BlackBook Interview: Ingrid Chavez on Her Stunning New Album ‘Memories of Flying’ and Paying Poignant Tribute to Prince

 

 

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, there seemed to be an inordinate number of up-and-comers whom the press were labeling “Prince protege.” It wasn’t really much of a surprise – after all, who wouldn’t want that title? But one in particular, Ingrid Chavez, arrived on the scene in a most arresting manner, a young Hispanic girl from New Mexico, of absolutely breathtaking beauty – and, like her mentor, also remarkably adept at shrouding herself in mystery. Which only heightened her allure.

She and His Purpleness recorded a poetry album together in 1988, which was temporarily shelved. But 1990 saw her pop up playing the love interest in his beloved film Graffiti Bridge, while “Justify My Love,” the slinky-sensual song she co-wrote with Lenny Kravitz for Madonna, shot straight up the charts.

Her debut album, titled May 19, 1992, soon followed, curiously actually released in fall of 1991; and an adoring public swooned to such irresistible singles as “Elephant Box” and Prince’s “Heaven Must be Near.”

 

 

During that time she also met the romantic British post-punk crooner David Sylvian (formerly of the band Japan), and thy were wed in 1992. The enigmatic couple moved to a farm in New Hampshire, had two children, and Ingrid for all intents and purposed dropped out of music. They separated in 2004, and, returning to music, Chavez’ 2010 album A Flutter and Some Words simply did not get the attention it deserved.

Now she’s back for real. And new album Memories of Flying sees her at her most visceral and self-assured. From the sultry, opening/title track, with its chilling observation, “The lines between Heaven and Hell are a blur,” to the cosseting beauty of the affectively sanguine “Light Rays,” to the haunted, enigmatic synth-funk of “Driving to the End of a Dream,” to the hopeful “Let the Healing Begin,” with its striking harmonies, lush atmospherics and lyrical proclamations like, “I’ve been broken / But I’m still open,” it’s a work of remarkable emotional complexity, and equally accomplished musically. She is without a doubt at the height of her creative powers.

We caught up for a chat with Ms. Chavez about this new chapter of her life, and how she came to write a moving tribute to Prince, “You Gave Me Wings,” which is a particular highlight of the album.

 

 

You won accolades for your debut, and seemed ready for certain stardom. What made you decide to disappear from music for nearly a decade?

When I set out on my path as an artist and musician at 19, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find myself caught up in the whirlwind of Prince’s world. As exciting and life changing as it was, it was overwhelming. The excitement quickly waned, as my record on Paisley Park was not getting the attention it deserved from the label. The movie, Graffiti Bridge, was getting a bad rap, and then there was the very public feud between Lenny Kravitz and me over credit for “Justify My Love.” I was getting a bad taste in my mouth about the business of music. On a European publicity tour for the movie, I interviewed with a German magazine in Paris; the journalist asked who I would most love to work with in the future, and I said David Sylvian.

Then you actually met him.

That interview set a course in action that would find me working with David within a few months and eventually married to him. I made a decision then and there to put all of my creative energy into making a family with David and living vicariously through his music. That was enough for me for about eight years, but as the girls got a little older, I started to miss that part of myself that I had set aside.

How much did working with Prince shape you as an artist and a person?

I always incorporated spoken word into my music, even before meeting Prince; but for me it was not something I had considered a focus stylistically. When he put me in Studio B at Paisley Park soon after meeting him, I recorded “Cross The Line” – that was his introduction to me as an artist. That first recording became the piece that was played during intermission on the Lovesexy tour. He was the first person to really encourage me to use more spoken word in my music. He asked me if I would like to make a poetry album, and because of that collaboration between the two of us, I am known for that style.

 

 

What are you wanting or needing to say with Memories of Flying?

Memories of Flying is the newest chapter in my life. By now, my life is measured out in songs and albums, and this is a record about healing and trying to hold people up. Every record I’ve ever released has elements of light and darkness, joy and sadness. Ingmar Bergman asked the question, “Isn’t art always to a certain extent therapy for the artist?” I write to communicate, and to heal myself and the listener.

What is the significance of the title? Are you trying use music as a way of soaring to some higher place? Spiritually? Creatively?

It comes from the idea that when you are weighted down by the world and feel heavy, it is a temporary state. If you can remember what it felt like to fly, to be weightless and easy, it can give you strength and courage to push through the hard times.

There is a noticeable signature to your sound. What did you try to differently on this record, sonically and aesthetically?

I don’t overwork my vocals. I record myself. There is a rawness and an intimacy that I am able to capture by being alone. The recordings can be messy and a nightmare for someone mixing my vocals. What is lost in quality I hope is made up for in the capturing of a moment. This album, in particular, was a bit more of a challenge because I worked with five different co-writers/producers. I had to have faith that my voice and words would be the thread to pull it all together and make it a cohesive collection of songs.

 

 

When you’re writing the words, is it more as a poet than a lyricist? 

I write as a lyricist, but I don’t see a big difference.

On the title track, there is the line, “You smoke to think straight / And drink to stay numb” – is that a confession of sorts?

This song was to and about a friend. Songs are like letters to me. I talk to people I care about through my songs.

When you proclaim, “You deserve all the love in the world” are you addressing yourself?

