España in Springtime: Indulging the Art, Food + Flamenco of Madrid

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A massive sign high up on Madrid’s City Hall read “Refugees Welcome.” A cynic could take it as being a bit glib; but in truth, the statement was genuinely characteristic of Spain, whose citizens have actually held protests urging the government to accept even more immigrants. It was particularly poignant, as our time there coincided with the re-escalation back home of Donald Trump’s spiteful (nay, ridiculous) plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

All socio-political machinations aside, we were actually in the Spanish capital to check out the exceedingly cool new Only You Atocha hotel. The brand itself had launched in 2013 with a very different sort of property: the Only You Boutique hotel, in the trendy Chueca district, an aristocratic 19th mansion converted by star designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán into a surreal but drop-dead stunning maze of differently themed public areas and plush guest rooms. He was enlisted again for the Atocha, this time giving a distinctly Spanish context to the lobby-as-hip-playground concept familiar to denizens of hotels like The Ace.

And indeed, everywhere you might turn, there was something to grab your attention. To the right of the entrance, The Bakery by Mama Framboise, which serves decadent Tartaletas MF, a dozen flavors of macarons (goat-cheese-figs-pralines!), and Iberian ham toast all day. To the left was the Latin-Asian Trotamundos restaurant, with its buzzy corner cocktail bar. And just beyond, a dizzyingly dramatic atrium, where nouveau jazz happenings regularly bring in the city’s modern day hepcats.



But probably our favorite part of every day was shuffling off the hangovers while lingering over a lazy breakfast against spectacular views at the 7th floor Séptima – where in the evenings DJs soundtrack the Panoramic Drinks Sessions…thus perpetuating the hangover cycle.

Upstairs the rooms were a great deal more plush and stylish than those in typical hipsterrific hotels, with smartly patterned bedspreads, exposed brick walls and white tiled bathrooms. For a particular splurge, we can’t stress enough the fantabulousness of the sprawling Terrace Suite – whose outdoor space could easily accommodate 10-12 enthusiastically gyrating party people.

Madrid itself – sometimes mistakenly passed over for the more archly hip Barcelona – comes especially to life as winter passes into spring, with its scores of pavement cafes, its teeming plazas for sexy-people watching and its streets that buzz late into the night (really, more like 6am). The food is transcendent, the nightlife is some of the best on the Continent, and its grand boulevards / grandiloquent baroque architectural icons make it a city that gleams in the April-May sunshine.

Here’s what we did.


The PradoThe Reina Sofia

The thing about classical art in Spain…it’s just different. It’s a country that still has a king, after all. And so a great deal of la historia de España is still told in a place like The Prado. It’s indeed a very Spanish museum, and even if you’re a contemporary art geek, you’ll find yourself drawn in to the narrative as told through the dramatic works of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. The jaw-dropping collection also boasts Rubens, Titian and Hieronymous Bosch’s proto-surrealist masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights. Don’t kill too much time on the stiff royal portraits.
The Reina Sofia, just a short stroll from the hotel, is Spain’s most important museum of 20th Century art, with treasures by Miró, Juan Gris, Pablo Serrano, and, of course, Picasso – whose influence can be appreciated in the current exhibition Telefónica Collection: Cubism(s) and Experiences of Modernity. The museum also holds more contemporary works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Man Ray, Julian Schnabel and Richard Serra.


Prado Museum 2017

El Prado


Art Gallery Tour

It’s not Berlin, surely – but Madrid’s contemporary art scene has genuinely started to garner international attention, with its annual ARCO fair having become one of Europe’s most important. The Art Gallery Tour people are your best bet for getting an insider’s view, with tours of specific districts like the hip Letras and posh Salamanca. They will also curate private tours to suit your taste. You can add a wine drinking element, should you wish to pontificate on what you’ve seen over a glass or two of Ribera Del Duero.

Barrio de Las Letras

Also a short stroll from the hotel, Las Letras is just that sort of neighborhood that defines Madrid, with atmospheric streets where charming little bars and cool indie boutiques reign – and there’s not a chain outlet in sight. The outdoor cafes on Plaza de Santa Ana and the narrow streets around it are great for lingering and people watching.




