BlackBook Interview: Dance Music Icon Judy Torres on Fame, Forgiveness and Her Glorious Comeback in ‘No Reason to Cry’

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Let’s face it – we’re endlessly fascinated by stories like those of Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, they who attain stardom, and simply cannot withstand it…leading to their ultimate and tragic downfall.

But what of those who face the same, or even greater, struggles, and soldier on to survival?

Such was the case with Judy Torres, who rose up from an abusive Bronx childhood, and at just 17 years old shot to fame as one of the key figures of a then new, late ’80s urban dance music phenomenon called Freestyle. It was a raw but exuberant sound that came straight out of the – at that time – impossibly electrifying NYC club scene. Her single “No Reason to Cry” was one of its absolute hallmarks.

As happens, maintaining stardom, or even a stable existence in the wake of it, proved painfully, but enlighteningly elusive. Industry indifference, malign relationships, and a terrifying medical diagnosis marked out her epic struggles.

But after nearly 30 years of personal and professional peaks and valleys, she has triumphantly returned in 2018 with a startlingly visceral, starkly confessional one-woman theater production, appropriately titled No Reason to Cry. Directed by Emmanuel E. Hernandez (who has worked with John Leguizamo), and produced by Jay Manuel, David Miskin and Raquel Bruno, it has startled with sold-out performances at NYC’s Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, leading to speculation about taking it bigger.

We caught up for a chat with Ms. Torres as No Reason to Cry was being extended into the fall season. Unsurprisingly, she was as candid and soul-baring as the production itself.

 

 

You achieved success quite quickly?

I think the phrase, “overnight success” is deceiving. People don’t see all the hard work, and arguments, and sleepless nights you had before it all happened.

What was the New York dance/club scene like at that time?

In the late ’80s the club scene was it!  It was vivacious and absolutely instrumental to dance music of any kind. At that time, if you didn’t get your recordings on the radio, the only way your music survived was in the nightclubs. I remember the huge crowds, the bass pumping so much that you felt your heartbeat matched it. The clubs were so crowded that the walls used to literally sweat, just as much as the people did; and I’ve since never seen anything like it. At times when I performed, it felt as if the audience made one collective decision while you were on that stage: they loved you or they hated you, and there was no in between.

Was it difficult navigating success at such a young age?

It was hard at 17; it took almost two years to get my first song, “No Reason to Cry,” on the radio. But when it happened, it happened so quickly. I was a kid, I didn’t even know how to do my hair or makeup.  As a plus sized girl, I couldn’t wear what all the other kids were wearing, so I felt lost a lot of the time, like a fashion outcast. And doing three to four shows a night was exhausting, and very hard on my voice. I came from very humble beginnings, so I didn’t have the funds to get the proper wardrobe, and I couldn’t afford an attorney. As a result, I trusted people and got hurt. It was the most expensive lesson I ever learned. However, I wanted it so bad, I would do it again.

Did you find that the music industry was mostly unsympathetic once you’re not riding as high?

When the Freestyle movement began to decline, it felt like the music industry was very unsympathetic. When you are on top, everyone wants to be part of it. But it is a business, and if you’re not going to help them profit, they are looking for the next best thing. It felt confusing; these people tell you how great you are, and the very next day they won’t even acknowledge you when you see them…it was hard to not take it personally. But now I get it, and I know who I am, and always look to reinvent myself – while always staying true to who I am.

What happened in your life between the years of 1992 and 2001? Was it a difficult period for you?

They were some of the greatest and worst years. I made the grave mistake of allowing a boyfriend to manage my career – I had no idea that he was a narcissistic sociopath. I had a stalker on my hands and didn’t know how to get away from him. I landed in a serious depression and  [there was] a suicide attempt.  I got a lot of therapy, a restraining order, and I realized I had to stop blaming other people for my failure. In 1999 I was offered a job at WKTU as a radio personality, and I’ve been there ever since! I gained a respect from the fans that was deeper than I could have ever hoped for.

You were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. What was your first reaction to the news?