I am proclaiming it to myself and to everyone who needs to hear that. Again, this is a song that I wrote to a friend who was coming out of a bad relationship that had left them broken inside, and I wanted them to see themselves through my eyes. We are all a little broken inside and sometimes that is all we can see of ourselves; but if someone loves you and you can see yourself in their eyes, it is healing.

“You Gave Me Wings” – is it about Prince?

Yes it is. An artist named Ganga out of Denmark had sent me a track to write to that I had been sitting on for a few weeks, so I decided to take it for a drive. It was April 21, 2016. I stopped at a cafe to grab a coffee for the drive when a friend of mine called to ask if I had heard about Prince; she thought it might be a hoax but within seconds both of our phones started blowing up with calls. I knew it was true; he was gone.

 

 

And you reacted to his death by writing this song?

I did what I do, I just started driving with no destination, until the words came. I was listening to Ganga’s track, and through tears, the words came. They speak of our winter together, me writing the poetry record and him writing Lovesexy.

“Let the Healing Begin” and “Spread Your Wings” seem to suggest a desire to move on from trying or difficult times. Did you find the writing and recording of this album particularly cathartic?

“Let The Healing Begin” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I wrote this song driving from Jacksonville, Florida to Orlando, at a heavy time for me. There are two songs on this album that refer to me as a child; this one and “Calling Out The Thunder.” I am always attracted to music that has a little heaviness to it; it forces me to dive a bit deeper. I always say it’s the sad songs that I love the most and although there is often a tinge of sadness to my music, there is always that redemption, that light at the end of the tunnel.

You can hear that on both tracks.

“Spread Your Wings,” again, is a letter to a friend. Writing a song is like summing up all the swirling of emotions, finding words and melodies to make sense of it all. Yes, writing and recording this album was cathartic, it sums up the past four years of my life, a closed chapter, and now the book of my life is ready for a new one.

The musical landscape has changed radically from when you first came on the scene. What do you hope to get from making music at this time in your life?

I would never want to go back. I am comfortable here in this new geography where I am able to navigate my own way through it. I was never good at playing the game. I have managed to stay true to who I am no matter the climate. And I feel blessed to have gotten the big label experience of the early ’90s – what a ride.

 

 

 

SoFi-Chic: Urbanica The Meridian Hotel is Miami’s Laidback House of Style

 

After many an escape to the heat of Miami from a curiously cold New York spring, we’ve developed a bit of a magic city routine that inevitably involves strolls along the beach promenade, shopping on Lincoln Road, and many a bevvy at one of the plush hotels that line Collins Ave. More recent trips, however, have had us upending said routine by venturing into parts unknown – like our recent introduction to SoFi, South Beach’s Tribeca-shaped southernmost wedge between 5th Street and the ocean.

5th St is a natural demarcation line between the hard-partying Ocean Drive scene to its north, where Lummus Park starts, and the more subdued residential area to the south. And we were happy not to have to share its quiet streets with the throngs of shell-shocked tourists and questionably attired locals one finds in the trenches of SoBe.

 

 

We were staying at the perfectly situated Urbanica The Meridian Hotel, a minimalist oasis that reflects the dialed-down vibe of the neighborhood.

Cheeky though it was, we were quietly delighted when the Meridian’s fashionably bearded concierge greeted us with a salutation of “welcome home” as we alighted curbside. The immediately proffered mojito only added to the cozy feeling. Once upstairs, the genuinely monochromatically white in décor rooms exuded a sense-depriving calm, and we indulged in some much needed down time.

 

Minibar

 

Our first evening upon us, we started at the hotel’s newly opened Minibar, a chic, mid-century-meets-tiki oasis where we downed a few of their signature cocktails, including a South Beach ‘Z’ Pack, made of tequila, mezcal, ginger and honey.

We then dared to cross 5th into the heart of SoBe for the resto-meets-nightclub (aren’t they all in Miami?) Myn-Tu, which is next door to and sister of the perpetually trendy Mynt (get it?). The neon lights and scantily dressed servers, while certainly fun, didn’t instill in us lofty gastronomic expectations; but we were delightfully surprised, feasting on lemongrass soup, jackfruit gyozas, sea bass lettuce cups, and other sublimely prepared delicacies. A post dinner drink at the formerly subdued Setai hotel surprised us, as the once quietly elegant interior courtyard had transformed into a throbbing house party. Again, the nightclub thing.

 

Myn-Tu

 

After a restful night we breakfasted on eggs and antioxidant smoothies from the Meridian’s Food Marchand in its charming courtyard, before a long, lazy day of sun and sand – especially as the hotel is just a couple of easy blocks from the beach. Walking back, we indulged in some of the best ceviche we’ve ever had at the charming My Ceviche, taking our orders next door for $3 beers at the welcoming SoBe Hostel.

That evening a jaunt across the bay to Wynwood took more energy than we had counted on, as the once (okay, maybe quite awhile ago) off-the-radar boho arts district has recently become SoBe West, with an inordinate number of new security controlled club/bars/restos, and the throngs of partyers they tend to attract.

 

Sophie’s

 

We were curious to check out the new Yucatan influenced encampment Proyecto Tulum, which boasts not only food and drinks inspired by the Mexican resort town, but art, design, music, and even culture from the same. Strolling the sizable outdoor space from one individual area to the next did indeed remind us of the magical ancient Mayan town to the south.