Palacio de Cibeles Restaurant Terrace

Atop the spectacular municipal building on the Plaza de Cibeles is a hidden away 6th floor restaurant and terrace. There’s a full gourmand’s menu – but come for cocktails, views and to soak up the vivid afternoon Madrid sunshine.

YOUnique Restaurant at Only You Boutique Hotel

Just being in this gorgeous hotel is an indescribable aesthetic pleasure. Its signature restaurant is a particular delight for a long, lazy lunch (okay, there’s really no other kind in Madrid), with Valencian paella, oxtail cannelloni, and skipjack carpaccio all beautifully presented. Ask for a table in the verdant, art-adorned garden. Come back in the evening, as the YOUnique Lounge is a stunningly designed setting for fancy cocktails – and the surrounding neighborhood jumps at night.




1862 Dry Bar

Spain’s is a wine-beer-sherry drinking culture. The cocktail thing, mercifully, did not sweep into its major cities and strap all of its bartenders into old-timey suspenders. 1862, for instance, is distinctly Spanish bar, not some awful Brooklyn imitation. A crowd of urbane Madrilenos come to sip updated takes on the classics (Gimlet, Sazerac, Manhattan) by drinks wizard Alberto Martinez. Spread over two floors, it’s one of the city’s buzziest scenes.

Corral de la Morería

Flamenco is way hotter than you might actually think – and five decades after opening, Corral de la Moreria is still one of the hottest tickets in Madrid. In a classical but sensual setting, with Arabic touches, watch some of Spain’s top names in the genre heat up the stage (and the audience) with their visceral, passionate performances. It’s actually quite an intense, even somewhat aphrodisiac experience.


Flamenco Madrid

BlackBook Exclusive: Moby’s Insider Guide to Vegan Los Angeles

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Above image: Little Pine


Our recent interview with electronic music legend Moby covered some poignant and heavy subjects, as related to his brilliant, thought-provoking new (and 15th) album Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt – which was released earlier this month through Mute. But perhaps his most pointed and enduring “other” vocation is the defense of animals, which has found voice not only in his music, but also in his high-profile vegan epicurean ventures.

His first was Teany (now closed), which he opened on NYC’s Lower East Side back in 2002. But he has since taken his philosophy to a certainly welcoming Los Angeles – where eating well and eating ideologically has deep roots – with the late 2015 opening of the charming vegan eatery Little Pine, in Silver Lake.

“One of the biggest challenges facing us as a species,” he insists, “is cultivating and extending true empathy and compassion to others, be they human or not.”

Ne’er truer words.

So to that end, we asked him to guide us through his fave vegan haunts in La La Land, from fancy celeb-magnets to low-key ramen shops.



You opened your first Los Angeles venture, the vegan restaurant Little Pine, in 2015. How is that going?

It’s great, even though I have no idea how to run a restaurant. Luckily the women who run the restaurant are way smarter and more knowledgeable than I.  My goal was to represent veganism in a very attractive, bricks-n-mortar way, as most vegan advocacy exists in words and pictures and movies…all of which are great. But I wanted to show that veganism can look great and taste wonderful.

Do you find that the enthusiasm for the vegan lifestyle is just as great in both New York and LA?

I guess it depends upon who you talk to. I’m assuming that a steak eating bond trader in NYC might not be so keen on embracing a vegan lifestyle? But LA and New York are both largely progressive cities, open to new, better ideas. And veganism is a new, better idea.


Moby’s Fave Vegan Spots in Los Angeles


Crossroads Kitchen

Tal Ronnen’s very fancy vegan eatery has brought veganism to a very fancy demographic, who otherwise would have no idea what vegan is. Plus, his restaurant has the best and most random celeb spotting. Last time I was there I saw Johnny Depp having dinner with Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl.
On the Menu: sweet and sour roasted eggplant; grilled maitake mushrooms



Krimsey’s Cajun Kitchen

When we first opened Little Pine, Krimsey came in and asked me what advice I had for someone thinking of opening a vegan restaurant. My advice was simple: “don’t open a restaurant.” Luckily she ignored me, and opened Krimsey’s, which is wonderful and thriving.
On the Menu: Cajun jambalaya; veggie sausage Poboy

