Our Favorite New Palm Springs Hotel: The Kimpton Rowan

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For anyone lucky enough to live in Los Angeles (said without the least bit of irony), you’ll quickly find that the weekends were made for Palm Springing. Just a couple hours southeast PS has a long history of acting as part-time playground for Hollywood players who like to…play. Indeed, Sinatra bought a house there in ‘47, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And history is indeed everywhere in Palm Springs; you can’t throw a cactus without hitting a drool-worthy mid-centch style home. And beyond the architecture, the heat, and the glowing blue pools beckon year-round.

And we just found yet another reason to visit: The Kimpton Rowan’s new plot of land just off Palm Canyon Drive, on East Tahquitz Canyon Way, right smack in downtown. It’s one of the first hotels to take up residency on this main stretch, which means: several great bars and restaurants are within walking distance. That is, if you feel the need to leave the grounds at all.

 

 

We arrived on a typically warm afternoon this month, and were immediately taken with the airy atmosphere. A woven hemp macrame that looks like a gigantic owl hangs behind the check-in desk. The sprawling foyer and 30-foot ceilings offer a breathable sense of anonymity. However, if it’s social interaction you’re after, the lobby bar is the perfect place for it.

After checking in and star-fishing across the plush, comfy bed, we waste very little time getting to what would obviously become our favorite spot: the rooftop pool. Yeah, naturally. Up there, one can lounge on a chaise and beckon waiters bearing effervescent cocktails, all while looking out over spectacular views of the San Jacinto Mountains. Work, read, relax…or take a dip in the heated pool even if it’s a chilly Palm Springs evening (they do have them). Though you may find yourself in the crossfire of a splash or two – the hotel is kid-friendly.

The rooftop restaurant serves delish Californian cuisine – crudite platters that look like Oprah’s garden and a lobster roll you won’t possibly regret.

 

 

If it’s fine dining you’re in the mood for, head to 4 Saints, where Stephen Wambach puts his own spin on Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Try the sea urchin, lobster tortellini, and kampachi with chanterelle. Yum, x 10. 

As we mentioned before, the location means you’re within spitting distance from all the action and people watching. Just around the corner is the Palm Springs Art Museum, which is worth checking out if for the building itself. Some notable spots to dine nearby would be Rooster + Pig (delicious Vietnamese-American food, as long as you’re not vegetarian); Farm which draws its menu inspiration from the south of France; and the always relaxing patio plus comfort food at Jake’s.

And for a fresh start in the morning, Kimpton’s own Juniper Table makes yummy cappuccinos and breakfast sandwiches – as well as more involved Mediterranean style bites. (Sensing a theme, no?) Or if it’s just a quick jolt of caffeine you’re craving, grab a complimentary cup of joe in the lobby as you star that top-down ride back to La La Land. 

 

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From Terrorism to Stolen Dogs: Our Three Favorite Films From the 2018 Palm Springs Film Festival

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In the Fade 

 

If films are a reflection of the times we live in, then the second week of the Palm Springs International Film Festival might’ve said it best: these are some dark days (and not just in America). We caught screenings of a handful of poignant storylines that cover everything from terrorism and hate crimes to incurable physical maladies and drug addiction. That’s not to say there is no hope, of course. It just takes a lot of enduring to find it.

Here are the three beautifully tragic cinematic gems that moved us the most at this year’s festival. 

 

In the Fade

Germany

A young mother loses her husband and son to a terrorist bombing in the middle of one of Germany’s predominantly Turkish neighborhoods. What follows is a harrowing tale of loss, hopelessness, and racist ideologies that reveal themselves in grotesque ways. Diane Kruger’s performance as the grieving mother reveals the anguish, and impossibility, of overcoming a loss of this magnitude.

 

Ava

France

Being a teenager is hard. But it’s nothing compared to what the namesake young girl faces in “Ava”, the beautifully shot feature debut from writer-director Lea Mysius. While on vacation in France with her mother and baby sister, 13-year-old Ava discovers she’ll be blind in the matter of two weeks. The brooding youngster takes matters into her own hands – stealing a dog, strapping on a blindfold, and pushing the rest of her senses to new limits.  

 

 

Skid Row Marathon

USA

To end on a high note (no pun intended)…watch director Craig Hayes’ documentary about Craig Mitchell, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge who leads the long-distance runner’s club out of the Midnight Mission on Skid Row. The film is already a documentary favorite amongst the festival circuit, and received more buzz this week in Palm Springs. Hayes’ handles the topic with compassion, sharing individual stories of personal triumph as paired alongside the grueling demands of preparing to run a marathon.

