BlackBook Exclusive: Winter Cocktail Recipes from the Stratus Rooftop Lounge at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia

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When the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia debuted in the fall of 2012, one particular feature blared from the headlines with great new promise: there would be a very high-profile rooftop bar up on the 11th floor. Maybe not earth-shattering news in NYC or LA, but at the time Philly (already one of our fave nightlife destinations) was vividly lacking in such lofty drinking establishments.

Six+ years later, the Stratus Rooftop Lounge is still one of the sexiest spots in the city. Open year round, there’s actually something decidedly European about the overall vibe and aesthetic – as if it might be found crowning a plush hotel in Munich or Rome. It also boasts one of Philadelphia’s top drinks alchemists, in the person of Mirek Struniaski.

 

 

The hotel itself – where we checked in just recently – apart from its location amidst Old City’s teeming restaurant scene, has much to recommend it. First, it’s own Red Owl Tavern does regional dishes (winter squash panzanella, lamb shank cassoulet) with an international flair in a rustic-chic setting, and is buzzing at weekday lunchtime. The Monaco also has one of those great lounging lobbies, done up in an array of smartly mismatched neo-baroque / neo-classical furnishings and zodiac artworks. The space hosts a sociable wine reception for guests every evening.

The stylistic playfulness extends to the rooms, which have baroque-detailed wall coverings and curtains, Empire style armchairs (ours was embossed with a dachshund silhouette – neato!), Chinoiserie cabinets, and dramatic 1920s-style fringe lamps. We loved particularly the dramatic view of historic Philadelphia from our window.

Still and all, it was the Stratus that really had us swooning – and Mr. Struniaski was good enough to enlighten us as to the magic behind a few of his signature creations. Try them at home…but absolutely make haste to sip them in situ at the Monaco sooner than later.

 

 

Casanova 2

 

Stratus Rooftop Lounge Signature Cocktails

 

Water Lily

Butterfly pea infused Tanqueray 10
Johnnie Walker Black
Lillet Blanc
honey syrup
rose water

 

Radiant Club

Gosling’s Black Rum
Campari
pineapple juice
lime
cherry syrup
cranberry bitters
egg white

 

Casanova No 2

Cognac
ginger syrup
cayenne (served hot)

 

First Images: Virgin Debuts Splashy New Hotel in San Francisco’s SOMA

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Unlike those mega-corporate brands, Virgin has been distinctly more methodical in the building of its new hospitality venture. Indeed, their first hotel opened just more than four years ago in Downtown Chicago  – and it’s taken this long for the follow up.

But that second act has at last arrived, as their San Francisco outpost opens this week to significant chattering amongst the creative classes. And surely a part of that excitement stems from the reality that despite its world class cultural/culinary/nightlife status, SF has been a bit slow in crafting its new-gen hotel cred, barely registering on the international trendometer when it comes to groovy places to lay one’s head when visiting the City by the Bay.

 

 

The new hotel is located in the perpetually trendy South of Market (SOMA) district – with all of the attendant food and drink options to keep its denizens hanging about from morning ’til midnight. One can pop in for a caffeine fix at the Funny Library Coffee Shop in the AM, grab a buzzy lunch at the Commons Club (a spinoff of the Windy City original), and, starting in March, carry out some serious seeing and being seen at the Everdene rooftop bar.

Public space aesthetics actually come by way of rock star designer Matthew Rolston, and nod to both SF’s fabled 1960s bohemia and its lesser known British Victorian influence.

But amidst all the socializing, you can actually get a good night’s sleep here, if that’s your thing. The 192 rooms flaunt separate dressing areas and ergonomic lounge beds, with warm woods accented by signature the Virgin red.

if you tend towards booking the St Regis or the Westin St Francis, the Virgin probably won’t be your thing. But if you’d prefer to be where the SF wild things are, we would suggest it as your only new option.

 

BlackBook Exclusive: CBD Cocktail Recipes From the New Gitano Jungle Room

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Can’t make it to the trendy Mexican Riviera for your winter retreat this year? The brand new Jungle Room in The James New York – Soho is a hidden gem tucked away in plain sight. Inspired by their Tulum, Mexico outpost, Grupos Gitano channeled the chill, with hints of Spanish Colonial architecture and lush jungle vibes. Founder James Gardner has transformed the first two floors into a verdant oasis, with a bit of disco chic.

