Eight Brilliant Reasons to be in New Zealand This Spring (Actually, Autumn)

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A whirlwind of a trip to New Zealand last fall (their spring) left us so enamored of The Land of the Long White Cloud that we were inspired to head back this spring (their fall).

In anticipation, here are some final memories of our previous N-Zed sojourn – which can start you on your way to a perfect spring (fall) or fall (spring) excursion as well.

Got that?


Giapo Ice Cream

All the fresh fish and farm to table veggies were amazing, but we’ll never forget the over the top ice cream creations at Auckland’s Giapo; yes that’s a chocolate covered giant squid.



Marine Life Voyeurism

Our trip was very much urban focused, but there are also lots of great outdoorsy activities in NZ. And our fascinating exploration of nature included taking to the water in a see-through kayak, to discover Goat Island’s undersea marine reserve – and we didn’t even get wet.



Dining and Bedding Down at the Boatshed

Few hotels have left us more enchanted than Waiheke Island’s magnificent Boatshed, where our sublime three-course dinner was served in the communal living room – and our bedroom looked out over Waiheke’s ethereal, expansive Oneroa Bay.



An NZ History Lesson

New Zealand’s modern history is amazingly less than 400 years old, so pretty much all of it fits in Wellington’s fascinating Te Papa Tongarewa museum. Our guided tour included an up close look at an amazing exhibit on the WW1 Gallipoli campaign, which featured enormous, haunting human sculptures.

The Birds

When you learn that there are no snakes in NZ, you’ll truly appreciate their strict/draconian customs requirements. That leaves plenty of room for the close to 200 species of birds, most of which can be found at the very cool Zealandia bird sanctuary.


Image by Brendon Doran


The Birds on Safari

If you prefer taking in your bird species one at a time, we found our afternoon coastal safari to Hawkes Bay’s Gannet colony to be utterly breathtaking. After a 45-minute drive through majestic canyons, you emerge on top of a mountain to a swarm (Gaggle? Flock?) of gannets at your feet. Stupendous!

Charming Napier

Discover the utterly charming Hawkes Bay town of Napier, either on bike, or vintage car, depending on your energy level – including Takaro Trails and Napier’s Art Deco Trust. Insider tip; it’s way easier not spilling a cocktail in the back of a 1930’s Packard than on a bicycle.



New Zealand Wine, You Must

We must make a last mention of our favorite wine excursion, Man O’ War Vineyards on Waiheke Island. It was only reached by seaplane, and where our 10am visit included sampling their unforgettable Estate Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris and Tulia Blanc de Blanc.


Johnny Swet’s New Grand Republic Cocktail Club Anchors Buzzing West Greenpoint Scene

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It may seem like a long way from the boho-meets-banker scene at The Jimmy, the penthouse bar atop Soho’s James Hotel – where drinks alchemist extraordinaire Johnny Swet had lorded over a notable cocktail renaissance – to the scruffy western end of Greenpoint Avenue across the East River. Yet that’s where Swet has just set up shop for his latest venture, The Grand Republic Cocktail Club, effectively raising the ‘bar’ for the up-and-comer neighborhood.

As one of the latest zip codes squarely in developers’ sights, the once charmingly gritty Greenpoint waterfront, a mile north of Williamsburg’s gleaming high rises, is currently undergoing the requisite building boom. This, in anticipation of it becoming the next “upscaled” New York neighborhood. Indeed, while dusty mom and pop shops still line Metropolitan Avenue, on the hipsterizing Franklin Avenue to the west, “modern and pricey” has already displaced “authentic and local.”

Swet, it would seem, has a knack for catching the zeitgeist. Indeed, a twenty-five year vet of NYC’s nightlife scene, he boasts a pedigree that includes stints at or ownership in the likes of Balthazar, Pastis, Freemans, The Skylark, Rogue & Canon, and the recently opened Oscar Wilde Bar in Gramercy.


Image by Adam Pollock


The GRCC is fashionably simple, intimate and well done, focusing on expertly made cocktails (they make their own ice, of course), with the ingredients and names of drinks nodding to the nautical history of the area. For now the only food served is the gratis spiced popcorn that accompanies each beverage – which is a refreshing change from all those overamped bar snacks.