 

Report From the Palm Springs Film Festival, Part II: Kristin Scott Thomas and Isabelle Huppert Shine

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Saoirsie Ronan and Timothee Chalamet

 

We’re at a festival in the southern California desert, and we are happy to report no one in attendance is wearing a flower crown. Though it’s not the fashion trends we’re after. Nope, these crowds want to see art films and bask in the warmth of a balmy January. (No “bomb cyclone” here.)

We got what we came for. In addition to dining al fresco for every meal, and hobnobbing with zeitgeisty celebs like Saoirsie Ronan, Jessica Chastain and Alison Janney, the Palm Springs International Film Festival served up spectacular cinema from around the globe. Here are a few highlights.  

 

The Party

England  
Writer/director Sally Potter adopts cinematic elements of film noir in her hilarious dark comedy about a woman, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), just elected Minister of Health, who’s hosting a dinner party to celebrate. Shot in black-and-white, the film drops us into a non-stop plot that builds speed like a runaway train. Each character adds the weight of their own drama to the unforeseen wreckage. April, Janet’s best friend (played brilliantly by Patricia Clarkson) steals the show, dropping every line of sharply written dialogue like an atom bomb.

 

 

Oh Lucy!

Japan
It’s amazing what a hair change can do. For Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), a Japanese woman going through the motions as a single, middle-aged hoarder in Tokyo, it does a whole lot. In Atsuko Hirayanagi’s newest film a bleach blonde, curly wig transforms Setsuko into her American alter-ego, Lucy. The story embarks on a journey of emotional trauma, cultural exchange, and unrequited love (along with a pretty stellar performance from Josh Hartnett) as she and her sister head overseas to Los Angeles. The story’s both endearing and heart-wrenching. Definitely not for the faint of heart – but then again, neither is going platinum.

 

 

The Future Ahead

Argentina
For director Constanza Novick’s film debut, she weaves together a beautiful story of lifelong female friendship. We watch as Romina (Dolores Fonzi) and Florencia (Pilar Gamboa) navigate life from pre-adolescence to adulthood – complete with first kisses, first periods, motherhood, divorce. Novick wrote the script when she was pregnant with her first child. “It struck me how maternity put some distance between friends,” she said in a Q&A after the screening. Like in real life, the women have falling outs and reunions, always landing back on those familiar points of familiar contention. “It’s a passionate friendship.”

 

 

Happy End

France
The latest film by acclaimed director Michael Haneke (“Piano Teacher,” “White Ribbon”) opens on what looks like the lens of a teenager’s cell phone. Someone is documenting a woman as she gets ready for bed. The scene is both eerie and comical, and leaves us wondering if this is a stalker or innocent eavesdropper. So what’s happening? Well, we ask that question a lot during Happy End – and that seems to be Haneke’s intention. The lens often shifts perspectives, rarely indicating who’s behind it. Also at play are themes of class and dysfunctional family dynamics. Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Xavier Trintignant put in some memorable performances, as does Fantine Harduin as an emotionally haunted youngster in her big-screen debut.

 

Report From the Palm Springs Film Festival: ‘The Post’ Opening Night Event

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At one point in Steven Spielberg’s new film The Post, we see flashes of Richard Nixon lumbering around the Oval Office. He’s berating the press, naturally. “Neil Sheehan [a reporter from the NY Times] is a son of a bitch and has been a son of a bitch for years.” Sound familiar? The movie points out a particularly bitter, and reoccurring battle between the government and the media: should government secrets, especially ones putting lives at stake, be public knowledge?

Moments like this make the movie, which takes place in 1971, feel like a scene out of yesterday’s news cycle. Organizers of the 29th Annual Palm Springs Film Festival thought it relevant too, and slated the feature to play on the opening night. Prior to the screening, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Spielberg, and producers Amy Pascal and Kristie Macosko Krieger, along with the writing duo Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, took to the stage for a live panel.

“This story had to be told,” Hannah said to a packed auditorium at Palm Springs High School, “I really related to this idea of a woman finding her voice.” In what felt like a dream, Hannah’s original script landed in the right hands and made its way to Spielberg, who called on Hanks to play Ben Bradlee, and Streep to play Katherine Graham. All three were on board, agreeing the time was right.