Little Pine

I mean, I’m biased, as it’s my restaurant; but with some semblance of objectivity, I can state that Little Pine is, in fact, really nice. Plus we give 100% of our profits to animal rights organizations. Philanthropic entrepreneurialism? Entrepreneurial philanthropy? Either/or.  P.S. – Bring your dog, as our patio is canine encouraged.
On the Menu: lemongrass butternut bisque; parmesan spinach crepe



Ramen Hood

I really love it when traditionally un-vegan approaches to food are made vegan, and done better in their vegan form than in their prior non-vegan incarnations. Plus going to Grand Market for vegan ramen is fun and makes me feel normal.
On the Menu: spicy ramen

Veggie Grill

When they opened by the Arclight Cinema, I was convinced they were going to fail, as I wondered who would want vegan fast food in the middle of Hollywood? A couple of years later and they’re thriving; and I’m thrilled to have been completely wrong. Also, eating there before going to the movies makes me feel like I’m living in the suburbs of the future.
On the Menu: rustic farm bowl; kung pao tacos



NM at Neiman Marcus

Matthew Kenney has opened what I believe is the first vegan restaurant in a fancy Beverly Hills department store. It’s worth visiting for the unique-ness, and also that Kenney is the O.G. of incredibly thoughtful and poetic vegan food.
On the Menu: avocado toast; carnitas mushroom tacos

Real Food Daily

The first vegan restaurant I went to in LA, and still one of my favorites. Their Weekender Brunch, in particular, is huge and great.
On the Menu: spicy BLTA; harvest quesadillas


BlackBook Interview: Moby Talks Empathy, Our Broken Humanity & Still Being in Love With Making Music

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Photos by Jonathan Nesvadba


Considering our increasingly divisive day-to-day socio-political reality, it’s hardly surprising that artists have taken to dauntlessly and challengingly exploring catastrophic and apocalyptic themes. Moby, for one, was never shy about taking on the more solemn matters that haunt the human landscape, while ever using his music – and his public platform – as a plea for reconnecting with our waning sense of the spiritual and ineffable. (To wit, he is an outspoken advocate for animal rights – and was kind enough to do an exclusive guide to vegan LA for BlackBook.)

And so it is that with his latest and 15th album, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt (out this month through Mute), he concerns himself with our possible demise, as viewed from the perch of our current existential precipice. His cover of an old negro spiritual song, “Like a Motherless Child,” is rife with ambiguity – especially at a time when hope for racial harmony seems worryingly fragile; and the mournful but beauteous synth-gothic strains of “Mere Anarchy” come with his enigmatic, tension-filled warning, “Caution of the world you said was over / Caution where we were.”

One of the album’s most striking tracks is the ethereal, hymn-like “This Wild Darkness,” which opens with Moby pronouncing, “Apportioned like madness in season / Breaking all like a breaking of reason,” before launching into an impassioned confession/plea, “I can’t stand on my own anymore / I can’t stand in the stain of the broken and the poor / Please light my way.”

To be sure, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt is a genuine tour de force, both lyrically and sonically – even if it may indeed be a harbinger of our doom.

As winter turns to spring, with its annual promise of hope and renewal, we caught up with Moby to discuss just why humanity seems so broken, and how we may just be able to fix it.



You did two albums as Moby & The Void Pacific Choir. What made you go back to just recording as Moby?

Hmm, I’m not sure, to be honest. Almost everything about releasing an album, especially as a 52-year-old man who doesn’t tour, in 2018 seems arbitrary. So switching names just seems like another arbitrary facet of the whole arbitrary process.

With your last few albums, there seemed to be a struggle between a search for spirituality and the forces that hinder and oppose that which is considered to be spiritual?

The main force that hinders that which is spiritual is simply our hereditary humanity.  We’re born with ontological amnesia, seemingly unaware of the 15 billion year old quantum crucible from which we’ve arisen. Simply, we know nothing. In a way, we are the void – not that we see the void, we’re just clueless as to the actual nature of the Universe. So we stumble along and make mistakes and assume that we’re doing our best when the truth is that we’re not seeing through a glass darkly…we’re not even seeing.

What was going on in your head and heart when you went in to record the new album?

I love making music, and if I make an album, there’s a chance someone will listen to it. Also music is the perfect way to represent the seemingly ineffable things that can’t be communicated in linear or literal ways.

The first single “Like a Motherless Child” was based on an old negro spiritual song. Do you feel like there is a metaphorical connection to what is going on in America right now?