On a recent visit Swet divulged the secret to some of his fave new creations, while we gossiped about other buzzy new arrivals to the WGPT (consider that coined) scene.

Most notably, when Bill Murray got behind the bar at the opening of his son’s low key hotspot 21 Greenpoint (right next door to Grand Republic) the place made every media outlet in town. A year later it’s still going strong, serving up steak frites, pots of mussels and a serious brew selection.

North of Greenpoint Avenue is still on the nicely underdeveloped side, with new places just starting to pop up on Franklin. The recently revamped Brooklyn Label does the area’s most creative breakfasts, including pulled pork adobaba and Mexican hot cocoa.

It was once impossible to imagine, but now you can also do yoga in Greenpoint. Usha Veda is the most respected local studio, and they’ve just opened a plush, spacious new location on Manhattan Avenue. Grab a vegan/vegetarian bite pre- or post-yoga, just on the corner at Jungle Café.

Greenpoint will probably soon be overrun with big name hotel brands. Bur for now its two standout boutique sleeps are The Box House and Franklin Guesthouse, both mixing smart design with local, artistic charm.


Jungle Cafe



Exclusive Recipes From Johnny Swet’s Grand Republic Cocktail Club


Admiral Schley’s Punch

In a tin, muddled mint, 1 part Old Granddad Bonded Bourbon, 1 part naval strength rum, .25 Allspice dram, .5 lime, .5 lemon, .75 simple syrup. Shake over ice, strain into a tall glass, add crushed ice and garnish with a sprig of mint and a spiked lemon and lime wedge.

Cocktail La Louisiane

In a mixing glass, 2.5 parts Rittenhouse Rye, .75 Carpano Sweet Vermouth, .5 Benedictine, 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters, a bar spoon of Absinthe. Stir to temp with ice, strain into a coupe glass, cherry and orange twist as garnish.

Longshoreman Hot Tea

In a coffee mug, 2 part Linie Aquavit, 1 part Combier Orange, .5 honey syrup. Fill mug with hot Earl Grey tea – stir and serve with lemon wedge.





The Proper Hotel: Our New Fave San Francisco Sleep

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While there’s little chance of not finding a good hotel in San Francisco, it is not, with its close to 100K rooms, New York City; one has to do a bit of work when choosing the right place to lay one’s head. But a recent stay at the newly opened Proper Hotel – a member of Design Hotels and smack in the middle of the action on Market Street – was an almost flawless experience.

Sporting a sexy lobby and adjacent resto/bar, the rooms were compact but inviting, the view of SF’s main thoroughfare outside the arched windows both urban and urbane. True, walking that area of Market does give one an up-close look at the results of California’s benevolent attitude towards society’s less fortunate; yet once enveloped in the Proper’s hip embrace all that fades away. And from up on the hotel’s opulent rooftop bar, it was hard to really notice what was happening eight stories below (shades of Blade Runner, we know).



While we made the most of our time before heading back to chilly Manhattan – posing in front of the Grateful Dead house in the Haight, checking out the vintage shopping, grabbing vegan sushi and excellent Mexican food in the Mission, and strolling the Marina, pretending we were tech billionaires – we were genuinely excited to return to the Proper every evening.

While the room options include the typical twin, deluxe, and suite, all sumptuously turned out…they also have bunk beds! Grab a friend, split the cost, and agree that the tipsiest at the end of the night gets the bottom.

In-room amenities are select but distinct, and include individual TVs and USB ports in each bunkbed; Aesop toiletries in the loo; and handsome Vifa Helsinki wireless loudspeakers. We were also duly impressed with the extremely well stocked mini bar.

Also, we’ve been digging Shinola products for a few years now and were psyched to find that the Proper offers top-of-the-line bicycles from the Detroit based company; thankfully San Francisco has plenty of bike lanes, and at least a few streets that don’t rise at 45-degree angles.



Villon, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant, presents itself as an extension of the lobby, in which patrons spill into for drinks; very West Coast casual. The dining options are anything but, however, with baby back ribs with feuilles de brick and nuoc mam cham, and scallops with hoshigaki, XO Sauce, persimmon, and yellow yuzu kosho the standouts (we had to ask for explanations too). While their Everything Hawaiian Bread, with cultured butter, market reserves, blood orange chicken liver mousse, was new to us, we became instant fans.