PALM SPRINGS, CA – JANUARY 04: Steven Spielberg speaks at the 29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Opening Night Screening of “The Post” at Palm Springs High School on January 4, 2018 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival )

“I’ve been sitting around screaming at the TV for the past 17 months,” Spielberg explained. “I don’t have Facebook or Twitter. If I want someone to know how I feel, I’ve gotta call up the AP. So instead I did what I do best.”

Spielberg said, to him, the script seemed twofold: There was the story of Graham struggling to be heard in a world dominated by men. (In one scene, she can barely get a word in at her own board meeting.) Then there was the story of this B-team – led by the brazen editor Bradlee (played by Hanks). In the early ‘70s, some still considered The Washington Post a local paper. The publishing of the Pentagon Papers not only reinforced the first amendment, it exalted The Post. Mind you, this was just one year before they uncovered Watergate.

Streep also gravitated towards the script’s relevance and relatability. Graham’s insecurities, the dreadful imposter syndrome, the idea of a woman taking a stand at a pivotal moment in history – all hit home. She also couldn’t wait to work with Hanks and Spielberg.

PALM SPRINGS, CA – JANUARY 04: Steven Spielberg, Josh Singer and Liz Hannah speak on a panel at the 29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Opening Night Screening of “The Post” at Palm Springs High School on January 4, 2018 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival )

As you might expect, the movie holds all the Spielbergian cinematics and pulsing energy a story like this demands. Spielberg shot it much like a newsroom – making last-minute decisions the day of filming, instilling the deadline pressure of getting the story done and done right. All in all, they only took about a year to make it.

“These two [Hanks and Spielberg] don’t rehearse much,” Streep recalls jokingly of filming, “I didn’t realize we were committing to the movie on the first take! But it worked. It was like jazz.”

The rhythm is evident in the performances, both of Streep and Hanks, whose chemistry flies off the screen despite being the first time they’ve ever done a movie together. The crowd ate it up, especially when a notoriously insecure Graham finally stood her ground, and told a particularly misogynistic board member to “f*ck off” (in a professional way).

It was a refreshing reminder, in times like these, just how much responsibility the press has to report the truth. As the Supreme Court ruling noted after granting The Post permission to publish: “the press was designed to serve the governed, not the governors.” Too bad, Trumpy.

PALM SPRINGS, CA – JANUARY 04: Kristie Macosko Krieger, Josh Singer, Steven Spielberg, Liz Hannah, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Amy Pascal attend the 29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Opening Night Screening of “The Post” at Palm Springs High School on January 4, 2018 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival )

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 

 

Pâté, Rosé and Naples-Worthy Pies at Brentwood’s Fab New Pizzana

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Ever wondered what happened to Chris O’Donnell? Heartthrob of the early aughts, Robin to George Clooney’s Batman. Well, he’s been filming episodes of “NCIS: Los Angeles”…and in between, opening Pizzana, quite a fab new Italophile destination in Brentwood.

As much as it would please us all, O’Donnell isn’t actually slinging dough or greeting customers at the counter. At least not when we visited. No, he and his wife, Caroline, partnered with Candace and Charles Nelson, the couple behind Sprinkles Cupcakes, to open this Neapolitan-inspired hotspot.

It came about because they all shared a passion for pizza (okay, who doesn’t?) and a fascination with the science behind baking. The Nelsons’ first savory venture features handcrafted neo-Neapolitan pies from Naples-born Daniele Uditi. (Now say that 10 times really fast.) To make them, Uditi uses “slow-dough,” which is easier to digest but still sturdy enough to pick up with one hand.

 

 

We just had to try these pies for ourselves, of course. Arriving on a typically sunny L.A. evening, we took our seats amidst the sleekly designed interior – all black and taupe with cushioned leather banquettes. Etta James played overhead, and the crowd (full house on a Tuesday – good sign) looked happily buzzed on vino and carbs. A marble countertop near the back of the restaurant offered bar seating overlooking a glass enclosed kitchen. Always trust an open kitchen. Did Al Pacino say that to O’Donnell in Scent of a Woman? Probably not.

After poring over the wine menu, designed beautifully by local stylist Amanda Crawford, our server brought us a glass of Idlewild rosé – which included “river rocks” in its list of descriptors. We were genuinely enthralled by its smooth body and smoky finish. River rocks – tasty!

