesn’t try to make out with your girlfriend when you’re dining there.)

One of the more unexpected, and welcome, experiences we had in Bangkok was a tour of the thoroughly modern and western influenced Creative District. We started with a delicious lunch at the Brooklyn-hip Thai Fusion restaurant The Never Ending Summer, in the Jam Factory arts complex – the neon Beatles lyric over the kitchen was the idea of Richard Branson, who happened by one day and ‘suggested’ the modification to the décor (And really, who was owner/architect Duangrit Bunnang to say “no” to Mr. Virgin?).

A short boat ride across the river had brought us to said district, and with local Foundations Director David Robinson leading us, we explored the Bang Rak, including the soon to be renovated customs house, OP Garden, the street art area, and galleries along Charoen Krung 36 Alley; we were especially digging the photography exhibit at Serindia Gallery. At creative incubator Warehouse 30 we had a glass of wine with artist P. Tendercool in his studio, where he creates custom tables and doors, and even ping-pong tables, apparently, from 100-year-old reclaimed wooden panels.

 

Jam Factory

 

 

Finally the big day, or night, had come. With invites out to all local celebs and fashionable types, and even rumor of a possible royal attendee, the opening party of the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok promised to be one of the most talked about events in recent memory. And it didn’t disappoint. Models in dresses of flowers – not just floral patterns – more black ties than the Oscars, and every bar and restaurant in the hotel lavishing delights on those worthy enough to have been on the guest list – we felt a tinge of importance – the event certainly made its point in declaring the ‘hotel’ (more like a #lifestylegoal) the most enviable new destination on Thai soil. A modern Grand Palace, if you will.

Following hours of excess that would make the forthcoming wake up call a difficult situation, we retired to our sumptuous suite for the last time.

Our early flight the next day required a reality reset; did we really have to leave? We were already missing the jovial banter we had with the head bartender at the glamorously decadent Loft bar the night before…and even the concierge seemed genuinely sad to see us go. The drive to the airport in the black Mercedes was a subdued affair, but we weren’t totally out of Waldorf hands yet: a suited handler with a WA pin met us curbside and escorted us to security where we finally bid adieu to the exhilarating Thai capital.

 

 

 

Dali, Hogfish and a Century-Old Grand Hotel: Three Days on FLA’s Glorious Gulf Coast

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The Dali Museum

 

Winter weather makes everything harder, especially in New York where, even at the best of times, the simple act of getting around town just isn’t that simple. Add freezing temps, slippery subway stairs, and some of the grumpiest people in existence, and the world becomes a Sisyphean nightmare. So the chance for an escape to Florida’s sunny Gulf Coast was not just welcome, but imperative.

Simplicity in all forms abounded throughout our quick three-day getaway, except, ironically, when it came to pronouncing the name of the town in which we were staying. First settled by Scottish explorers in the 1850s, Dunedin is a dialectical interpretation of their beloved Edinburgh. So, just for the record, it’s…Doo-Need-in.

 

The Fenway Hotel

 

Our home base was the Fenway Hotel. Originally built in the 1920s, its storied history includes time as a radio station and a school; but for the last decade or so it sat dormant, a grand dame in quiet disrepair. A few years ago, it was snapped up by the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA, who hoped to turn it into their headquarters. But that idea proved too ambitious; so a partnership with a major developer resulted in the subsequent relaunch of the hotel…and it’s quite the attention grabber. Surrounded by palm trees and lush greenery and overlooking the Gulf, the Fenway is a decidedly grandiose presence.

Our arrival coincided with one of most important times of the day in Western Florida: sunset! And the Fenway boasts the perfect viewing platform in its Hi-Fi Rooftop Bar, where we sampled signature Mai-Tai’s and did indeed mark the fiery star’s descent into the waves, before heading downstairs for dinner at the hotel’s HEW Parlor & Chophouse. The light and airy space features an open kitchen with a 22 seat ‘chef’s bar’ in front, where we indulged in locally inspired signature dishes including crab soup, and seared scallops with barbecued pork belly and parsnip & apple salad.