I woke up one morning with an annoying pain in my eye. A few days later, I was blind. I landed in the hospital, and by the end of the week, the doctor told me about the diagnosis. I was absolutely shocked, how could this happen to me? I contemplated suicide again – right there in the hospital. I read all the books about multiple sclerosis and none had happy endings. An ex-boyfriend came to visit me in the hospital and didn’t feel sorry for me at all. He told me to get up – that as long as I could still sing, I had no right to be upset.  I wanted to punch him in the throat; but something resonated. And I took it as a sign from God: you can take anything from me, but as long as I could still sing, I could get through it.  Little by little, I grew stronger.

 

 

What challenges did it introduce into your life?

The idea of having to possibly learn to function with just one eye was terrifying; I couldn’t even park my car correctly. My depth perception was off, I became clumsier, and I kept underestimating where the stage ended, because I couldn’t see stairs properly. I began falling a lot, bumping into things a lot. Then when I was told I had to go on medication to keep the disease from progressing, it was very depressing. After awhile, I put my big girl panties on, and did what I had to do. And finally, I began to rewrite my own story.

What inspired you to do No Reason to Cry

I’m a huge fan of John Leguizamo’s one man shows. I watched him in his latest one, Latin History for Morons, and kept thinking, “I want to do that.” And finally, my best friend of over 20 years, David Miskin, told me, “My friend, I know you can do this! Write it, and I’ll produce it.” I thought he was joking, and today he’s the Executive Producer of the show. But deep down, I felt it was time to tell my story.

Why did you choose to do it solo?

It takes a village to do a one woman show – no one makes it alone. But I chose to perform it alone, I guess because I’m letting people into a very personal place. I feel it needed to be told from me directly. And I also enjoy the challenge of being on stage for two hours knowing I have to hold people’s attention.

Has the show acted as a kind of emotional catharsis for you? Have you been able to sort out any personal matters by doing it?

Performing No Reason to Cry has absolutely been an emotional catharsis for me. It allows me to give a voice to those early childhood experiences – when back then I had no voice. I was too busy trying to survive the trauma of watching my mom being beaten by my father and stepfather; trying to protect her, trying to figure out if it was going to be a good day or not. I had no power back then; but on stage, I do! It has allowed me to tell my truth as I saw it. And every time I perform it, I feel stronger and more complete and more at peace with all of it. Doing this show has helped me realize that the people who hurt me have a story too, and if I knew their story I could understand the horrors better.  It has also shown me that it doesn’t excuse them for hurting me.

What do you hope people will take away from No Reason to Cry?

I hope people walk away feeling inspired – that you can have an idea in your mind and make it happen. I hope they see that as terrifying as this was for me, on the other side of that wall of fear is your greatest victory. I want people to walk away knowing that it is never too late to forgive and it’s never too late to resolve things.

Would you consider making it into a bigger production?

I’d love to see where No Reason to Cry goes from here. I chose the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater because of its intimacy. I think connecting with the audience on an intimate level is important for this show. But, if it has the opportunity to go bigger, and reach more people…I’m open to that too.

What are your plans for the near future?

I’d love to take the show on the road, as I have fans in other states who cannot make it to NYC. I also plan to write a book based on the show, that will include more details and stories I was not able to include on stage…because of time constraints.

 

Hwaban Brings Efflorescent Korean to NYC’s Flatiron

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Traditionally centered around W. 32nd Street, Eater recently lamented how NYC’s Koreatown has slowly lost its mom-and-pop authenticity to an encroachment of chain restaurants. As happens these days.

But just 13 blocks to the south (in the Flatiron), Hwaban is undertaking to reinvigorate the Korean dining experience, with the sort of rarefied elegance usually reserved for upscale French establishments. Indeed, working with interior designers Super Paprika, chef Mihyun Han and her restaurateur husband Key Kim have cultivated a space that decidedly lives up to the restaurant’s name – which translates to “as beautiful as a flower.”

 

 

The stark but exquisite sophistication of the white brick walls, white marble tables and sleek, seductively grey banquettes still allow the gaze to focus on the stunning floral arrangements adorning the dining room, which are switched up at regular intervals. Although it must be said that the plates being delivered to those marble tabletops are equally artistically realized. Indeed, from the scallop crudo to the lotus root salad, the kimchi stew to the poached lemon sole, the presentation is nothing shy of ethereal.