Yes, or more broadly, with our species. If you look at Adam and Eve being kicked out of Eden as a metaphor it makes sense: we are separated from the Divine, from objective knowledge, from spirit.  We stumble around, scared and vicious and clueless, like motherless children.



The pre-album “inspiration” playlist you created was interesting, in that it was a mix of black icons – like Teddy Pendergrass and Gil Scott Heron – with white artists – Talking Heads, Liquid Liquid, Bowie – that had drawn a lot of inspiration from black music. What does that say about what you are searching for, artistically?

The common thread is songs that are as much about creating sonic worlds in the studio as they are about organic performance. I’m still so in love with a recording studio as a place to create worlds that have never actually existed.

Interesting that you had a couple of early Simple Minds songs in there – not everybody knows they had a period of incredible experimentation before 1985. You’re a fan, obviously?

They lost me around the time they released “Alive & Kicking,” but before that they were phenomenal. Their first four or five albums are some of the most adventurous, nuanced, exciting records ever made. “Theme for Great Cities” is still one of my favorite ever pieces of music.

What are some of the overall themes you’re exploring on the new album?

Pretty much just one theme: humans wandering around in the wilderness and darkness – with me as the subject and narrator – stumbling around in this baffling state of separation.

You’re a vegan and animal rights activist. Do you feel that if we were able to cultivate greater empathy for animals, that it would make us more empathetic to each other as humans?

Without question. And vice versa. One of the biggest challenges facing us as a species is cultivating and extending true empathy and compassion to others, be they human or not. And also extending true empathy and compassion to ourselves. It might sound like spiritual claptrap, but it’s the seat of and the result of our brokenness.



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

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

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

Got that?


Giapo Ice Cream

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



Marine Life Voyeurism

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



Dining and Bedding Down at the Boatshed

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



An NZ History Lesson

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

The Birds

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


Image by Brendon Doran


The Birds on Safari

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

Charming Napier

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



New Zealand Wine, You Must

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


BlackBook Rooms With a View: Hilton Toronto Signature Suites

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The Kensington Suite


Views of the 6ix (Toronto, if you weren’t plugged into that particular sobriquet) are grand enough that in films it actually passes for NYC. So the chance to take it all in from the dizzy heights of the Hilton Toronto was not insignificant.

We actually managed to get the scoop on the hotel’s spectacular new project, their unambiguously named Signature Suites, which sprawls across the entire 32nd floor. Beginning in April 2018, guests can book these newly minted suites, of which there are seven; they are undoubtedly the new show ponies of the property. And from the urban oasis locale (a stone throw’s away from Toronto City Hall, Toronto Harbourfront & Lake Ontario, The Canadian Opera Company and The CN Tower), the rooms, perched on the top floor, offer picture-perfect panoramic views of the city.


The Rosedale Suite


Envisioned by Canadian designer Sarah Richardson, the luxe rooms are meant to exude a homey, residential sentiment, and are vivid with a painter’s palette of blue hues, whose spectrum of shades is found in each room – it’s a kind of unifying thread that weaves its way through all the spaces. Moreover, each suite is named after a neighborhood of Toronto, from the fancy and affluent goings on of Forest Hill to the Mother Nature pleasures of High Park.

Furnishings echo elements from each of these nooks, and the comfort level is amplified with flair-filled contemporary pieces that play with texture and prints (tartan bedroom benches and zebra curtains, for instance). The fun continues with dramatic pendant lighting, maple wood cabinetry, and marble flooring, all of which have been custom-crafted and sourced locally to showcase Torontonian talents. We love how each element is striking on its own; and yet in the same light, can coalesce with its surroundings to support the overall eclectic vision. The diverse nature of the design mirrors that of Toronto’s fabled multiculturalism.


The Summerhill Suite 


The only “wild child” is the Summerhill Suite: whose floral and citrine touches throughout are set against a dynamic, CN Tower backdrop. For Richardson, it was an opportunity to spread (a bit more of) her creative wings.