Back in the dramatically chiller SoFi, we walked the deserted streets to the back-alley entrance of new club Sophie’s (get it?). Reflecting its dialed-down location the space eschews Miami’s typical blingtasticness for a more downtown cool, even ’90s-ish ambience. The LL Cool J and Pulp soundtrack only reinforced its cultural cred. We were starting to feel at home at SoFi.

Of course, real home was soon calling, and after another fabulous breakfast at The Meridian, we made our way to Miami International. But in a town we thought we knew so well, we were excited to have made a new neighborhood discovery, one we were eager to get to know better.

 

Après-Ski Season: A Rather Sophisticated Springtime in Vermont – Part 2, Burlington

Shaksbury & Co at The Soda Plant

 

 

Part I of our latest Vermont story, covered Manchester; and now we’re off to Burlington…

 

The ridiculously scenic drive from Manchester to Burlington is genuinely like traveling back in time; and, at any point, you might be the only car on the road. Along the way we took in the soaring mountain vistas, stopped at roadside farm stands for fresh-picked produce, and found quirky treasures at village antique shops.

It helped that Land Rover was kind enough to loan us a Range Rover Sport Hybrid PHEV to get us there in style. While the vehicle isn’t yet available in the U.S., its agile handling and luxurious feel are the familiar hallmarks of Land Rover’s entire range of SUVs.

Of course, there is obviously legendary skiing up this way. But spring is turning to summer soon, and ours was a much more epicurean mission.

Here’s how it all went.

 

Philo Ridge Farm

This working farm has been in operation since the 1840s, and has evolved as a community gathering place and a model for regenerative agriculture, with its own research and education center. Its market offers farm-produced meats, cheeses, and other local items and sells a seasonal shortlist of home made soups, salads, pizzas, and sandwiches on site. We ordered the better-than-Thanksgiving freshly sliced turkey breast with cranberry mustard on house-made Pullman bread, savory herb-flecked chicken salad, and gooey Vermont grilled cheese – we were definitely not disappointed. Oh, and make sure you visit Odyssey and his llama pals for an Insta-worthy selfie.

 

 

Foam Brewers

As we traveled the route from Charlotte to Burlington, we felt ourselves being pulled back into the 21st century. The University of Vermont’s sprawling campus welcomes visitors into Vermont’s largest city, and offers a hint at its vibrant culture. Once in town, all roads lead to the Lake Champlain waterfront and the striking Adirondack mountain range bordering it to the west. We stretched our legs with a stroll around the waterfront and popped into the celebrated Foam Brewers on Lake Street to see what was on tap that day, check out some local music, and chill on its patio.
Named among the best new brewers in the nation by Beer Advocate, RateBeer, and Men’s Journal, Foam offers a rotating selection that varies by season and inspiration. We tried the Mythological Beauty, a lavender-hued fruited sour beer with notes of blueberry, coconut, and lemon, as well as Nightmares on Wax, a modern white IPA with notes of vanilla, spice, and citrus.

 

 

Juniper

We checked into the appropriately monikered Hotel Vermont, and as happens, its Juniper restaurant also focuses on locally-crafted spirits and home-grown provisions that drive the menu. For dinner, we started by nibbling on roasted carrots with pistachio hummus and buttermilk crumble and Maple Wind Farm chicken drumsticks with spicy house-made sauce. For entrées, the seasonal gnocchi specials are highly coveted (ours featured chevre gnocci with sunchokes and caramelized Brussels sprouts, but the new spring version is filled with fresh spring peas and other first-comers from the garden).
But fall-apart-tender was the grilled pork belly served on a bed of creamy polenta with a dollop of tomato jam. Insider tip: You can ask for local wine pairings from Shelburne Vineyards or celebrated Vermont winemaker Krista Scruggs of ZAFA wines. But if you’re in the mood for a cocktail, their drinks alchemists boast a menu of inspired tipples crafted from local distillations – for a refreshing twist on a gin and tonic, we tried the Business Thyme, featuring Barr Hill Gin, lime, honey, and, of course, thyme. A seat on the outside on the patio and promises breathtaking views of sunset over Lake Champlain.
Come the weekend, we started the day with the hotel’s in-house yoga classes…though a refreshing run along the waterfront before settling down to brunch at Juniper meant we didn’t have to regret ordering the decadent Red Flannel Hash (grass-fed corned beef, beets, potatoes, topped with two golden-yolked eggs) and the savory mushroom tartine oozing with creamy Spring Brook Tarentaise cheese. Safe to say we also made a selection from their Bloody Mary Bar, and we went as spicy as possible.

 

The Soda Plant

Before the day was up, we made a stop at the city’s South End, a former industrial area emerging as a galvanizing point for artists and young entrepreneurs. The Soda Plant is, as we had guessed, a former soda factory space that has been transformed as a collective for small, upstart businesses. Brio Coffeeworks has a space, both roasting and selling their beans; CO-Cellars is a winery and tasting room, a collaboration between the founders of Shaksbury hard ciders and Krista Scruggs of ZAFA wines. The space is used for active fermentation, experimentation, and an open-to-the-public tasting room – and we highly recommend stocking up on their rosé cider before you depart.
Other forms of fermentation can be found at Pitchfork Farm & Pickle, which, sure, is one big hipsterriffic cliché – but they will literally pickle anything from butternut squash and carrots to classics such as Bavarian-style sauerkraut and Korean kimchi, if that’s your thing. After you’re done with all that tasting, stroll through a few of the art galleries, jewelry makers, and other intriguing independent shops.