New York and LA have long figured out that putting a bar on the top of a hotel, exposed to the elements, creates a FOMO mania akin to staying inside during an eclipse. Something about being high up and outside makes drinks go down so much better (not that we need much help). From the day it opened the Proper’s rooftop, Charmaine’s, has been a total scene, to the point that a line regularly forms outside the street side entrance (hotel guests get to use the much comfier inside entry). Once topside, we luxuriated around fire pits – with really fiery fire we might add – sipping fancy pants libations such as A Scratch in the Sky, which features Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, lemon verbena, mace, lemon, and egg whites (p.s. not that kind of mace).

It’s safe to say we had to drag ourselves back to New Year’s Eve celebrations in Manhattan. But we’re already itching to return to the Proper, especially for the impending opening of their hip new cafe La Bande. We’ll see you there.


An Utterly Transcendent Food + Wine Tour of New Zealand’s North Island, Part II

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On our recent epicurean visit to New Zealand, we ate and drank our way across the North Island landscape to rapturous effect. Truly, the level of excellence we encountered could hardly be conveyed.

Part I of the story detailed our time in Auckland and Waiheke Island. The second half of the trip took us to Wellington and Hawkes Bay.



If, as we exclaimed within our first hours of arriving in Auckland, Seattle is the American city that most comes to mind when taking in the curved harbor and overcast skies of NZ’s largest town, then Wellington, the country’s capital, is its Portland. Also situated on the banks of an expansive body of water – in this case Wellington Harbour – it exudes a more streetwise and bohemian vibe than its cosmopolitan northern sister; and as such, the food and wine offerings took us down a more adventurous road.
Our digs for the night were the hip QT Museum Wellington, and on our first evening there we took shelter from the rain and wind – the town has actually been dubbed the windiest city on Earth – at their opulent Hippopotamus bar and restaurant. Situated on an upper floor with views of the harbor, the dazzling space, with its mirrored bar, gold chandeliers, stuffed peacock, and Louis-the-something style armchairs sort of transported us to the Ancien Regime era; we may or may not have ordered absinthe. While the dinner menu leaned traditionally French, with escargots, lamb rump, braised Wakanui beef cheeks, and gratin dauphinois dominating, we were excited to see they had vegan options, and opted for the simple and delicious salade végétalienne of quinoa, pinenuts, goji berries & baby spinach – along with an impressive bottle of NZ Pinot.


QT Museum Wellington
The following morning we set out to explore downtown, and were met with further evidence of the city’s mind-meld with the Pacific Northwest: its obsession with coffee. Our meeting with John, the manager and bean specialist of Mojo Coffee, had us inundated with more information on the various ways one can make, drink, and basically live a caffeinated existence than we would ever have thought existed. That the company has over 30 outlets in a city of 400K (two thirds the size of Portland) was testament to the populations’ serious caffeine jones.
A charming development in downtown Wellington has been the refurbishment of various alleyways into colorful and art infused ‘laneways.’ As traversing these walkways between streets is a great way to navigate the city, having them splashed with color and street art has brought the crowds; bars and restaurants have naturally flourished.



It was in one such vestibule that we found the perfect lunch spot in Egmont St Eatery, a light-filled modern café packed with well-dressed millennials and hipsters on laptops; as does Brooklyn and Portland, so does Wellington, apparently. The menu was a delight and we tried the fried fish tortilla with avocado mousse, cabbage, and horopito sauce, and braised paua with dirty rice, shiitake, and crispy shallots.
That evening, following an afternoon exploring the downtown shops, and then a drive into the hills to the very cool Zealandia bird sanctuary, we hit another hip laneway for dinner at the excellent Shepherd – which had us wondering if we were ever to have a questionable dining experience in NZ. Our feast of fried rice with kale, ginger, kimchi, sesame, peanuts, and fried egg and sous vide fish with miso glaze, carrot, ginger, turmeric, and saffron aioli left us in genuine epicurean contentment.