 

Hew Parlor & Chophouse

 

The following day we headed out to explore Dunedin, and the neighboring Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands. One of the more practical and scenic attractions of the area is the 40-mile long Pinellas Trail, a fastidious walking and biking path which we took up-and-down the coast on surprisingly fun electric bikes, courtesy of Pedego. We can’t overestimate the sheer joy we experienced when hitting the throttle, which would rev the bikes up to 20 mph. (OK, not quite the same as our vintage Triumph).

After parking the bikes we took a short ferry ride, during which we were followed by an inquisitive dolphin, to Caladesi Island State Park – we were lucky enough to have it almost entirely to ourselves. Its miles of pristine sand and shallow sandbars meant we could walk hundreds of yards out to sea without messing up our hair for out next Instagram post. Taking a break from the beach, we rented a kayak for a mesmerizing paddle through the neighboring mangroves. Across the sound was Honeymoon Island, whose lush vegetation we biked through, all the while on the lookout for some of the numerous species of birds of prey that call the place home. Seeing a swooping kestrel with lunch in its talons was a fascinatingly gruesome highlight.

 

Caladesi Island

 

Later that day we found ourselves bar-and-restaurant hopping in the vicinity of Dunedin’s Main Street. After lunch at Hog Island Fish Camp, where we did in fact sample fried hogfish (land bound hog was also on the menu), we strolled the picturesque streets of Dunedin, stopping to quaff a few handcrafted specialties at Dunedin Brewery, as well as the quaint, dog friendly 7venth Sun Brewing, and Woodwright Brewing, which is also part wood shop, minus the hipstery pretensions.

That evening’s dinner was at the enormous and wildly entertaininCasa Tina, whose authentic take on traditional Mexican cuisine was in danger of being overshadowed by its Aztec décor, and its floor shows of hula hoop twirling acrobats…but not quite. The dearth of great Mexican in NYC means that we know the real deal (sublime chiles en nogada, and arroz cabezon) when we taste it.

After a long day of exploring, the Fenway’s smart and cozy rooms were a delight to come back to.

 

Casa Tina

 

A trip to neighboring St. Pete was on the agenda for day three. An easy 45-minute drive south of Dunedin, it’s the area’s cosmopolitan city – although at a third of the size of San Francisco, still very much like a town.

After breakfast at the waterfront farmers market we explored the hallucinatory Dali Museum, which houses the largest collection of the surrealist master’s work outside of his native Spain, and left us with a much deeper appreciation of his genius; indeed, it’s not all about the melting clocks. Lunch was at FarmTable Cucina, inside the fabulous gourmet food hall Locale Market, which bills itself as a curated grocery market experience. FarmTable’s family-style Italian menu also included a delectable signature burger of 30-day dry aged beef, and a Florida grouper BLT.

In the merciless Florida sun, we clung to the shady side of the street while on a tour of local street art, which, in part due to a beautification initiative to transform the once gritty streets, is plentiful in St Pete. Local artist Derek Donnelly led us down alleyways while pointing out some of the city’s more influential murals, including a few of his own.

 

The Dali Museum

 

Continuing our downtown explorations, we strolled St. Pete’s Central Avenue of hipness, stopping to browse through the vinyl racks at 30 year old music mecca Daddy Kool, and the paperback racks at Florida’s largest bookstore, Haslams, before motoring west for a pint at the amazing bar-cum-canine-park Dog Bar, which is indeed a mashup of both. Gives a whole new meaning to “hair of the dog.”

Back at the Fenway we dressed for dinner and set off across the peninsula to quaint the Safety Harbor, on the Tampa Bay side, for our final repast. At Pizzeria Gregario we met with owner Greg Seymour, who fascinated us with an explanation of the process he uses to create the amazing biodynamic sourdough, wood-fired pizzas they specialize in – with the bottom line being you don’t feel like a stuffed hog after eating one. They are sublime.

We were up early the next day for a walk along the beach and simple breakfast at the Fenway, before heading back on the easiest of Delta flights to LGA, where we immediately missed the laid back attitude we’d just spent three days cultivating.

 

Dunedin Marina