For the most transcendent epicurean experience, bring some worthy friends and opt for the Hwaban Table (similar to the Dutch-Indonesian rijsttafel), which offers an impressive assortment of specialties from the all-around superlative menu.

Hwaban is open seven days a week.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Star Fiona Xie on Respect, Cultural Nuance & the Inimitable Charms of Singapore

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Images Courtesy of Warner Bros

 

It’s not hard to imagine why, with Hollywood in full ownership of the concept of “blockbuster” cinema, films spotlighting other cultures continue to find mainstream U.S. success fairly elusive. But the lead up to the release this weekend of the Singapore-based Crazy Rich Asians has all the buzz of a massive superhero sequel.

Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel about wedding-focused extravagance amongst the Singaporean one-percenters, it also happens to be coming at a particularly socio-politically charged moment – with journalist Sarah Jeong’s hiring at the New York Times setting off a heated debate on the context and boundaries of racism in America. Interestingly, the film actually kind of pokes fun at the strict class delineations in Singapore, something pretty much anyone anywhere can relate to. But perhaps most importantly, it features bold, memorable female characters.

But what you should really come to CRA with, is the anticipation of seeing a riotously funny film, through the exotic lens of Singaporean culture, with tradition butting up against contemporary life – as it tends to do. And much like so many English costume dramas, it also plays as something of a Singapore travelogue, showing off the city’s sultry, dynamic charms. (It’s currently on so many “hottest destination” lists.)

We caught up with one of those particularly awesome women, actress Fiona Xie, who plays social-climbing actress Kitty Pong – a character viewed with suspicion by her rich boyfriend’s family…providing some of the comic tension that is at the heart of the film’s universal appeal.

 

 

Asian stories are often told in film through Western perspectives here in the West. What do you think has been missing in that point of view?

Integrity and a diversity in terms of culture, as Asian and Western cultures alike are nuanced in many ways.

What attracted you to the film version of Crazy Rich Asians? Had you read the book?

I was actually introduced to Kevin Kwan’s New York Times bestseller by a CEO of a respectable watch company. I didn’t expect him to be reading something with that title. I was intrigued by everyone’s interest and the wide spectrum of audience that it actually reached. It was such a buzz, everyone loved and raved about it. I was [generally] not one for such trends. I did however, pick it up and to my surprise, devoured Kwan’s wicked humor gleefully, chuckling away at how close to home it was.  In the U.S. alone, there have been over 1.8 million copies in print. Genius.

Why do you think there is so much advance hype in the U.S. for this film in particular?

Goldrush. Everyone wants in on what’s good. For the Asian community, it’s also a movement to have a platform to share their real stories and to be heard equally. Ultimately, we are all humans that want to be understood, loved and accepted and to transcend all boundaries for great opportunities.

 

 

What will a Western audience take away from the film about the differences in our relationship issues and traditions?

Curiosity and respect. The same way you would want an Asian audience to appreciate and celebrate the Western culture.

How does Singapore as a place figure into the story in Crazy Rich Asians?

Location, location, location. The ultimate wedding of the year! Technicolor avatars like Super Trees at Gardens by the Bay, synchronized swimming atop the world’s only floating pool above the three-joined towers on the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands, and a glorious assortment of street food at the Newton Circus Hawker Centre.

Are there cultural references that are specific to Singapore?

The entire movie is interwoven with Singapore culture and you will also see a lot of cultural touch points referenced in the movie – and how multicultural Singaporeans live their life.

Ultimately, how do you think Western audiences will connect with the film version of Crazy Rich Asians?

With laughter, tears and a newfound interest in all stories that are ultimately well told.

 

The Real Singapore Locales Featured in Crazy Rich Asians

Images from top: Marina Bay Sands Skywalk; Newton Circus Hawker; Gardens by the Bay

 

Going Modern in the Ancient Metropolis: Hotel Perianth Opens in Athens

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Before the turning of the Millennium, most travelers to Greece touched down in Athens, and then headed straight for the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, and the like. But the Greek capital has been undergoing a transformation over the last decade and a half – especially in regards to its vibrant street art scene – making it more than just a place to stop and gawk at the Parthenon for a couple of hours.