Hawkes Bay

For our final stop on our week-long tour, we took a 55-minute flight northeast of Wellington to the serene vineyard-and-animal-sanctuary-studded region of Hawkes Bay. Distinctly Mediterranean in look and feel, and with the best weather we encountered on our trip, HB was where the enormity of NZ’s Tolkien-like terrain was most apparent.
Lunch at Elephant Hill Winery was our first order of business, and after a delightful tour of the place with CEO Andreas Weiss, we settled in to an elegant repast of oysters and grilled game fish, squid, nam jim, bok choy, fried shallots, and pineapple, accompanied by an 2016 Elephant Hill rosé; Hawkes Bay was quick to show us its sophisticated side.



The history of HB and its largest city Napier is punctuated by a devastating event; in 1931 a cataclysmic earthquake not only leveled much of the town, but raised the land as much as eight feet, adding close to ten thousand acres of newly dry land to the area. Napier was rebuilt in the style of the time, namely art deco; and while many buildings have been subsequently remodeled, the place remains one of the most intact deco towns in the world.
It was along this quaint pastel backdrop that we strolled on our first evening, eventually alighting for dinner at the thoroughly 21st Century restaurant Bistronomy. Chef James Beck guided us through the menu, which verged on the molecular, without being too ionospherey (Parks & Recreation reference). Sections named Protein, Raw, and Minerals sounded more daunting than they were – our grilled flounder with beetroot & horseradish hollandaise was pretty much as advertised, and wonderful, while the chocolate brownie with lavender, sour mousse, and condensed milk sorbet, while equally amazing, did actually verge on the surreal.



The following day had us up and out of our rooms at the charming art deco (natch) Masonic Hotel, for a tour of the town, which culminated in lunch at Mister D. To say that this writer is a Rolling Stones fan would be to dredge up that annoying trope about the Pope and Catholicism; we were thusly thrilled that the restaurant was named for their song “Dancing With Mister D” – they even throw annual Stones-themed dining events. Having thus decided this was the best restaurant on Earth, we almost forgot about the food. But we were delighted with their novel takes on the basics: rocket salad, roast fish, poached eggs and the like were all treated with reverence and a touch of whimsy – and their signature doughnuts were a huge hit.



On our last evening on the island we were treated to the most opulent epicurean experience of the trip, in the form of a progressive dinner. For the uninitiated a “progressive” is where you go to a different restaurant for each course, which may sound like a bit of work; but when the places you go are all highly-regarded wineries – and you’re ferried around in an SUV by a bloke named Gareth who keeps filling your champagne glass – you easily rise to the challenge.
We started with bubbly at the top of a mountain range and progressed through antipasto at Vidal, entrees of Te Mata mushroom and Comté pithivier with wild weed salad and Hohepa haloumi, vine roasted beetroot and burnt honey at Craggy Range’s Terroir restaurant, all accompanied by signature selections of vino, before succumbing to dessert at NZ’s oldest winery, Mission Estate. Established in 1851 by French missionaries, the estate is in the grand tradition of mansion wineries, with a plantation style great house with wraparound terrace, where we took our crème brulee and port, for a final look at the cascading mountains in the distance. It was not the first time we’d thought of postponing our flight home.




Astonishing Caribbean Winter Getaway: Guadeloupe

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When packing for new adventures, the one thing we’ve learned to leave at home is expectations. Certainly there are generalizations that can be made about most destinations: you probably don’t need an overcoat in Cartagena, you will probably blow through your fashion budget in Milan…and Caribbean islands will readily rescue you from your urban winter blues.

But some of those islands will also surprise you – namely Guadeloupe, one of the, shall we say, more furtive island paradises in the Caribbean. Having logged many idle hours in Saint Martin, Jamaica, St. Lucia, the DR and Puerto Rico/Vieques, we might have readily prepped for lazy days there; but wonderfully, that was not to be.



For starters there’s the French influence, which is profound – especially for such committed Francophiles as are we. The island group (there are five which make up the region) is literally a part of France – bring your leftover euros – and every aspect of life on there has (if you will excuse the cliche) a certain je ne sais quoi. French is obviously the dominant language; but natives also speak a quite lyrical Antillean Creole.

Now first, let us tout the hook of all hooks: Norwegian Air, the game-changing, low-cost Nordic airline has winter flights from JFK at just $59 each way! No, seriously. You can ditch the lugubrious NYC subways and congested LA freeways for just $118 round trip.