Should you be able to tear yourself away from your suite, downstairs is Tundra, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant. Executive Chef Kevin Prendergast and Executive Sous Chef Aaron Chen offer Canadiana on a plate: feature favorites include the Alberta bison burger with onion marmalade, double smoked bacon with Prince Edward Island aged cheddar, and tundra spiced aioli; Miso and Cola Braised Beef Short Ribs with Asian slaw and Ontario sour cherries; and, naturally, Tundra Poutine with sweet potato fries, pan gravy, braised beef, and Quebec cheese curds.



We couldn’t resist the Seasonal Tasting and National Ballet of Canada menus (the former is not advertised anywhere and executed by request only). The plating of the former ventures into the avant-garde, but is really more of an outlet for the chef to “play” with his food – with us being their happy and willing guinea-pig participants. The last hallmarks of winter fare includes succulent seared-scallops with braised mussels and lemongrass sauce; and black cod with squash quenelle, miso, black garlic, and hen of the woods mushrooms.

The latter menu is inspired by whatever current ballet performance is showing in the adjacent Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts. Thus, the Sleeping Beauty menu features a delectable coq au vin, as well as roasted squash risotto with spiced almonds. And thankfully – since we’re not the ones doing grand jetes and pirouettes, we happily indulged in the tundra tiramisu verrine and bourbon panna cotta for dessert.

And then fell into slumber with the city lights twinkling below…


The Foresthill Suite 


From Malta to Lithuania: Three Inimitably Stylish New European Hotels

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Cugó Gran Macina Grand Harbour


If we could, we’d be in Europa every month – though we’d grudgingly admit that March in the Baltics might not be everyone’s idea of happiness. Yet springtime will be here in the blink of an eye – and what better time to start planning a more eastward push towards the expansion of your Euro horizons?

We’re thinking Helsinki and Vilnius, specifically – and each has a stylish new hotel to lure you into their web of intrigues. If you’re nevertheless inclined towards Mediterranean climes, another will be opening in the Maltese fortress city of Senglea.

Each also happens to be a member of Design Hotels, so expect a set of aesthetic values to lord over each.


Hotel St George, Helsinki

If you’re a design junkie, you’ve probably hit up Scandinavia’s most high-profile capitals, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo. But Finnish design has perhaps the most distinctive signature – and Helsinki (part of the Cities of Design Network) is where it blends so seamlessly with the city’s more historic character. The new Hotel St George – sister to the legendary Hotel Kämp – opens here in March, and will decisively rise to meet the aesthetic splendor of its locale. In the former Finnish Literary Society building, it features a stunning winter garden, and an art collection that includes a large-scale dragon sculpture by Ai Weiwei (a reference to Saint George, of course). There’s also a holistic spa, and a restaurant, Andrea, overseen by Finnish-Turkish chef duo Antto Melasniemi and Mehmet Gürs. While visiting, make sure to pop in to the Design Museum, nearby on Korkeavuorenkatu.


Hotel Pacai, Vilnius

Every few years since the fall of the Soviet Union, some or other Eastern European city becomes a next “must” destination. But beautiful Vilnius doesn’t need a zeitgeist to bolster its appeal. Lithuania’s capital has majestic baroque architecture (its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), extraordinary cultural offerings, and a distinctly bohemian spirit. The plush new Hotel Pacai will open this spring, in the former palace of the same name, dating to 1677. Stylish rooms feature 17th Century frescoes, and public spaces rich in original historic details include two restaurants and a luxury spa. Plan to hit the Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre, which boasts a cinema and sculpture garden.



Cugó Gran Macina Grand Harbour, Senglea

For something a bit more temperate, consider Malta, whose capital Valletta will serve as one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2018 (the other is Leeuwarden, Netherlands). Just south of the capital, the dramatically monikered Cugó Gran Macina Grand Harbour hotel will open in the fortified city of Senglea this spring. The landmarked 16th Century structure that houses it gives it a sort of “fortress-chic” vibe – think vaulted ceilings, slate stone and spectacular harbor views, for which the elegant, muted color schemes are perfectly suited. Local culinary god Chris Hammett will lord over the in-house Maltese restaurant, and there’s a rooftop pool that is beyond breathtaking in its vistas.





Next Cool Neighborhood: Fort Point is Boston’s New Waterfront Creative Hub…Still

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Let’s face it, NYC’s hunger for novelty and change often doesn’t produce the most worthy results (see: health-conscious cocktails). So little wonder about our esteem for cities like Philadelphia and Boston, where such change occurs at a more, let’s say, considered pace.