 

 

Hotel Vermont

Although Burlington isn’t lacking in good, atmospheric hotels, the Hotel Vermont is a more contemporary choice, sleek and modern, but with rustic design touches and a welcoming atmosphere. Perfectly located between the Church Street shopping and entertainment hub and the waterfront, the five-year-old hotel has become central to the character of the community and is a staunch supporter of Burlington’s groundswell of emerging businesses. From the architecture to the food and beverage program, almost everything is sourced locally – including the in-room coffee mugs created by a Burlington-based potter and the coffee served in them, from award-winning Burlington roaster Brio Coffeeworks. Urbane rooms feature patterned carpets, warm woods and stylishly muted color schemes.

 

Three Scottish Recommends For a Perfect ‘World Whisky Day’

 

 

 

Most people are familiar with the locally made bourbons and whiskeys stacked behind every preeningly hip new bar – at least since the first hipsteriffic vinyl record shop opened somewhere in Brooklyn. Yet while whiskey and Scotch whisky may sound, and look, somewhat similar, the differences will actually astound – and are steeped in centuries of tradition.

There are at least 128 Scotch whisky distilleries spread across the relatively small country of Scotland (it could fit into the U.S. 127 times), and an estimated 20 million casks maturing in assorted warehouses. Like any national treasure there are strict guidelines to claim the distinction; the spirit must mature, for instance, in oak casks in Scotland for at least three years.

Scotland, and the world, will celebrate World Whisky Day this Saturday, May 18. If you’re in New York, we’d recommend pulling up a barstool at the classy gastropub Highlands in the West Village; in LA, go trad at Atwater Village’s The Morrison. And to get you properly sorted in advance, we chatted with Julie Trevisan-Hunter, marketing guru for Edinburgh’s legendary Scotch Whisky Experience, who passed along a few expert epicurean “whisky sipping tips.”

 

The Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh

 

Nosing a Dram

Visit a bar with a good range and make sure you are there with good friends. Choose a different single malt Scotch each and compare and contrast the range. So much of the flavor in Scotch comes from the aroma, so you can enjoy nosing all the drams.

Straight vs. Cocktails

Generally blended Scotch whisky is made for mixing in cocktails and long drinks; whereas single malt Scotch is for slow sipping straight or with water.  Single malt always benefits from at least a tiny drop of water to “open it up.”

Price Isn’t Everything

Splash out, but only a little. Everyone has a different palate, but my very favorite whiskies of all time have all been between 16 and 18 years old; so for me it is worth splashing out, but not too much. You can leave the $1000 drams to someone else.

 

Stay in Edinburgh: The Balmoral

To visit The Scottish Whisky Experience in person, you’ll have to actually fly to the majestic city of Edinburgh. And you’ll want to stay at one of our favorite hotels in the world, The Balmoral. It’s got stylish rooms overlooking the castle, a Michelin-starred restaurant (Number One), and the handsome Bar Prince, which boasts a whisky selection that tops out at more than 500. A class act.

 

First Images: Blique by Nobis Hotel Opens in Stockholm

 

With winter but a memory and summer beckoning, Stockholm returns to its most glorious state of being. Meaning, of course, warm enough for an extended visit. And nothing tempts us to a destination like a brilliant new hotel.

And so it is that we are now eagerly looking forward to our first visit to the new Blique by Nobis (a member of Design Hotels). Located where the up-and-coming Hagastadan district meets the Vasastaden quarter (oh, how we love the names of Swedish neighborhoods), its manifesto of sorts has to do with acting as a galvanizing force for the local creative scene. It doesn’t hurt one bit that it’s housed in a 1930s Functionalist masterpiece, by exalted architect Sigurd Lewerentz.

The Nobis Hospitality Group (who boast additional hotels in Stockholm and Copenhagen) brought in modern master Gert Wingårdh, whose signature “high organic” style decisively guided the design of the space. Concrete and exposed piping live in harmony with more tactile materials like leather, oak, wool and velvet, resulting in an “all the comforts of home” feeling – if, that is, your home had been designed by Corbusier. An Italophile touch comes by way of select furnishings by De Padova.

 

 

The 249 rooms exude warmth, despite an ideological lack of embellishment; the industrial grey palette actually comes off surprisingly inviting. And the white Terrazzo-flecked-with-amber in the bathrooms palpably nods to elements of nature.

The scene? On the ground floor, the open-plan lobby and Origo Bar invite socializing, music and visual arts programming, which will be a regular feature. When the belly grumbles, descend the stairs to Boketto, where a Euro-Asian menu is complemented by Neapolitan pizzas and Scandi-rustic surrounds. Soon to follow is the Arc Rooftop, where you can soak up the beauty of Stockholm over a sophisticated tipple.

Walking distance from the hotel is a favorite of ours, the Carl Eldh Studio Museum, which contains hundreds of works by the classically influenced 20th Century sculptor. Yet one more great reason to check in.