The Jungle Room is split into a dining room on the first level and bar on the second. A ten foot crystal cactus quirkily complements the plush velvet banquettes and opulent vintage chandeliers. A massive hanging disco ball connects the two floors via the skylight, and temps you to get up dance, despite the lack of a dancefloor.

The menu is filled with modern Mayan and Mexican specialities, led by exalted Noma chef Mads Refslund, in collaboration with Head Chef Yvan Lemoine. Locally sourced beef becomes carne asada, and local masa goes into the housemade corn tortillas; honey coriander lamb ribs and pot roasted cauliflower with black garlic are highlights of the ingredient-driven fare. The larger plates are all served family style, in a selection of wooden planchas and terracotta dishes. Finish off with a sweet treat of classic churros with spiced chocolate dipping sauce, nodding to a local MexRiv favorite.

 

 

But real (fake) vacation mode starts with happy hour, with a drinks menu that plays to the red-hot CBD cocktail trend. Created by Jeremy Strawn, Head Bartender (and formerly of Death & Co), who brings his knowledge of quality craft to seasonal and and very stylish liquid creations. Pairings of rosewater and strawberry, or a boozy take on Horchata, the rice milk and cinnamon specialty from the Yucatan, are little sips of paradise.

And just introduced, every day from 5-7pm will be their High Tea Happy Hour, at the upstairs Jungle Bar. It will feature a selection of House of Waris teas, Ladurée macaroons, and special large format signature cocktails, for the Franco-Anglophile in you.

Strawn was kind enough to share the secrets behind a couple of his best CBD creations. But we can’t emphasize enough the need to get yourself down to Grand Street to see the place for yourself.

 

 

Gitano Jungle Room CBD Cocktail Recipes 

Golden God

Created by Jeremy Strawn, Head Bartender
2oz Mezcal
.75oz Lime Juice
.75oz Passion Fruit
.5oz Chartreuse
METHOD: Shake all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker over ice, briskly, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with fresh rosemary Sprig and 4-5 drops CBD Oil.

 

Gypsy Mule

Created by Jeremy Strawn, Head Bartender
2oz Pistachio Infused Vodka
.75oz Lime Juice
.75oz Simple
.5oz Ginger Juice
METHOD: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake hard. Strain into a Highball Glass filled with ice and top with ginger ale. Garnish with Lime Wheel and Cherry.

 

 

Avena Downtown Opens in the Old Da Silvano Space – and It’s an Absolute Revelation

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When Da Silvano served its final meal in December of 2016, it was not just the last act for a beloved NYC dining institution – it veritably closed out a chapter of old media schmoozing. Beyond the celebrities, it was a “print media” restaurant, in an increasingly digital world.

A little more than two years on, the West Village space at last has a new occupant – and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

Firstly, the new Avena Downtown (sister to the namesake that opened on E. 57th St. in 2017) is decidedly European – though the vibe doesn’t specifically evoke Rome or Naples or wherever. The brick-walled space actually feels a bit Parisian – like you might stumble across it somewhere in the posh 7th arrondissement. But the understatedly mod furnishings, chicly distressed mirrors, and an artful, rustic-industrial sliding door – which can close off the bar from the main dining room – appear straight out of a fashionable eatery in Milano.

The bar area itself, infused with a bit of Italian Riviera cool, is a destination unto itself – and we expect to be propping it up on a regular basis in the coming months. In fact, the fab Euro-disco soundtrack was a welcome relief from all that twee indie rock clouding the atmosphere at so many of-the-moment hipster restos. It was like a bit of nighttime Capri in NYC.

 

 

But the food is, well…nothing short of a revelation. Chef Roberto Deiaco (who runs Avena Downtown with his charming wife Giselle) has fittingly manned the kitchens at some of New York’s most notable bastions of Italophile glamour: Cipriani, Armani Ristorante, and, back in the day, Palio. And while the food at Da Silvano pretty much ran neck and neck with the scene, here the culinary allure will undoubtedly eclipse any celebrity star power you might find filling the seat next to you.

We started with the flan di zuchinelle, a zucchini/flower flan over parmigiano fonduta with Perigord truffles (a bit of French influence); and we can honestly say it was one of the most sublimely flavorful dishes that has ever graced our taste buds – an absolutely perfect balance of flavors and texture.