Our hotel for the stay was the perfectly unpretentiously inviting Le Creole Beach Hotel & Spa, in the town of Le Gosier. There, European tourists outnumbered us yanks by a pretty wide margin – which is great, especially if you’ve been itching to flirt with a cute Belgian or Dane.

The main destination is the twin island butterfly of Basse-Terre and Grand-Terre. Our first excursion was to the former and more mountainous of the two, for a hike up the stunning Soufriere. While a few locals lounged in the hot sulfur baths at the volcano’s base, we took the sign ‘Beware of Brain Eating Amoebas’ to heart, and skipped that part of the tour (we later regretted not Instagramming it), heading instead to the historic Fort Delgres to indulge our wildest pirate fantasies. Remaining on Basse-Terre, we lunched on local seafood at the cozy Le Rivage restaurant on Les Bananiers Beach; it’s also a popular spot to surf, and, thusly, to watch the surfers.



Culture and history were on the agenda for the following day, and we spent time dodging the sun’s murderous rays at the outdoor markets in Point-a-Pitre, pretty much the New Orleans of the Caribbean. We then had a more somber moment at the Memorial ACTe museum, which is given over entirely to the history of slavery. Luckily, we’d picked up a couple of bottles of flavored rum at the market, which we used to numb ourselves a bit to the dispiriting reality of the crimes of humanity.

We did manage to chill out and cool off at the lovely and accessible Cascade aux Ecrevisses waterfall back in Basse-Terre, before an indulgent tour of the decadent House of Cocoa in the middle of the island. We absconded with no small amount of samples.



That evening’s dinner was at the impossibly charming An Chodye La restaurant in Point-a-Pitre. Fitted into what was once someone’s apartment – the loo was past the bathtub behind a curtain – we helped the waiter with our order by actually writing it down. The joint’s name is Guadeloupean Creole for “The Boiler” and the spécialité de la maison is…soup – which is ordered in varying sizes and amounts, all Creole influenced and made with local ingredients. What a find.

The next day was given over to a visit to one of the three smaller island groups in the archipelago. We took a 20-minute ferry from the rustic coastal town of Trois-Rivieres on Basse-Terre, to the picturesque and compact islands of Les Saintes, alighting on the most welcoming one, Terre de Haut (which translates to “high ground”). Our afternoon of exploration included a visit to the imposing French Fort Napoleon, the beautiful and amazingly deserted Pain de Sucre beach, and the beachfront hotel and restaurant Kanaoa, where we had a typical lunch of grilled fish, rice, and mashed yams. A quick peruse of the shops on the island’s petite main drag kept us busy until it was time to board the ferry back.



Our final day in Guadeloupe was spent exploring Grand-Terre, the eastern side of Guadeloupe. Flat and rocky and punctuated with beaches, we started at the eastern most tip of La Pointe des Chateaux, and the neighboring town of Saint Francois, marveling at the rugged scenery and miles-long views of the Caribbean sea. Lunch was at the house of a local resident, which seems to be a thing here. We gathered on the outdoor patio at Table d’Hote Chez Francianne (alas no website, but your hotel will be able to direct you) for another typical lunch of grilled fish and veggies and lashings of rum. An afternoon nap on the beach at Saint-Anne, the quaint seaside town in the middle of the island, was the perfect post-repast activity.

For our last dinner we opted for a bit of fancy at Le Relais du Moulin, a hotel/spa/restaurant, which sports a gorgeous windmill as its signature. The menu was a mix of Italian and Caribe influences: lobster ravioli with crustacean reduction, lasagnetta Bolognese. And so reminding us of the island’s cultural ties to Europa.

The L Train seemed a million miles away.


An Utterly Transcendent Food + Wine Tour of New Zealand’s North Island, Part I

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There’s a tendency for those of us who have chosen to reside in cities like NYC in our ridiculously overpriced luxury shoeboxes, to possess a particular sort of snobbery about the privilege of knowing that the chef-of-the-moment has just opened the most talked about restaurant in the universe right down the street. Which only makes it all the morning humbling to be reminded that they can do it just as well elsewhere, usually without all the haughtiness.