 

 

From Colonial to Gatsbyesque: These Are Singapore’s Best Bars

Atlas Bar 

 

 

The thirst is real in Singapore and fortunately for us, salvation comes in spirited liquid form. For visitors and locals alike, the world is paying attention to this “little red dot” and its magnetic mixology; in fact, with a quick perusal of the World’s 50 Best Bars – you’ll see it right up there with New York, London, and Tokyo.

Certainly, the cocktail culture here is a fledgling creature and is just beginning to spread its wings, but in under seven years, what started within buzzing hotel bars has spread like sippable wildfire out onto the streets.

 

Raffles Long Bar

 

It’s drinking culture might best be compared to Singlish, the country’s local lingo. While English is the primary language, it’s laced with colloquial expressions that are pulled from the multicultural mix of its residents, which include Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil speaking people. Like Singlish, the country’s cocktails reflect this pride for heritage, but are crafted with an international appeal.

At the moment, this Southeast Asian land of contrasts offers a handful of excellent bars that reflect a collision of East and West, resulting in sexy swaggering sips with a nerdy vigor. Proof of its tippling status, Singapore plays host to Asia’s 50 Best Bar Awards on May 9th.

From a recent bar hopping visit, here are some of our faves.

 

Native

A champion of all things local, foraging and showcasing the pride of Southeast Asian ingredients and products in liquid form. Bar founder Vijay Mudaliar melds together his mad-scientist methodologies, worldly wanderlusting, and homages to local culture within each cocktail. Indicative of this is the Peranakan, inspired by its namesake people – local rum is infused with gula melaka, laksa leaf, jackfruit and candlenut for the beverage component. Meanwhile the garnish draws inspiration from the beloved Kueh Salat dessert, where Mudaliar and his team use the leftover goat milk curdle produced from the drink, then cook it down with blue pea flower, coconut water and pandan. A buxom lozenge is formed which is dangled atop the glass and given a rainshower of jackfruit shavings.

 

 

Jigger and Pony

Recently made the move to its new home at the Amara Hotel. Bar manager Jerrold Khoo and his team’s core philosophy is to offer “classic cocktails and convivial hospitality” but with a “revised and forward-thinking craft.” Imbibing indulgences run the gamut of your classic whisky highball and old-fashioned to Asian-artistry twists such as the Jungle Bird and Yokohama. Our preferred poison is the Yuzu Whiskey Sour, a new addition to the menu, it sees Bulleit Bourbon make a splash with yuzu marmalade, St. Germain, lemon, all topped with clouds of egg white.

Atlas 

Imagine if Bruce Wayne and Jay Gatsby had a lovechild. Brimming with spectacular grandeur, it’s housed within the iconic Parkview Square building in the historic Bugis neighborhood, where hipster meets heritage. From the sprawling ceiling murals to the marble statues, it’s all jaw-dropping opulence. And then there are the spirits that line the “library” shelves and practically reach the Heavens. You could peruse for hours and not make a dent in Atlas’ collection of over 50,000 bottles of fine wine and over 10,000 bottles of whiskey, the majority of which are rare and vintage globetrotting finds. Here, you might as well go for broke and select the Vintage Martini, with gin from the decade of your choice (as far back as the 1910s). It’s a history lesson of inspired imbibing proportions.

 

 

Tippling Club

Considered to be one of the forefathers of paving the path to cocktail connoisseur glory in Singapore. Lead bartender Andrew Loudon offers an aromatically themed menu based around the novel Perfume. For him, smells seduce the senses and are often strongly intertwined with memories. For instance, Frangipani & Salt is like a midsummer night’s dream – inspired by Marine Accord, Frangipani and Sandalwood oil, the cocktail itself is laced with artichoke, elderflower, grapefruit, and prosecco – this bubbly, refreshing number is the kind of creation you’d linger over on the patio with friends.

28 HongKong Street

Where it all started, this inimitable bar, in what once was a quiet, unassuming neighborhood, has ignited a transformation in the area. And yet it still lies behind a nondescript “blink and you’ll miss it” entryway. If you succeed in finding it, you’re rewarded with a seductive space replete with a wall of curated fine spirits by The Proof Collective. An international flair mingles with a charmed Singaporean hospitality. Drinks are an homage to pivotal hip-hop geography, and include America’s East Coast, West Coast, Dirty South, and the Midwest. From the Dirty South, try the Three Stacks, a take on a Dirty Martini and inspired by André 3000; and like him, the drink is bold, spirit-driven and fresh, employing Rutte Celery Gin and Mancino Secco Vermouth, singing with citrus and spice, and finished with clarified kale oil to keep things interesting.

 

Tanjong Beach Club

Located on Singapore’s southern coast is Sentosa Island, where life’s a perpetual beach. When you’re greeted with year-round suntans and endless sweaty summer shenanigans, what’s not to love? Drinks by the ocean round out the R&R, and are replete with a fruity flair – all courtesy of flavors and ingredients sourced from the region. The Malyan Mai Tai is indicative, and a tantalizing taste of the tropics: house-infused rum mingles with lime, curaçao, orgeat and finished with their secret blend of pandan.