How to top that? A simple but delicious plate of scialatelli pasta with Mediterranean seafood (frutti di mare is a house specialty) with a floral glass of Vermentino, as well as a veal osso buco that literally fell off the bone, over a bed of risotto alla Milanese – paired with a wonderfully chalky Nebbiolo. Other Avena specialties include capesante scotttate (seared sea scallops), polpo alla brace (pan roasted Portuguese octopus), and grilled branzino over broccoli rabe.

A rich chocolate fondant again nodded to France; but the cannoli duo – one with citrus, another with caramel – was a veritable dessert nirvana. We’ve actually been seeing it in our dreams.

For NYC Europhiles, Avena Downtown is the only place you need to be in the first months of 2019. For everyone else, when you’re tired of all those trendy beetroot salads and bok choy whatevers – this will be your culinary salvation.

 

 

Dune Bashing, Persian Carpets and a Spectacular Outpost of The Louvre: A Weekend in Abu Dhabi, Part II

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(Continuing on from Part I of our Abu Dhabi story…)

 

Peckish from sightseeing, we headed back to The Grand Hyatt where we lunched at Verso, a stylish Italian trattoria, that serves outstanding pizzas, pastas like pappardelle ai gamberi, and squid ink risotto – and as New Yorkers, we’re not easily impressed with Italian food. The property will actually boast a total of six international dining options (just two were open when we were there), so you’ll never go hungry. Sahha, an “adventurous market,” is the spot for made-to-order and buffet breakfast and dinner options – don’t miss the big-as-your-head pastel-colored meringues at the dessert station. Pearl Lounge in the lobby provided a sophisticated little stop off when we were feeling parched, as our minibar seemed to be a work in progress (um, empty).

And for those feeling a little more motivated than were we, there was a Dynamic TechnoGym fitness center open 24-hours, with a steam room and sauna to sweat out the night-before’s partying on the hip and happening Yas Island. (N.B., you can drink openly at hotels and nightclubs in Abu Dhabi, but public drunkenness is of course very much frowned upon.)

Never hearing of dune bashing before we visited Abu Dhabi, the daytime sport courtesy of Land Cruisers and their agile drivers, provided some raucous fun. We were told to buckle up, because off-roading amongst the sand dunes gets hair-raisingly bumpy. If you book a tour with Abu Dhabi Desert Safari you’ll also get up close and personal with a herd of very cuddly camels, available for short rides and lots of petting. As part of our excursion, we got to partake in sand skiing, a Bedouin-style BBQ dinner, belly dancing and Tanoura (traditional folkloric dance) performances, henna painting, and even the chance to hold a falcon for the ultimate photo op.

For anyone who might be wondering where Whistler’s Mother is currently on view, it was right there at the spectacular, Saadayit Island located Louvre Abu Dhabi. The name is on loan from its Paris counterpart, which was incidentally paid $525 million to license the name for 30 years. Here, the Pritzker Prize-winning starchitect Jean Nouvel has again outdone himself – the sprawling design is actually comprised of 55 detached buildings.

With a giant overhead canopy ‘woven’ out of 7850 metal ‘stars,’ the structure ingeniously anchors sand and sea. Waterfront views from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s many terraces are breathtaking, while visiting day or night promises dazzling light shows under the dome. And the art? We especially loved the cosmography room and the well-curated collection of artifacts from early civilizations. Currently showing is Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, through the end of February.

Of course, when they go big in the U.A.E., they always go really big. And the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was no exception. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdekly, the glistening white-marble stunner is one of the world’s largest. A massive undertaking at over 20 years to build (2007 saw the completion), a collective of highly skilled artisans using only the finest materials were enlisted from around the globe, coming from India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia…the list goes on.

It should be noted that visitors are required to respect the dress code, traditional Abaya dress for women, or Kandura for men. For us ladies, this meant loose pants (so please do leave your athleisure at the hotel), loose tops covering arms and chest, and head scarf with no hair showing. Our Isabel Marant tunic was deemed too sheer by staff, so we were loaned a hooded, pinkish-colored Abaya, which are available before entering the mosque. And after all, who doesn’t look good in mauve?