It’s also at last getting better hotels – to wit, the Perianth, which just opened in the non-touristy area of Monastiraki, known for its historic architecture and lively flea market. It’s actually specifically located on the comely Agia Eirini square, with its buzzy pavement tables and beautiful Byzantine-style church.

 

 

A member of Design Hotels, the Perianth is indeed something of a stylistic masterpiece (interiors by K-STUDIO), with its striking, almost museum-quality modernist public spaces, and its 38 clean-lined, but warmly turned out rooms. Local artworks by the likes of Antonakis, Yiannis Varelas, and Margarita Myrogianni appear throughout the hotel.

There’s also a comely, light-flooded Italian restaurant, Il Baretto, whose bar is a scene for early evening aperitivo. And the Zen Center, for meditation, yoga and martial arts, is located in the same building.

A recent Euro Zone report also shows Greece to have finally left its financial crisis behind – so the mood is much better amongst the people these days.

 

The Many Reasons to Love the Newly Redesigned Andaz London Hotel

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We must admit to being particularly excited when we were invited a few weeks back to a press conference at the Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel, to interview legendary designer Sir Terence Conran. It was for the launch of the hotel’s stunning new (RED) Suite – a partnership supporting the AIDS charity of the same name founded by Bono.

But Conran + Partners had also just recently given the hotel a swish makeover, revisiting Sir Terence’s previous revitalization in 2000 of the rickety old Great Eastern Hotel – which was its name until it became the inaugural Andaz in 2008. We were indeed absolutely thrilled to be back, as we’d had some rather monumental times at the former GEH; and despite a few pangs of nostalgia, were enthused to take in the hotel’s latest incarnation.

With his unmistakable stylistic stamp visible throughout, Sir Terence himself said of his firm’s new design, “This is the way I like to live.” As it turned out, so did we.

The Andaz, as happens, notably sits at the border between The City and Shoreditch – meaning its public spaces are uniquely replete with bankers and stylistas alike. Here’s what we loved about the hotel, and its unique surrounds.

 

The Rooms

Considering the claustrophobic proportions of the rooms of most trendy London hotels, the rather generous space here does not go unappreciated. Some have murals reflecting the local street art scene, and newer ones on the higher floors have cool porthole windows with dramatic views across the East London rooftops. Bathrooms are fabulous.

 

 

Eastway Brasserie

Precisely the sort of spot we gravitate to for a buzzy lunchtime stop, the hotel’s cool brasserie flaunts a stylish, high-energy room, and a menu of trend-aware dishes like roasted baby beets, leek & cheddar risotto and grilled tuna with quinoa. The bar is aces for early evening classic cocktails.

The Masonic Temple

Seriously, the Andaz has its own Masonic Temple. Furtively hidden away, it’s not only the current site of actual Mason meetings, but is also used for regular yoga sessions…and Lady Gaga even did a photo shoot here recently. It’s done up in the flamboyant Greek Revival style, so it’s all masculine opulence, with a striking zodiac ceiling. Amazing.

 

 

Brick Lane Market

The most sprawling flea market in East London, it draws gawkers and hipsters in equal measure. Make a point to pop in for a to-die-for curry at one of the local houses – they’re all pretty much great.

Browns East

In late 2017, the exalted British concept shop Browns opened this impressive Shoreditch outpost. Stocking the bleeding edge of men’s and women’s fashions – everything from cult labels Off White and Rejina Pyo to Balenciaga and Yamamoto – it’s like a one stop edification on current international style. Exceedingly “on trend,” there’s even an Immersive Experience Room, for heady meditation sessions.

 

 

Ivy City Garden

When the storied Covent Garden celeb-magnet The Ivy took to coming down from its high perch a bit in 2014, the result was this more approachable, if still quite fabulous edition of itself. Just a short walk from the Andaz, the Ivy City Garden has the breezy chic of a Provençal bistro, with a people-watching breakfast scene, and a menu that runs the gamut from duck liver pâté to beef wellington to afternoon tea. Super cute staff is a bonus.