Idlewild

The newly opened retroluxe spot inside the Intercontinental Hotel. Named for the former moniker of the now John F. Kennedy International Airport, the bar pays homage to a bygone Mad Men era and the golden age of air travel. In fact, Head of Operations and Creative, Andy Griffiths, explains that the menu is inspired by the first commercial Transatlantic Flight in the 1940s. Ten cities along the Transatlantic Route are featured, with each drink telling tales of adventure and celebrating exciting journeys of venturing to unknown exotic lands. A favorite is a (liquid) trip to Casablanca with the Berbere Smash, which sees Rebel Yell Small Batch reserve bourbon infused with mint tea syrup, cardamom bitters, and preserved lemon. Moroccan magic in a glass.

 

 

Junior the Pocket Bar

The space is reincarnated every six months with a theme in mind to honor specific sippable art forms. Currently, it’s in the Pacifica phase, nodding to all things tropical escapism. The tiny, hidden bar is now a Polynesian-paradise, complete with palm trees, thatched roofs, ceremonial masks, and ample doses of kitsch for good measure. Tiki tipples include progressive potions, the classics, and everything in-between. For a “contemporary classic,” try the Zombie, conceived by Don the Beachcomber back in the heyday of Tiki culture, using a potent mixture of Aged Demerara, Rich Venezuela, & Overproof Rums. It’s then given some levity with citrus, grapefruit, lime, and rounded off with sweet falernum and warm spices from Don’s Mix #2. And ceremoniously to invoke the Tiki spirit, it’s set ablaze right before serving.

Cook & Tras Social Library Bar

Situated on the ground floor of the new Six Senses Maxwell’s hotel, French designer Jacques Garcia has transformed a former nutmeg plantation and its colonial buildings into a lively, gracious space, complete with a collection of over 3,000 curated book titles for rent. It’s only rivaled by mixologist Ricky Paiva’s cocktail compendium. Of the concise list, we recommend the tartly refreshing Cougar Paw, where Bombay Dry Gin plays nice with Cava, lime, mint, all topped with frothy meringue.

 

The Long Bar

In the Raffles Hotel, famous for none other than the creation of the Singapore Sling. In the 1900s, ladies drinking alcohol was considered positively scandalous – until this game changing drink arrived. Masquerading as a seemingly harmless “fruit punch,” the potent concoction was a deviously delicious creation created by Ngiam Tong Boon, who paved the way for women to “have fun” while still appearing “socially acceptable.” Today, it makes at least 1,000 Singapore Slings a day, with both men and women passing through the bar’s doors to taste this historic tipple. The formula for fun here includes pineapple and lime juices, curaçao, Bénédictine, grenadine and cherry liqueur.

MO Bar

The new bar at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore is more than just a looker. With its sleek, contemporary decor, it overlooks the sparkling waters of Marina Bay. Inspired by the Pacific Ocean, Asia’s trading ports, and the travelers that sailed between worlds, Bar Manager Michele Mariotti has crafted fourteen cocktails to reflect the theme of the exploratory nomad and myths of Southeast Asia. The showstopping Mother of Dragons is a must-order here, with a mid-ranged potency, and graced with strawberry aloe vera, berry juice and dragon cachaça.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Kenneth Branagh on His New Film ‘All is True,’ and Why Shakespeare Still Very Much Matters

 

 

You can put him in Harry Potter films, or convince him to direct superhero flicks (as he did with 2011’s half-a-billion-dollar-grossing Thor) – but Kenneth Branagh will always belong to a somewhat more rarefied realm, one whose characters dispatch with one another via noble swordsmanship or by-now-archaic methods of poisoning. Like Sir Laurence Olivier before him, he is inarguably his generation’s most exalted Shakespearean actor (both on stage and screen), who also just happens to be equally adept with a pen or a camera.

To give it proper contemporary context, his 1993 film version of Much Ado About Nothing boasts a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – and his 1996 Hamlet goes and bests it at 95%.

But perhaps having taken all that he can for now from The Bard’s sprawling oeuvre, with his new Sony Pictures Classics film All is True (written by, directed by and starring Branagh, in theaters May 10), he instead chooses to dramatize him.

In it he plays a newly retired Shakespeare, who’s come back to Stratford-Upon-Avon surely to put things to right, after a prodigious and prestigious career that has long kept him in London and apart from his family. He gives a viscerally nuanced performance – especially in regards to dealings with his fervent and resentful daughter Judith (acted with the force of a hurricane by Kathryn Wilder), and the 17-years-past death of his son Hamnet…which turns out to have been scandalous, when it had never before been presumed to be so.

 

 

Judi Dench, more than 20 years Branagh’s senior, plays his wife Anne Hathaway with a stoic power, mediating between her husband’s considerable ego and her daughter’s at long last unleashed anger. Ian McKellen brings radiant comic relief in the form of the Earl of Southampton, whom Shakespeare had so ardently admired in his youth; and a bitingly sardonic humor resurfaces throughout the film precisely when it is most called for. (Will’s lacerating tongue lashing of the cantankerous Sir Thomas Lucy is utterly priceless).

We had the privilege to chat with Branagh about the film, and about why The Bard‘s work still matters in these contemporary times. If it need be said, he was as thoughtful, and charming, as you’d have ever imagined him to be.

 

 

I was talking with Roland Emmerich after the London premiere of Anonymous in 2011, and he opined that Shakespeare ultimately now belongs to everyone. How do you feel about that?