Resplendent with the world’s largest Persian carpet (woven by women, we were told by our lively guide, with 2,268,000,000 knots) and the third largest, brilliantly colored crystal-encrusted chandelier in existence, the humbling, grandiose main hall can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers. Its benefactor, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, wanted to establish a structure uniting the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, and its historical and modern values of architecture and art. His Highness’ final resting place is actually located on the grounds beside the mosque.

Before we departed from Abu Dhabi, we were determined to visit one of its beaches (and not one of the many man-made ones). Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, on the shores of Saadiyat, boasted an invitingly pristine, natural beachfront, where gentle waves beckoned us in. A quick dip provided perfect refreshment before winding down and washing up before dinner. The sleek, minimalist rooms here offer our favorite Le Labo products, which will soon become standard across all of the Hyatt properties, we were told.

Reserving a table under the stars at the award-winning Park Bar & Grill, we were thankful for the simplicity of a menu of charcoal-grilled seafood and fine steaks. Dining al fresco on a clear, we took in one last magnificent view, before normal life would take us back to Gotham.

(N.B. ideal travel times to the UAE are December through March, before it gets too hot and humid.)

Santorini Chic: Vora Villas Is Greece’s Poshest New Island Hideaway

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Surely among the most beautiful places on Earth, Santorini’s soaring cliffs, sweeping ocean views, and charming whitewashed villages are the antithesis of those gritty Athens streets. But while her breathtaking beauty is unquestionable, she’s become increasingly thronged with international tourists in search of those perfect Instagram opportunities. But we still believe the Aegean gem to be one of Greece’s “must” destinations – especially if you can find an out-of-the way spot from which to indulge her charms.

And just such a place is the newly built Vora (the newest member of Design Hotels), which offers three private luxury villas that have been artfully hand-carved into the caves and cliffs, and suspended dramatically above the sea. Secreted away in the quiet residential community of Imerovigli, the location is a hideaway for those who crave tranquility, but also want quick access to the buzzing cafés, tavernas, and shopping opportunities in Santorini’s capital, Fira – only five sunny minutes away.

 

 

Designed by one of the hottest Greek design firms of the moment, Athens-based K-studio, the villas were inspired by classic Cycladic architecture: think gentle arches, whitewashed cement exteriors, elegant lines, and strategically placed staircases. In a nod to Santorini’s history, volcanic rock dapples the exterior and is extensively used in the interior of the villas. A mix of custom-made furniture by local craftspeople and K-studio designers, give each space its unique aesthetic and character. All three boast a private terrace and infinity plunge pool, set against breath-stopping views of the Aegean Sea.

They’re also more reasonably priced than one might expect: rates start at approximately $700 per night and include breakfast, Wi-Fi, and other amenities. As per the norm with European villa rentals in these times, Vora will also coordinate private chefs, drivers, winery tours and exclusive local experiences.

 

 

Barcelona’s Decadent elrow Extravaganza is Returning to Brooklyn

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It has been noisily building to this moment, but elrow, Spain’s outlandish immersive art and music extravaganza, is about to become a household name this side of the Atlantic. At its essence, a mad celebration of all things electronic, they’ve taken over clubs in Ibiza, Dubai, New York, Madrid and, of course, Barcelona – their city of origin.

To get their 2019 mayhem underway, they’re throwing another outrageous Winter Festival at Avant Gardner in Brooklyn – marking their third year at ground zero of international hipsterification. Stretching across February 23 and 24 – at Brooklyn’s Avant Gardner – it’s a ten hour music-clubland spectacle, that we’re pretty sure you won’t see the likes of anywhere else on this Earth.

New York promoter Michael Julian’s mission is to push the boundaries of all that nightlife pragmatism and reasonability, with the intention of elrow reaching back to the clubbing glory days of Studio 54 and Limelight (swoon). He remembers when, “New Yorkers of all kinds were coming together, abandoning their inhibitions, discovering new experiences, and getting lost in magical moments that would be talked about long after the parties ended.”

Yes, we remember too.

 

 

This merely sets up a year of enthusiastic expansion, as elrow is set to be launching in new cities across the globe. Founded in 2010 by Juan Arnau Jr and Cruz Arnau, Julian enthuses how they are “committed to constantly creating an even better experience.”

elrow is set to return to Miami for their biggest Miami Music Week edition ever, at Mana Wynwood, in partnership with Diskolab – followed by a Sin City takeover at the Wynn Las Vegas. Julian credits them with “thinking outside the box and breaking boundaries. Passion and great leadership are the reasons why they are able to keep creating greater experiences.”