Which is precisely what transpired on our recent visit to New Zealand, where, during a weeklong stay, we ate and drank our way across the landscape to rapturous effect. Truly, the level of excellence we encountered could hardly be conveyed. From Auckland to Wellington, Hawkes Bay to Waiheke Island, we were duly impressed at every turn…and we didn’t even make it to the South Island.

Speaking of excellence, the delightful flight on Air New Zealand also reminded us of why US airlines could use a few lessons in impeccable service. And for some reason, the day-and-a half-time difference resulted in minimal jet lag…perhaps partially thanks to the employment of the appropriate medicinals?

Here’s how our epicurean tour of Kiwi country’s ethereal North Island played out.



After a painless 13-hour flight from LA to Auckland, our first meal allowed us an intimate look at typical Aucklanders out on a Saturday night – and at Depot, across from the famous Sky Tower, they were loud, proud, and knew how to have a good time. The restaurant specializes in casual fresh and sumptuous shareable plates, from oysters and clams to the NZ meat board, which included wild rabbit rillettes, popcorn duck tongue, wild pork salami, beef bresaola and smoked pork loin with cherry relish and fig & fennel crostini. Any doubts as to N-Zed’s chefs’ ability to sit at the big boys table were immediately dashed.
On our first morning we breakfasted at the popular SKYCITY Hotel, before hopping in a rental car and heading an hour or so north (more on driving on the left in another story). Our destination was the Brick Bay Winery and Sculpture Trail, and on the way we stopped for a coffee at the unbelievably charming Puhoi General Store, where the comely young checkout girl seemed genuinely excited that we were from Brooklyn; we only had to go 8,699 miles for that to happen.



Once at Brick Bay we delighted in strolling the 2km long trail and mercilessly critiquing the 45 sculptures on display; most received raves from us, however, despite our tendency towards cultural jadedness. Then it was back to the winery for a tasting from what is one of the Matakana Wine Region’s top boutique vineyards; we were particularly partial to their crisp rosé. The beautiful Glass House Kitchen restaurant paired BB wines with simple yet delectable menu items, such as the grilled chorizo and fried egg sandwich (with free range bacon, buffalo mozzarella, and roasted garlic aioli).
Matakana also has a town of the same name; and we took a stroll amongst the quaint boutiques and shops before stopping at Sawmill Brewery for a tour and tasting of the local suds. That included an impossibly delicious and healthy lunch of miso baked gurnard with asparagus and preserved lime gremolata. Co-owner Rei Harris’ tale of kayaking to work from his house “upstream” challenged us to come up with not horrible tales of our daily L-Train commute; we failed miserably.


Above: Orphans Kitchen; Sawmill Brewery


That evening we skipped a traditional dinner and went straight for one of the most creative and decadent desert experiences we’ve ever had the pleasure of…experiencing. Inspired by couture fashion houses, science, art, and technology, Giapo Grazioli and his wife Annarosa make ‘haute ice-cream’ in the form of mind-bogglingly inventive creations like the chocolate covered giant squid, at their namesake Giapo. The couple were so passionate about their creations that we couldn’t disappoint them by not trying them all.
The following day, before saying adieu Auckland, we checked out some shopping on Ponsonby Road, and had yet another impressive lunch at Orphans Kitchen. The simple, quaint restaurant on a boutique-lined street serves food so fresh there isn’t a standard menu; but our waiter suggested wood roasted chook with kiwifruit mole, kumara tortillas, as well as a side of oysters and a cheeky glass of Pinot…and who were we to disagree?


Waiheke Island


Our next stop was Waiheke Island, a stunning, 32-square-mile rock, just a 30-minute seaplane ride east of Auckland, that is home to over 20 wineries and close to 50 hotels. During the summer its 7,000 permanent residents are inundated by 50,000 visitors (think: The Hamptons, without all the hangers-on).
Auckland Seaplanes dropped us off at 10am on a seemingly deserted beach in a stunning cove, and promptly departed. We were about to start gathering wood and laying animal traps when we were welcomed by an amiable missionary from Man O’ War Vineyards, located about 50 yards from our position, who escorted us to the tasting room (so, we were “stranded” for all of about five minutes). Named for the battleships that Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy sailed in the 1700’s, the winery is one of the island’s finest – although that impression may have been influenced by the thrill of drinking good vino at 10 in the morning. Their Sauvignon Blanc and Tulia Blanc de Blanc were the definitive standouts.