 

 

Shoreditch Galleries

If you’d prefer a guide, the Go East Walking Art Tour takes you to key destinations in the area, including notable street art. But for independent gallery hoppers, make a point to pop in to the likes of Kate McGarry, Hoxton Arches, Parasol Unit, Pure Evil Gallery (for something a little cheekier), and the legendary Whitechapel Gallery.

Rake’s Cafe Bar

With a distinctly duel personality, the Andaz’s newest hotspot Rake’s (a reference to the Hogarth famous triptych A Rake’s Progress) is a stylish casual cafe – albeit one with a sort of gazebo covered in hanging vines – serving chicken liver pâté, devon crab tagliatelle, and homemade ice cream. In the evenings, the Parlour room becomes one of the sexiest spots in the neighborhood, with DJs manning the opulent space, and a cool wait staff serving provocative signature cocktails like The Orgy and The Mad House.

 

 

1901 Wine Lounge

This is a distinctly intimate and refined spot in the Andaz for a well-chosen glass of vino (from a Euro-leaning list) by day, and a sophisticated tipple by night- with its neo-classical archways and theatrical chandeliers.

Nuala

Our new fave Shoreditch restaurant is actually hipping up Irish cuisine, if you can imagine. It presents a starkly minimalist menu – meaning no pompously elaborate descriptions of the dishes, something we have come to appreciate in the age of pretentiously over-elaborate chefs. And the smoked eel croquettes, beef tartare and woodfire chicken are all life-altering. Interiors have a sort of sleek woodsiness about them – we even noticed a pile of firewood. Which is not as hipster as it sounds.

 

 

 

 

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Sustainable Cocktail Recipes From NYC’s Sexy New 18th Room

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You had to know it was coming: sustainable cocktails. While drinking had always had an element of blurring our consciousness, NYC’s new 18th Room wants to raise that consciousness at the same time.

This elegant, romantic new Chelsea lounge – from Dave Oz of next-door neighbor Bathtub Gin – does seem at first a rather serious, grown-up affair…with its moody-lighting, dark, velvety booths and jazz-leaning soundtrack. But Joseph Boroski’s drinks list is actually quite a lot of fun – and now he’s introduced several clever new tipples to take us through the rest of summer.

 

 

To wit, the ‘Quite Contrary’ is a clear bloody mary, served in a highball glass, with capers, peppercorns and topped with a Maine oyster; ‘Espresso Eggscellence’ adds housemade chocolate and vanilla liqueurs to vodka, garnished with a coffeed turkey egg (we’re not kidding). All are created with a “low waste,” eco-aware ideology, and complemented by dishes like steak tartare, steamed red snapper and little gem Waldorf bites.

Wanting to ride out the summer on a decadent (but responsible) note, we asked Boroski to share with us the magic behind a couple of his fave new eco-creations. Though we highly recommend sipping them in situ, in the 18th Room’s exquisite surrounds.

 

‘Two Bananas Walk Into a Bar’ (pictured top)

2oz House Made Banana Fat Washed Rum
1/2oz Lime Shrub
1/2oz House Made Banana Syrup
Instructions: Stirred in glass with ice and garnish with a dehydrated banana peel

‘D-Lish’

1 1/2oz House Made Peach Brandy
1 1/2oz House Made Apple Brandy
1/2oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2oz Organic simple syrup
1/2oz of Aquafaba
Instructions: Dry Shake and pour into coupe

 

First Images: The Wick Hotel Opens in Hudson

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Although climate change has wreaked a bit of havoc on our sacred notion of autumn in the Northeast, it doesn’t mean we have to stop trying. And so it is that another September approaches, and we start planning our fall season escapes from perpetually stressful Gotham.

On your list this year should absolutely be the historic town of Hudson (its charter dating to 1785), most especially with the opening of the stylish new Wick Hotel – a member of the Tribute Portfolio. Indeed, fitted into a 1860s former candle factory, it feels both intimate and architecturally dramatic at once. Behind a striking white brick facade, the 55 rooms (some with clawfoot tubs) are chicly stark and unfussy, with stately color schemes and Nineteenth-Century Hudson River School landscape paintings by Thomas Cole.