“I would agree with him – and I really, really enjoyed his film. Interpretations are open to all, but for All is True I wanted to start with what we knew about the man from Stratford – I wanted to see specifically if I could find a version, as it struck me through the plays, of Shakespeare the man meeting Shakespeare the genius. We know he returned to that small town in 1613 when his theater burned down completely. And I had actually gleaned a lot from being in the plays: the emotional territory, his obsession with twins and the loss of a child, issues of status. Those are the things that I wanted to explore.”

There seems always to be this tendency to put the genius on a pedestal. Was your goal to sort of bring him down from that perch?

“Humanizing him, yes. Sort of de-deifying him. It seemed to me that a central virtue of his work was to render exactly that same process, whether it was Julius Caesar or King Richard III or the II. He took historical figures in spectacular situations, for instance the Battle of Agincourt for Henry V – and for me the transformative element was the sense that human beings were always at the center of it all. And even in heightened circumstances, were doing things and behaving in ways that were very much reflective of our own lives. A play like Macbeth, for example, can help us understand the most extreme version of succumbing to the lure of ambition. Always he brought the work into a very human, humane and often humorous dimension.”

 

 

The foibles of the spectacular?

“Yes, yes! That’s a perfect way of putting it. Of the last three or four plays Shakespeare wrote on his own, finishing maybe with The Tempest, many people read into the end passages that he is done with it all. And he also uses magic to make happy endings, almost as if he’s run out of human ways to do it. Of course, fairytales are not the real world, those more imaginary worlds are not what represents real life. And now he’s going back to his home life after being probably totally spent from the last twenty years writing, acting and producing thirty-seven plays. And there is something I think he wants to set right at home – to face up to the consequences of his absence.”

Well that’s the eternal question, isn’t it? Do we forgive the questionable morals of geniuses? After all, Picasso was not a very good person.

“Yes, there are plenty of questions to be asked about the behavior and morals of the greats. He comes across as…”

A man searching for morality? The plays were rife with moral examination, obviously.

“That would be a good way of stating it. He’s looking for the right thing to do ultimately.”

History does suggest that his son Hamnet died of the plague. But you’re taking a bit of liberty with the story?

“The facts are accurate in that on either side of his death in 1596, there were only three other infant deaths…”

So it’s possible that your version is correct?

“It’s at least legitimate speculation.”

Founded speculation.

“Yes, that at least stretches back into what you see in some of the plays. In The Winter’s Tale, the suggestion is almost that the boy Mamillius dies of a broken heart, because of the actions of his father. So that seemed like a Shakespearean leap to take – based on the bare facts of no actual cause of death given, and when the quantity of deaths seems to indicate this was not a period of plague.”

 

 

It appears that Will is trying to learn from the women in his life. Anne Hathaway seems, if not terribly outspoken, at least a very much self-possessed person in the film.

“Well she’s reflected a little by our experience with the character of Paulina, also in The Winter’s Tale, who is often quoted by actresses as being their favorite character. She does not let Leontes off the hook at all, puts him to the sword about his actions. You must understand, Shakespeare’s options were very wide at the time; but he chose to come back home.”

Maybe to at last better understand who his wife and daughters really were?

“Well, it was kind of modern thing to offer to women who were disempowered through illiteracy a chance to have a voice. If nothing else there were acres of gaps to fill in. So much of what he writes about in the late plays is the resolution of these issues, trying to make the end of family life happy; the transitions, the passings.”

Which is perhaps why he turned to magical solutions in his final works?

“Yes, statues come to life, incredible quirks of coincidence happen. He turns the last four plays into fairytales, which is an interesting style to arrive at after the psychological realism of Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello, all dark, gritty and remorseless.”

That maybe helps to explain why some people find God later in life.

“I guess yes. Looking for some spiritual solace and some sense of it all…”

Through magic. Because God is magic.

“Yes, God is magic; and magic is legitimate theatrical currency for the dramatist. Though you might argue that it’s weak for the psychological realist as a tool. But maybe he got to there through a certain amount of heartache, and melancholy. That is expressed as he explores the separation of twins, the problems that daughters have with their fathers…”

 

 

As in King Lear?

“That was an inspiration as we built to the arguments and tensions, and unleashed what’s true in most family relationships. Tensions in the here and now are often linked to something that happened many years ago.”

It’s an absolutely chilling moment, when Judith bitterly concedes to her father, “A daughter is nothing, destined only to become the property of another man…or fade away.” She is explosive.

“Right, Judith carries an absolute pack of hand grenades.”

Finally, you’re arguably an icon of this classical cultural line. Do you feel as if the culture now is finally speeding away from all of this, Shakespeare, E.M. Forster – will it all be lost to our new short-attention-span reality?

“I don’t know about lost. But you’re absolutely right, culture is speeding away from it.”

Or it is maybe dissipated in its ability to…well, Shakespeare has somehow remained a part of the cultural zeitgeist for centuries. Is that perhaps coming to an end?

“I think it’s a very good question, and I think the jury is out.”

It’s always been somehow comforting to know that it still matters.

“Yes, it matters because it helps us to understand.”

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Delectable Cocktail Recipes From DC’s Sky-High New 12 Stories Bar

 

With partisan political battles raging and so many unseasonal downpours, we’re seriously ready for maximum summer fun to kick in. And as the headlines bear down, seeking solace in a fussed over cocktails with views of the majestic Potomac seems just about right. So expect to find us making haste for The District Wharf, D.C.’s much buzzed about, mile-long urban development along the river – and its stunningly conceived new Gerber Group rooftop nightspot 12 Stories.