Man O’ War Wine Estate


We spent the remainder of the afternoon being ferried around Waiheke by a wonderful guide from local tour operator Ananda Tours, who had once worked in the Auckland music biz. He regaled us with a constant geyser of information about the island between stops at various vineyards and restaurants. First up was an alcohol-free vineyard (or “orchard”), which excelled in another dinner table staple, olive oil. The Rangihoua Olive Estate is an award-winning 100% NZ owned purveyor of the extra virgin variety, which we sampled in abundance.
Stony Ridge and Mudbrick vineyards followed, both of which were in the grand tradition of opulent wineries, the former focusing on luscious reds, the latter including cottages and a lodge for when one doesn’t want to sleep too far from the next bottle. We had a late lunch of local Te Makutu Bay oysters, olives, and the vineyard’s signature Shepherds Point Merlot in the Mudbrick restaurant, overlooking the rolling hills and ocean beyond.
Our final stop for the day was our room for the night at the gorgeous Boatshed, a boutique hotel where our four-course dinner was served in the downstairs sitting room with yet another ethereal view of the baycr The crème brûlée was to die for, and a sublime cap off to our visit.
In Part 2 we travel south and east explore Wellington and Hawkes Bay.


The Boatshed





Au Revoir, Saint Germain! Four Days in Paris’ Trendy East

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Image by Amelie Laurin


New York City’s hackneyed boast of being the city that never sleeps is a trope so outdated by now as to be comical. Seriously, we’ve had more late nights in Nashville lately.

But much even to our own surprise, we recently discovered that Paris comes surprisingly close to the top of our late night list; and while our friends in Berlin and Barcelona may challenge that, a recent whirlwind of a trip through the City of Light had us very willingly staying up way past our typical NYC bedtime.

After a relatively quick and uncomplicated voyage – thanks to a lovely Air France redeye, and some well-chosen medicinals – we came to rest on the far east side of town, a place where, if a view of the Eiffel Tower or Montmartre is absolutely necessary, requires quite  a lot of squinting and neck craning. But with the perpetually hip Mama Shelter hotel as our home base, we spent the next several days discovering a multitude of new streets to stumble down, whilst steering exceedingly clear of those pesky tourist throngs.


Image by Amelie Laurin 


The snail-shell-like map of Paris’ arrondissements locates the 20th, 12th and 13th on the eastern edge of the city. We made Pere Lachaise Cemetery – final resting place of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison – our central landmark, and ventured forth to traverse the neighborhoods of Menilmontant, Bastille, Belleville and Bercy, areas more akin to where we typically roam at home in Greenpoint and Bushwick. Potentially intimidating waiters at white-cloth-tabled bistros were replaced by hip millennials offering cheap wine and organic veggies. And late nights on a floating dance club that stayed open for 50 hours straight were fueled by numerous imbibables.

Here’s how it all played out.


Air France offers the best in US/FR flights, for our money. Our overnight from JFK kicked off with complimentary champers in the airport lounge – what better start could one ask for?

The aforementioned Mama Shelter, the Philippe Starck designed boutique hotel that we made home, featured a cheery staff and a perpetually energized restaurant/bar off the lobby…that transformed into a lively scene come sundown each evening.


Mama Shelter 


First stop was the charming open-air market Marche Aligre in the Bastille, where we sampled delicacies from local restaurants Miss Lunch, Maguey, Marcelle and others as part of a city wide restaurant tour.

For us, Paris is even more of a walking city than New York – to be sure, we’re always excited to plant our feet on those ancient cobblestones. We found a wonderful street art walking tour that had us cruising the rues of the 13th, and turned us on to what’s happening beyond the pricey galleries of Saint Germain.



We know there’s no end of hallowed art museums in Paris; but we were intrigued to come across the Art Ludique, which featured an amazing DC Comics exhibit – including authentic Batman memorabilia – and got us in the mood for Paris Comic Con In October. It’s located in the modern Cite de la Mode at du Design, the roof of which hosts not one but three bars, and jaw-dropping views of the Seine.