Before the main event, we started with the pate di fegatini – a house-made chicken liver pate with San Marzano jam and wood-fired bread. Much to our delight, the dish excited the tastebuds of even those who didn’t usually have a taste for the stuff. Rich and creamy – it paired perfectly with sweet jam.

 

 

Other glorious antipasti: the seasonal veggies, roasted in the wood-fired oven, and the chopped insalata, a modern twist on a traditional Italian salad. The pizzas were thin-crust but, living up to Uditi’s standards, sturdy enough to hold. We indulged in the Agnello, made with San Marzano dop, fior di latte, lamb sausage, and oregano; plus the Corbarina, which boasts a huge dollop of fresh burrata and tasty pieces of squash blossom – who could resist?

Considering Ms. Nelson is responsible for the dessert menu, it is worth saving room. She lends a light yet decadent touch to Italian-inspired sweets – you must, must try the salted caramel panna cotta with pretzel crunch. Like we did.

After another glass of rosé, we started reminiscing on all of our O’Donnell favorites – from Fried Green Tomatoes (with Cathy Bates) to Mad Love (as the love interest of Drew Barrymore). Just as with films, the best restaurants take an ensemble to really make the magic happen – and the Pizzana cast gets two thumbs up…for both plot and special effects.

 

Delicious Decadence + Tasty Star Spotting: BlackBook Visits the New Beauty & Essex Hollywood

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For anyone who knows Beauty & Essex in New York, the name itself can conjure up a certain moment in time (specifically 2010). Seriously late nights, assorted bubbly drinks, and the Lower East Side transitioning from indie music hub into a veritable adult playground. On this night, though, 3000 miles away, we reminisce about it all as we arrive at another Beauty & Essex, which just opened in Hollywood (there is still another in Las Vegas).

Like the original, the Hollywood Beauty & Essex sits amongst several bars and restaurants in one of LA’s most teeming nightlife neighborhoods; one of those is actually its new sister restaurant TAO, also an NYC export (Both are adjacent to the Dream Hollywood hotel – got that?). And here, just like the others, you’ll find a glittering oasis of beauty, decadence, and the scene that naturally follows. To be sure, the likes of Angelina Jolie, Kelis, Selena Gomez and, um, Paris Hilton have already made that scene.

After entering the venue through a pricey pawn shop (just like in NYC), a hostess takes us to a corner booth with a perfect view of the dining room – all golden peacocks and crystal chandeliers. Servers busy themselves at tables as guests’ eyes dart around the room. Everyone seems to be looking for someone – stars, producers, the cast of some or other reality show. As if on cue, comedian Bob Saget arrives with a beautiful blonde and takes a table a few seats down. A trio in business attire (studio suck ups?) rush over to say hello.

Cocktail? Yes. We start with the Lome of Pa – a perfectly spicy, smoky pick-me-up featuring Herradura, grapefruit juice, and habanero.

To our delight, star chef Chris Santos had brought his worldly menu to the West Coast. A delectable blend of high and low, gourmand fare and street food, the menu appeals to pretty much any taste. There’s a full raw bar, various toasts and tartars, vegetarian sides, salads, tacos, Thai-style deep-fried shrimp…you get the idea.

We dig in to the tomato tartar topped with a sunny-side up quail egg – an absolute must – followed by the yellowtail sashimi and chipotle mahi tacos. For entrees, we opt for the Chilean sea bass (cooked perfectly) and Mexican street corn ravioli (dee-licious). Yep – they’ve got that international thing going on here.

After another round of drinks, and a short parade of small plates, we make it to dessert – an old New York classic (when in Rome…), the “LES, NYC Doughnuts.” They arrive cloud-like, covered in sugar, and accompanied by ramekins of chocolate, caramel, and berry dipping sauce. Just like (our former New York) home!

After dinner, we take a glowing spiral staircase up to a vestibule that evokes, perhaps, what it’s like to stand inside a glass of champagne. Yellow uplighting and effervescent selfie-takers illuminate the path to yet another bar, dining area, and outdoor terrace. The space in its entirety, which seems never-ending, occupies a palatial 10,000 square feet.

After roaming the second floor for awhile, we find our way back to the foyer where, lo-and-behold, who’s standing in front of a wall of tiny spinning plastic ballerinas but Pamela Anderson. As she’s escorted away in her skintight white dress, presumably to begin her night, we decide she’s the high note we can end ours on. We pour out onto the courtyard and head towards Sunset Blvd.

Sure we may not be able to hail a cab over the Williamsburg Bridge afterwards; but then, you’re probably not likely to spot Pamela roaming the LES. We’ll take it.