What can partygoers expect to experience this year at Avant Gardner? The theme of the February 23rd show is The Enchanted Forest, “El Bowsque Encantado.” Get ready to be surveilled by huge trees, and to dance with magical, exotic creatures…but watch out for the apparitions of dark beasts and demons who live in the shadowlands.

It’s all, of course, set to spirit-lifting house music by some of the most exalted DJs in the world. Because, for everything else, elrow is still mostly about the dancing.

 

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Sublime Velvet Chicken Recipe From the New Philippe Chow Downtown

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Arriving from Hong Kong in the late ’70s, Philippe Chow was quickly swept up into the new upscale Chinese dining trend. He would go on to spend 25 years working in the kitchen for the already legendary restauranteur Michael Chow (no relation), at the NYC outpost of the super swanky celeb-magnet Mr. Chow.

A decade ago, the by-then celebrated Chef Philippe opened his first namesake restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side, and has been serving up Beijing-style dishes to a distinctly cosmopolitan crowd – it remains an uptown hotspot. So it made sense then, that he would eventually make his way down below 23rd street – and so the dazzling new Philippe Chow Downtown arrived this month to much fanfare.

 

 

The subterranean location at the Dream Downtown hotel, is a visually decadent oasis, with a mirrored staircase, gold leafed ceiling, bold red accents – which signifies good fortune and joy in Chinese culture – a dark, sexy bar area and, naturally, a gold bamboo encased DJ booth. The all day and late night menu features Chow’s signature classics like salt and pepper lobster, peking duck carved table side and served with freshly made pancakes, and dim sum options made from hand-pulled noodles and dumplings.

The great culinary master was kind enough to share with BlackBook his inimitable recipe for Chow’s Velvet Chicken. But we highly recommend visiting Philippe Downtown post haste, to enjoy it in the proper surrounds.

 

Chow’s Velvet Chicken

Ingredients:
– 2 chicken breasts
– 1/2 of a carrot
– 2 celery
– 3 Chinese mushrooms
– 3 tablespoons of Chicken broth
– 1 teaspoon of salt
– 1 teaspoon of corn starch
– 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
– 2 pieces of Chili (optional)
Instructions:
  1. Cut up 2 chicken breasts into strips.
  2. Chop 1/2 of a carrot, 2 pieces of celery, and 3 Chinese mushrooms into small pieces.
  3. Put 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in the wok and heat it up for 1 minute.
  4. When the oil is heated, put the chicken strips into the wok.
  5. Put 3 tablespoons of chicken broth into the wok.
  6. Then, put the chopped carrots, celery, and mushrooms into the wok.
  7. Stir it for 30 seconds.
  8. Then put 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch into the wok.
  9. (Optional) If you would like the velvet chicken spicy, place 2 chopped chili peppers into the wok.
  10. Cook for 5 minutes.

 

How an Upmarket Gym Becomes a Luxury Sleep: Naomi Campbell Stars in the New Equinox Hotels Campaign

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For our part, we never much looked to hotels to take care of our health. Indeed, our biggest concerns were always more like, Can the lobby deftly do double duty as a social space?, and, Can the bar turn out a good dirty martini?

But the priority given over to health and wellness the last 15 years or so cannot be denied. And so it was surely only a matter of time before some or other upscale fitness club slid its brand over to the hospitality biz. To be sure, Equinox Hotels will be launching at New York’s Hudson Yards later in 2019 – though the specific details are still pretty hush hush. (You can safely expect it to, um, have a world class health and fitness facility.)

 

 

To tease the opening, Equinox enlisted her royal supermodelness Naomi Campbell, who at 48, looks fantastically like she spends quite a bit of time at the gym. The short film was shot in equally fantastical fashion by Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.

“I’ve been a longtime admirer of Equinox,” says Ms. Campbell, “and how they have set up their brand as a lifestyle with immense attention to detail. This is something I can certainly identify with and was proud to be a part of. Hotels are an obvious extension of this brand…”

We’ll certainly report any additional news as the opening gets closer. Until then, here’s the Naomi-starring clip.