The latter’s Fort Point neighborhood is a case in, well, point. Long a harborside area known for its…parking lots, it nevertheless actively cultivated and supported the local artistic community. But we know the formula by now: developers discover it, and up go the skyward condo buildings and the prices. Yet Boston is a very different place from New York, and even amidst the gleaming new high rises, an artistic soul is yet tended to here.


Envoy Hotel lobby


To wit, on our recent stay at the stunningly designed Envoy Hotel, located right along the waterfront, we discovered that a space within the hotel was given to the Fort Point Arts Community, to stage exhibitions by its member artists. FPAC is non-profit founded back in 1980 – and it sees to the needs of the more than 300 artists who still live in the district (visit their site for gallery listings). And it fits quite nicely with creative mission of the hotel, if we do say.

The area, now rife with tech company offices (even Amazon is here), is noticeably changing. Just up the road, Harpoon was the city’s first microbrewery (dating to 1986), and is still producing its excellent Winter Warmer and Dark Beer / Stout, amongst others. But just around the corner from the Envoy, Scorpion Bar does velvet-roped, signature margarita fueled evenings in extravagantly decked out, nightclubby surrounds.

Here’s what we discovered.


The Institute of Contemporary Art

It arrived before the recent rush, opening in a spectacular new waterfront location in December 2006. But the ICA itself actually dates to 1936, and is regarded as one of the most important American contemporary art institutions. Its thought-provoking shows will make you smarter (the current Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today) and also more engaged with the socio-political zeitgeist (We Wanted a Revolution, Black Radical Women 1965-1985, opening June 27 – and spot on for the current prevailing mood). The Diller Scofidio + Renfro building is a breathtaking example of the firm’s architecture-as-art ethos.



The Cafes

Where creative sorts are massing, there must be coffee to brood over. And the Fort Point outpost of Caffe Nero (a Brit import) is an aesthetically charming mix of industrial chic and Euro bric a brac, with excellent cortados and breakfast pots. Nearby Barrington Coffee caters to the cool kids, with artful interiors and uncommon brews from Guatemala and Nicaragua. Flour Bakery does salads, grain bowls, brioche au chocolat and vegan cakes, with a spacious terrace on comely Farnsworth Street.


Barrington Coffee


The Restaurants

And then came the trendy restaurants. Barbara Lynch’s Menton is the area’s culinary showpiece, a very French, Relais & Chateaux dining experience – with an 8-course tasting menu, and a classy bar serving Euro-centric cocktails like the Cassis Spritz and Florence Sour. Anchoring the Congress Street “scene,” Pastoral is a rustic-chic, artisan pizza kitchen, with creative antipasti (octopus panzanella, escarle caesa) and fourteen craft beers on draught. Sportello does interesting pastas – braised rabbit strozzapreti, cavatelli cavolfiore – in “mod diner” digs. And perpetually packed Smoke Shop BBQ offers up award winning plates of its namesake meats, as well as local whiskey flights, in a buzzy atmosphere.




The Nightlife

Exalted chef Barbara Lynch’s low-lit, connoisseur’s cocktail spot Drink has no actual drinks menu – they’re all done to order (you know, like…bespoke), paired with excellent mushroom crostini and steak tartare. Dark woods, parquet floors and artful chandeliers set the tone in the lounge area of Bastille Kitchen – toast to the French Revolution on a smart leather coach with a bourbon-and-fig Marquis or a Parisian Mule. Lucky’s Lounge is the area’s longtime fixture, a gritty, retro rocker bar that serves a stiff drink, pulled pork sliders, a Sinatra brunch and rousing live music.


Bastille Kitchen 


The Envoy Hotel

Frankly, one of our favorite sleeps…period. The Envoy Hotel‘s glass and steel construction allowed for stylish, loft-like rooms with floor-to-ceilings windows framing honestly jaw-dropping waterfront views (the bathrooms also come with impossibly chic bathrobes.) The snazzy lobby area – complete with electronic billiards table – spills into the Outlook Kitchen & Bar, a sleek, all-day dining affair (the duck confit toast at brunch is ridiculously delicious) serving cognac mac & cheese, pear & pistachio salad and spicy tuna poke, all under the direction of charismatic Cuban chef Tatiana Pairot Rosana. But the real bragging rights come by way of the Lookout Rooftop & Bar, which does top notch cocktails against the glittering backdrop of all those spectacular downtown high-rises.