A Weekend of Art, Lucha Libre and Tequila in Mexico City

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Ah, Mexico City, La Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX – you’ve heard a lot about it lately. Indeed, the New York Times named it 2016’s hottest destination…anywhere.

It is all true, every bit, everything you’ve heard (unless you heard it from the Trump administration). Mexico City is impossibly exciting, a boundless playground for foodies, artists, and history buffs. Like no other place in the world, and yet warmly familiar to anyone versed in the frenetic energy of a really big, busy capital. The old world rubs seductively against the new across all 573 square miles. But with all the urban sprawl, and so much to see, where to even begin?

At your hotel, of course. And we instantly fell in love with the incomparable  Grupo Habita property Downtown Mexico. Located in the city’s Centro Historico (historic center, if you hadn’t already figured that out), the exceedingly atmospheric hotel is as charming as it is chic; and you can walk to many of the most imperative sights, as well as the best shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Through the front entrance’s formidable wood and cast-iron-gate doors lies a majestic, moodily lit interior, from where a poignant Manuel Rodriguez Lozano mural gazes skyward on a far wall. There’s a MAC store. And this is just the lobby.

We started with lunch at the hotel’s Azul Historico restaurant, which serves up negro mole and other authentic Mexican fare to packed tables under a canopy of hanging candles and manicured trees.

 

 

Not far from the hotel, the landmark Palacio Bellas Artes (just one of 132 museums in town), features stunning works from Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and their most notable contemporaries. Another short walk takes you to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, where his vibrant masterpiece, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park, is strikingly on display. Swing by the Latin American Tower (again, just around the corner from the hotel) where a quick zip up to the 44th floor gets you some of the most spectacular views of Mexico City – and on a clear day, the pyramids resting on its perimeters.

You don’t have to go far to land in La Ciadudela, a glorious traditional craft market selling blankets, tapestries, rugs, bags, silver – something authentic to bring home and treasure forever. (“Remember, we got this in Mexico City?”)

For dinner – which happens late here (hot tip: if there’s a restaurant you can’t get into, try showing up around 7pm before the rush begins) – make a point of booking a table at Puntarena, which just happens to the right next door to the hotel. One of the city’s best seafood spots, it has a living wall, and a romantic garden patio.

Finish the evening at Downtown Mexico’s roof deck, open only to guests. Cocktail service runs late on weekdays, and on weekends a thumping dance party eventually ensues. Sip mezcal margaritas overlooking a glowing Calle Isabel la Catolica below, or take your drinks by the pool.

 

In the morning, after enjoying your coffee and chilaquiles on the terrace, hop a taxi to the nearby neighborhoods of Condesa, Polanco, and Roma. In Condesa, try Elena Reygadas’ Lardo, a lovely fusion of Mexican and Italian cuisines open for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Tall sliding glass doors open up onto the charming neighborhood streets, and its handsome bar fills quickly with what appears to be stylish friends and friends of friends. The neighborhood gem serves scrumptious fresh pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and home-made charcuterie – a bit of Europa in Mexico.

While in the area, browse local Condesa shops, like VOID, an über-hip vintage boutique with a neon sign over its entrance that says: “Come in, we’re closed.” The shop features rarefied vintage from names like Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, and Dior. They also have a curated collection of army jackets and band tees.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, catch a Lucha Libre match at Arena Mexico. This traditional but wildly theatrical form of Mexican wrestling, where men and women dress head-to-toe in flashy costumes and stretchy face masks while stomping, flinging, and rocketing each other in and out of the ring, is an absolute hilarious spectacle. The show, the vendors, the fans – all of it feels like a rite-of-passage into the heart of Mexican popular culture. And culture, after all, is exactly what we came all this way to see.

And speaking of culture, you can’t leave Mexico City, of course, without a night of serious tequila imbibing. In the historic center, La Casa de Las Sirenas is a restaurant-bar with (we’re not kidding) over 250 labels of the indigenous spirit on display. The Cantina de Tio Pepe is another local gem in the same area – actually an English-inspired pub that opened in 1870 and has been a go-to for political discourse and a classy tipple ever since.