The Wharf itself is lined with hotels, restaurants, shops and residences, a veritable waterfront city within a city. And perched, yes, twelve stories up in the plush Intercontinental hotel (also home to Kith/Kin), 12 Stories boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, and a sprawling outdoor terrace, with panoramic views ethereally taking in the Potomac and some of DC’s most iconic monuments (reminding that we once had real presidents like Jefferson and Lincoln.) The space itself is a paradigm of industrial chic, with stark concrete floors and leather, velvet, and marble accents.

 

 

Of course, the aforementioned Gerber Group are behind the likes of Mr. Purple and The Campbell Bar in NYC – so creative tipples are a highlight here. Some were clearly concocted to offer relief from the summer swelter, like the zero-degree Superchilled Martini 24 and the Superchilled Negroni. But the colorful Blue Velvet tempts with its blend of Casamigos Reposada tequila, blueberry and lemon juices and soda.

One can readily assemble “dinner” from an assortment of small bites including locally sourced oysters, ceviche-style crudo, and the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich. Day drinkers should keep a watch for the soon-to-be launched weekend brunch.

The 12 Stories drinks wizards were kind enough to share with us the secrets behind some of their most coveted creations. But we highly recommend enjoying them in situ, because, well…those views.

 

Exclusive 12 Stories Cocktail Recipes

Killroy Gimlet

  • 2 oz lemongrass infused Belvedere vodka
  • .75 oz Lime juice
  • .5 oz Thai chili pepper agave syrup
  • Rocks glass. Skewered Thai pepper
Thai chili agave syrup
  • 16 Thai chili peppers, halved and macerated
  • 64 oz agave syrup (2:1 ratio)
  • Infuse 1 day. Strain off chili peppers
  • Stable: 1 month

__________

Golden Compass

  • 5 oz Brugal Anejo
  • .5 oz Velvet Falernum
  • 25 oz Ginger/Turmeric Passion Mix
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • Crushed ice in 14 oz glass tiki mug. Blue straw, paper umbrella and grated nutmeg 
Ginger/Turmeric passion Mix
  • 18 oz passion fruit puree concentrate
  • 5 oz simple syrup (1.5:1 ratio)
  • 45 oz water
  • 12 oz fresh ginger juice
  • 4 tbsp turmeric powder
  • Mix and chill. STIR BEFORE USING
  • Stable: 7 days

__________

Ube-B

  • 2 oz Ketel Botanical Peach and Orange Blossom
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz simple syrup
  • 1 dash ube extract (1:5 dilution)
  • Coupe. Lemon twist
Ube extract
  • 2 oz Ube extract
  • 14 oz water
  • Combine
  • Stable

Above: Ube-B and Golden Compass

Eating Goth: The New York DARK Food Festival Comes to Williamsburg

 

 

What’s more goth than wearing black? How about eating black?

If the very thought sends a shiver up your spine, you might consider making haste for the grimly fiendish New York DARK Food Festival, which debuts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on May 19, after its tantalizing debut in Budapest (as the Black Food Festival)…with stops in Berlin, Tel Aviv and Helsinki along the way. Hungry darkwavers (and everyone else) will know the existential joy of indulging in everything from black sesame or charcoal ice cream, to black garlic and of course, black chocolate – as well as an array of inventive and innovative dishes that experiment with, naturally, the color black.

Festival founder Regina Boros shares, “I am a food blogger in Budapest, following trends on social media. I noticed people’s crazy reactions to the posts where black cakes, or black hamburgers appear, even in the fine dining scene – like Noma in Copenhagen, or other Michelin-starred restaurants. If someone shares a black dish, people love it more than usual. So it came to my mind: why not create a food festival where every vendor can sell only black, or dark colored food?” And we love that she did.

But black food isn’t just artificially colored; some of the most sought after ingredients, from the finest coffee, luscious black berries, or balsamic vinegar have been cultivated for centuries using traditional methods that render them blackest. “Our passion here at the DARK Food Festival is to discover and share the lesser-known black foods from across the world – whether that’s boudin noir, black macarons, or black garlic – and to explore a new and unique culinary dimension.”

“Black is not just a color for me,” she continues, “it is something creative, beautiful, simple but complex. It can be weird to try a black hamburger or macaron, new types of black vegetables or fruits, black corn, black tomato, or even a completely black rice dish; but it is about experimentation, to step out from your comfort zone.”

There’s even a juried competition, the New York Experimentalists Black/Dark Food Festival Awards. Risk takers, iconoclasts and tenebrous trailblazers all, will be judged by a prestigious panel of gastronomy professionals, on the lookout for the most creative concoctions. Two dark-hearted exhibitors will be awarded in the food and drink categories.

Should you be watching your emaciated goth figure, not only will comestibles and tipples be on offer, but also “black design and fashion, accessories and decoration.”

Boros concludes, “I love dark culture, dark music, black fashion…”

Us too, of course.

(The Dark Food Festival will take place Sunday, May 19th at The Canvas, 132 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tickets are available on EventBrite. Istanbul and London follow in June)