‘Balenciaga, Master of Couture’ to Open This June at Montreal’s McCord Museum

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Photo: Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s


We generally don’t need additional reasons to plan a long weekend in Montreal. But our calendars are definitively marked for June 15, when the McCord Museum will open what could very well be the pinnacle of high-fashion exhibitions: Balenciaga, Master of Couture.

The show will follow on from Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, which closed this month at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The McCord has drawn more than 100 garments, hats and photographs from the V&A’s extensive collection – and will present them in an almost forensic manner, attempting to slip behind the mystery of the designer’s unparalleled mastery of fabric and cut.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre, of course, was the Spanish born trailblazer of contemporary couture, whom Dior would exalt as “the master of us all.” He dressed the post-war elite, from movie stars to royalty, in his storied Paris atelier, until his death in 1972, aged 77; his influence carried on in the work of Ungaro, Givenchy and Oscar de la Renta.

On the day of his passing, Women’s Wear Daily solemnly proclaimed, “The king is dead.”



“We are thrilled to present, for the first time in North America, this unique exhibition highlighting the artistry of one of the world’s greatest fashion designers,” says Suzanne Sauvage, President and Chief Executive Officer of the McCord Museum. “This exhibition enables the museum to utilize its conservation and costume mounting expertise, in addition to offering insight into Cristóbal Balenciaga’s lasting impact on generations of designers and the history and evolution of haute couture.”

Montreal was already responsible for the landmark exhibition The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, which opened at the MMFA in 2011 before touring the world. And in February of 2019, Thierry Mugler: Creatures of Haute Couture will debut at that same museum. We’re sensing a pattern here.



BlackBook Exclusive: The Definitive Casa Neta ‘Tequila vs. Mezcal’ Guide

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Casa Neta tasting flight, photo by Esteban Santos 


The elevation of food and drink culture to such exalted status, would naturally mean that it would now be subjected the everyday vagaries of trend chasing (though we’re not really sure just how boring old beets became…fashionable). And amidst all the Aperol sours and house made bitters, dubiously mustached hipsters had decisively seen to the canonization of mezcal a few years back – though it has definitively carried on beyond its trendiness date, to now simply be standing on its own merit.

Since then, a new generation has eagerly imbibed the mysterious Mexican spirit, eager to seem “on zeitgeist,” while likely not understanding all that much about it. And indeed, now entire menu pages are dedicated to the stuff. So seeking a measure of enlightenment, we popped in one evening to Casa Neta, the newish hotspot on the Flatiron’s veritable restaurant row (East 20th St., where it is immediate neighbor to the likes of Gramercy Tavern, Mari Vanna and Trattoria Il Mulino).



A cooly designed bar-lounge-eatery spread over two floors, it’s got evocative tile work, beamed ceilings and a pretty fab Frida Kahlo mural at its entrance. It also has a menu stocked with a dizzying selection of tequilas and some of the best mezcals Oaxaca currently produces. For the best combination of fun and enlightenment, order up shared plates from Exec Chef Joel Zaragoza’s tightly curated menu, and pair with their expertly chosen flights of both spirits. (Private tastings can be had in the downstairs Sugar Skull Room).

Naturally, we tapped their two head bartenders, Otto Giuseppe and Hugo Ayala, to give us a connoisseur’s guide to mezcal and tequila (see below), but one that even a neophyte can begin to learn from.

“We pride ourselves on promoting agave spirits as truly artisanal agricultural products,” Ayala explains. “That said, we’re not here just to preach, but also enjoy a huge breadth of offerings: we have over 180 different tequilas and mezcals in-house. We do offer the larger brand names, but our staff takes pride in showing off our actual favorites, the lesser-known products that are more often than not much tastier and more interesting.”


Casa Neta tasting flight accompaniments, photo by Esteban Santos 


The Difference Between Mezcal and Tequila

Essentially, mezcal is the name for the family of all distilled agave spirits, including tequila. Tequila is a mezcal, but a mezcal is not a tequila. There are three main differences between the two: 1, the location where they can be produced, 2, the type(s) of agave used, and 3, the production process.