As we were on the river, we stayed for dinner at one of many water-adjacent establishments… specifically Petit Bain, which was great for laid-back fish and chips and cocktails – sustenance we’d need for the planned late night ahead.


Image by Amelie Laurin


After being reminded that it was considered one of the greatest nightclubs in the world, we felt just a tad intimidated braving the line at Rex Club. We needn’t have, the place was the epitome of dance club chapel, with no attitude, awesome sound, and nonstop cocktails; a very late night return to Mama Shelter resulted in us missing breakfast, and lunch, the following day.

We did manage to grab an afternoon snack of pumpernickel toast with avocado, radish, red onions and deviled eggs at the hip Grand Central Restaurant and to check out the cool open space it is adjacent to, CENTQUATRE PARIS. The latter is used by budding dancers and performance artists to test their routines; it’s like the Fame school with baguettes.

We always love the Paris Metro for shuttling around between musees and bistrotheques; but when we were introduced to the option of a motorcycle sidecar tour, how could we say no? Their charming, and Gallic-sort-of-macho drivers had us yelling “tally ho Jeeves”…but in French, of course. The cycles dropped us off at one of the city sponsored creative hubs, Les Ateliers de Paris, where budding design houses are given yearly studio space in which to develop their aesthetic. We discovered stylish sneaker manufacturer Garconne & Cherubin and leatherwear designer AMPLR, whose chic backpacks would soon be slung over our shoulders.



Then it was off to Rosa sur Seine, where we met up with the director of the Paris nightlife council Frederic Hocquard. His business card reads Charge de la Nuit, and his main mission is to regulate the city’s nocturnal activities, including its 150 discos and clubs, thirteen thousand bars and venues, and six-hundred thousand nighttime workers. Sounds like fun, but we guessed he was probably pretty tired a lot of the time.

As were we on the edge – okay in the middle – of the decidedly more bourgeoisie 7th, we made a quick side trip through Invalides to visit with an artist friend at the gloriously Parisian classic bistro Le Tourville, before heading back to the 12th for a lovely dinner of salade de quinoa, et légumes du soleil, crevettes à l’ail (grilled shrimp over quinoa) at the exceedingly hip La Bellevilloise, a multi-room cultural center that includes a live music venue, restaurant, nightclub and outdoor surf bar. Director/founder Renaud Barillet has devoted years to developing the venue, and is also involved with numerous other public cultural spaces.



Our subsequent late night at Concrete could have been a lot more decadent, as the venerated riverfront club is open continuously from 8pm on Friday until Monday morning – and hosts the crème de la crème of international dance music DJs…techno/house being the vibe the night we were there. We didn’t encounter anyone planning to stay for the entire weekend, but we were pretty sure they were there.

Our final morning in Paris had us visiting the charming suburban commune of Saint Ouen, just north of the city’s boundary; it’s home to Paris’ enormous flea market, and the highest concentration of antique dealers in the world. We made a stop at the singularly cool MOB Hotel for a lunch of leek and avocado salad and squash soup, then spent time lounging around the hotel’s stylish and comfy lobby, before heading back to the Air France terminal at Charles de Gaulle…and what we hoped would be another couple of rounds of pre-flight bubbly.


BlackBook Exclusive: DJ Lady Kier’s Groovalicious Playlist Celebrating POP Montreal’s #Sweet16

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We’ve loved Lady Miss Kier since she grooved her way into our hearts back in 1990, as 1/3 of the super fantabulous Deee-Lite.

Now going by the honorable title DJ Lady Kier, she will be one of the many and sundry musical highlights of this year’s POP Montreal festival, #Sweet16 edition. Resolutely indie at heart, the five-day (September 13-17) extravaganza will feature the likes of RZA, Austra, The Dears, Son Little, Naomi Punk, Doe Paoro and John Maus.

As a tease for her late night set at Piccolo Little Burgundy on Sept. 14th (with Jessy Lanza and Quay Dash), Lady Kier has put together this totally fierce playlist exclusively for POP Montreal and BlackBook. So start booking those flights to Montreal, and don’t forget to bring your best headphones for the plane.


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