 

 

Five More Things We Loved About the Downtown Mexico Hotel

Moments after walking through the hotel gates, we were gobsmacked by the atmosphere. Hanging candles, lush greenery, two fabulous restaurants, and a lovely coffee bar and bakery. What a first impression!
Every room comes replete with luxe amenities: rainwater showers, doors that open to private balconies, super comfortable beds, and bets of all, thoughtfully stocked mini bars.
Fancy a dip? Sure you do. And the rooftop pool is the perfect place for it. Plus, the rooftop bar serves up delicious mezcal margs as well as wonderful bubbly libations.
Café con leche. Each morning we awoke at a very vacation-esque hour and stepped out to breakfast on the charming terrace. Nibble on sweet breads, yogurt, granola, or chilaquiles before starting the day’s adventures.
More pillows please? From laundry service to in-room massages to a glass of wine while you wait for your in-room massage to begin…for a big city hotel, they know a lot about personal pampering.

 

A Mandarin Oriental Guide to Vegas’ Most Fabulous Cocktailing

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The Mandarin Bar

Oh Las Vegas, your reputation precedes you. Try to name another city as synonymous with extravagance and its trappings and you’ll surely fail (Okay, maybe Bangkok?).

But a lot has changed since it was still a shot-and-martini destination, perhaps as recently as the turn of the Millennium. To be sure, the punters still line up at the slots while pounding down cheap vodka tonics. But Sin City is now mixing a superb cocktail.

No one knows this better than the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas’ resident drinks wizard, Michael LaPenna, who resides over the hotel’s glamorous Mandarin Bar (Insider tip: the bar has a plush, exclusive area called The Edge – with awe-inspiring views). Seeking a night on the tiles that included something classic, something modern, something glam, something “underground,” we tapped his incomparable tippling wisdom. 

Sage at ARIA

Chef Shawn McClain is doing an excellent job of translating his farm-to-table menu to the bar. In fact, Sage won the Vegas Seven “Best Cocktail Menu” for 2016. Here, you can expect to start with an amuse bouche of non-alcoholic pink lemonade as a palate cleanser. Follow it up with the Empire State, a Hudson Rye whiskey-based drink; or sip on the Last Word, a blend of Plymouth Gin, Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino, and lime juice. Don’t miss the hors d’oeuvres either. Order up a Wagyu Beef tartar, or indulge in foie gras brûlée served with strawberry compote, toasted cocoa nibs and salted brioche.

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Herbs & Rye

It’s always been an industry clubhouse, where local and traveling bartenders get together for a good laugh. Dark wood, exposed brick, and candlelight call to mind Old Vegas lounges. And the bar menu does too. Choose from over 45 libations broken down into periods like Gothic Age (1776–1865), The Rat Pack Era (1950–1968), and Tiki Boom (1969–1989). I recommend the Ramos Gin Fizz, a light, frothy and labor-intensive cocktail – traditionally, the drink is shaken for 12 minutes straight – from the Golden Age, containing egg whites, cream, simple syrup, and lemon juice. 

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Rx Boiler Room

I prefer to imbibe away from big casinos, but I love Rick Moonen’s Rx Boiler Room, located within the Mandalay Bay. Tequila-lovers will find a wonderful buzz at the bottom of an Rx Cerveza Paloma (an inventive combo of tequila, grapefruit, honey, and mint). The Smoked Whiskey and Cola, the Barbarella, and the Luna Rossa are also house favorites. Order up the lamb shank or Grandma’s Meatball to fuel up for the night ahead.

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The Laundry Room at The Commonwealth

If it’s a clandestine scene you’re after, add The Laundry Room to your crawl. The speakeasy is surreptitiously located within the The Commonwealth, a 6,000-square-foot bar located downtown on Fremont Street, that serves up pre-Prohibition-style cocktails. Make a reservation though; The Laundry Room only has about 20 seats and wants guests to text in advance for a spot (702-701-1466). Once granted entrance, the bartender will most likely build a drink around your favorite flavors. Or, if it’s not your first night in town, you may want to opt for the Corpse Reviver #2.

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Mandarin Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas

Our seasonal menu at the Mandarin Bar, an elegant oasis overlooking the strip, has a chef-like commitment to freshness. I rely on exotic fruits and fresh juices while putting a modern spin on classic favorites. I was also involved with creating the hotel’s Zodiac cocktail program – a themed menu pairing seasonal ingredients with the star signs. For instance, expressive, focused, and free-minded Sagittarius’ will find a fall-inspired blend of spiced apple fizz with cinnamon and egg whites. Brown-beverage connoisseurs will strike gold here, too – we have an excellent selection of rare, top-shelf whiskeys.

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