Tequila can be made in five regions of Mexico: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Michoacan, and Tamaulipas. Mezcal can be made in 9 specific areas: Oaxaca, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Guerrero, Durango, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Pueblo, and Zacatecas. You’ll notice that there are overlapping regions between tequila and mezcal: this further emphasizes the fact that tequila qualifies as a mezcal. As mezcal is ostensibly the world’s oldest distilled spirit, the reflection of its agave source and origin is vital to a proper appreciation.

Type of Agave

In order for a spirit to be classified as a tequila, it must be made with 100% Blue Weber Agave. There are some “tequilas” known as “mixtos” which aren’t 100% Blue Weber Agave, but their quality is questionable. Mezcals can be made from over 30 different varieties of agave, including Blue Weber. More often than not, however, mezcal is made from the Espadin species, which is prevalent throughout the growing areas and significantly easier to cultivate and maintain than most other agave types.




The beginning of the production process for tequila and mezcal looks the same, with the leaves of the agave plants being cut and peeled away, revealing the heart of the agave known as the “pina.” This is where the similarities in production end, however. To make tequila, the pina of the Blue Agave is then traditionally cooked in a clay oven slowly, breaking down the dense fibers. It is then ground, preferably in an old stone grinder, and fermented before being distilled. To make mezcal, the agave pinas are cooked in earthen pits in the ground, typically lined with volcanic rocks, along with some wood. The starting fire heats the rocks to an extreme temperature, and the pile of pinas on top of them is then covered with soil. This makeshift oven in the ground is essentially cooking, smoking and caramelizing the pinas over the course of several days. This process adds the “smokiness” that many mezcals are known for.
Also important to note is the prevalence of aging tequilas (and some mezcals nowadays). To be a “blanco” or “joven” spirit, it must not be aged, or at the very most, up to 2 months in barrels. To be a “reposado,” it must be aged between 3 and 11 months, and to be “anejo,” it is aged 1-3 years, after which it is classifies as “extra anejo,” a relatively new classification developed alongside the luxurification of tequila and mezcal. Aging is quite common in tequilas, adding caramel, vanilla, and butter notes similar to bourbons and cognacs. Aging mezcals is a newer phenomenon.
The difference in taste between tequila and mezcal is also important to mention. Tequila should be a clear, bright taste of cooked agave, often slightly sweet and floral. Mezcal can vary hugely, with a tremendous breadth of flavors ranging from full-on smoke, to bubblegum, to vegetal.

Ideal Food Pairings for Mezcal and Tequila

In the case of blanco tequila, drink it with anything featuring higher acidity levels, such as our tuna tostada, ceviches, crudos and fresh salads. The bright notes also lend nicely to cutting through fattier foods (hence guacamole’s classic and obvious pairing). Mezcal can be a lot of fun sipped alongside braised meats and heartier dishes, adding layers of smoke and sweetness to already rich and depthful ingredients. Both mezcal and tequila añejos pair with chocolate very well and our incredible churro bowl.



Otto Giuseppe and Hugo Ayala Mezcal and Tequila Recommendations 


Del Maguey Tobala

Treat this like a fine wine; the aromas are rich and varied, with floral notes and a subdued smokiness.

El Jolgorio Arroqueno

This semi-wild varietal is a thing of beauty. A truly expressive spirit with hidden notes of candy and tropical fruit. I’m still finding new aromas and tastes within this bottle.

Vago Espadin

My favorite expression of the widely-used Espadin agave. This bottle is explosive, but still has a level of refinement completely unexpected in such a primevally made product. A velvety texture that reveals vegetal notes alongside a pure sweetness.




Siete Leguas Blanco

This is a silky product that’s in many ways the ideal blanco tequila. Fresh citrus notes paired with a mineral backbone along with a sweet, vegetal body due to the agave fibers being used in the distillation, as well as earlier in the fermentation.

Artenom 1146 Anejo 

This bottle is all depth! It’s aged for a time in French wine barrels as well as bourbon barrels, adding a fruity note to the darker, caramel traditional flavors – while still proudly emphasizing the taste of the agave and where it came from.

Fortaleza Reposado

You can still taste the grassy notes of the agave, while the edges are just slightly rounded by the addition of oak, lending itself to being a beautiful sipping spirit.