 

 

Surprising for an Upstate hotel, there’s actually a full fitness center on the property. But for those seeking more epicureans pleasures, the in-house restaurant and bar is elegantly done up with patterned tiled flooring, beamed ceilings, and generous windows framing views of the charming neighborhood surrounds.

Plan to make a weekend of it September 14 -16, when Basilica Soundscape takes over the town, with a lineup including such indie stalwarts as Boy Harsher, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori, and Haxan Cloak featuring Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The town’s busy Warren Street is rife with antiques, design shops, galleries and bookstores.

 

 

 

 

 

First Images: The Striking New Bank Hotel Stockholm

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With Southern Europe suffering under climate-changed temps of up to 115 degrees Farenheit, Scandinavia has emerged as a destination-of-the-moment for yet another very good reason.

Now, Stockholm itself has always lured with its matter-of-fact sense of style and design. And that is sublimely exhibited in the new Bank Hotel, opening late August, from the prolific Stureplansgruppen restaurant/nightlife group. Naturally, food plays a major role in its allure, with the unassumingly named signature eatery Bonnie’s fitted into a dramatically renovated banking hall (thus, the hotel’s name), flaunting sexy, emerald green booths, stylish, black-and-white checked tile flooring, and a kitchen lorded over by award-winning chef Magnus Persson. The influence in both food and wine tends toward France and Northern Italy.

 

Image by Mathias Nordgren

 

Characteristic of its parent company, aesthetics figure significantly throughout this rather swish new hotel, its striking 1910 building graced by both modern Renaissance design influences. Swedish interior stylists Ida Lauga and Lo Biurlf have infused the rooms with a contemporary classicism, with eight signature suites culminating in the quite spectacular, 185 square meter Bank Extreme Terrace Suite, featuring a full-length balcony and arguably life-altering views (considering the city’s breathtaking beauty.)

Social life comes by way of the casual Sophie’s lounge, and the more elegant Papillon Bar. But make sure to smooth talk your way to the 9th floor, where the secretive Chambre Separé caters to just 12 very privileged guests at a time.

The Bank Hotel is located on Nybroviken Quay, just a short stroll from the old world charms of the Gamla Stan – which is just another bridge away from the hipster paradise of Sodermalm…should that be your inclination.

 

Above images by Johan Nilson (1) and Mathias Nordgren (2,3).

 

London’s Legendary Quaglino’s is Popping Up at NYC’s Dante

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Merchant of Venice

 

Debuting in 1929 London, as the Great Depression was spreading to Britain, then given a trendy revamp by Terrence Conran in 1993, as the UK was struggling out of a recession, Quaglino’s is one of the few most storied restaurants in Blighty’s capital.

Now, 89 years on, it is making the trip across the Atlantic, to partner up for a few days with a place of equal legend: Greenwich Village’s century-old Dante. Indeed, the latter will host a pop-up of Quaglino’s perpetually fabulous bar from August 13-15; and best of all, it will be an afternoon affair (For the record, we are dedicated proponents of a bit of mid-day tippling).

 

Vitamin Sea

 

Quaglino’s’ venerated bar team of Marco Sangion and Federico Pasian will man the popular Dante aperitif bar from 2pm – 6pm each day, mixing up artistic signature drinks like ‘Merchant Of Venice’ (Rinomato Appetizer, Mancino Chinato served with Peroni Ambra), ‘Vitamin Sea’ (Tanqueray Gin, Italicus, Maraschino, Bergamot Juice, Lavender Syrup and Bob’s Ginger Bitter), and ‘Into The Woods’ (Don Julio, Palo Cortado, White Truffle, Amer Picon, Dandelion Bitter), amongst others. Expect to be dazzled by their singular cocktail alchemy.

“We are thrilled to give New Yorkers a chance to sample some of Quaglino’s’ exclusive cocktails, bringing Mayfair to the heart of Manhattan this August,” enthuses the London restaurant’s Leslie Kwarteng.

Plan to stay on for dinner at Dante, for its handmade specialty pastas and a sublime plate of salumi misti.

 

Into The Woods