NYC Staycation: Pod 39 Hotel

 

 

It’s a well-worn trope that New Yorkers, despite living in a city with 1200 neighborhoods, spend most of their time in exactly two: the home one and the work one. Ask any Upper West Sider where Bath Beach is, and be prepared for a stare as blank as a catatonic. (It’s in South Brooklyn.)

Yet venturing even a few miles from one’s home/work base can seem like an exotic journey if done right. After all, the travel zeitgeist is so much about going somewhere new and living like a local. But since we didn’t have time for ice fishing in Finland, we opted for a staycation in a neighborhood we haven’t spent all that much time in.

Since our home/work ‘hoods are Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, with the exception of that annual doctor visit, we rarely venture above 14th Street. Murray Hill may as well be Mumbai. Yet that’s where we found ourselves recently for a stay at the ever smart Pod 39 Hotel. There are a number of Pods around town and their chief selling point is good design at exceedingly approachable rates.

 

 

When it comes to style, it helps that this Pod occupies the former Allerton House Hotel, which was given Landmark distinction in 2007. The century old red brick building, which boasts terra-cotta detailing and wrought-iron light fixtures, opened in 1918 as economical housing for ‘hard working, refined, ambitious young men,’ and 40 years later the Salvation Army took it over, converting it into residences for women. The genders were finally allowed to co-mingle at 145 E. 39th Street, when the Pod people (sorry, pun intended) stepped in.

We were actually quite surprised with our room, which despite its obvious economy of scale, seemed spacious and chic. The fact that the view out the windows was of a brick walled interior space that led up to a small square of skyscraper dotted sky only accentuated the historic NYC vibe. Modern life was waiting just downstairs, however, as the lobby and adjacent restaurant, the recently opened Empellon Al Pastor, teemed with youthful energy in the evening. Groups were split between those downing tacos and margaritas, and those patient enough to wait in the long line for the rooftop bound elevator.

 

 

We settled in with a trio of new friends in a private room off the main dining area, where we watched the scene from a distance while savoring a tasty sampling of fish tempura and sweet potato tacos, broiled oysters, and lobster rangoon, all washed down with spicy cucumber margaritas. Everything was absolutely sublime (as it is in Empellon’s East Village location). Afterwards we joined the throngs at the Pod 39 Rooftop, the setting of which, with its century-old archways and columns, and 360-degree view of midtown, is really something spectacular.

Being a rooftop bar in a hip hotel, however, meant that it was packed to capacity, so we headed out for a brief walk around the comely, inviting neighborhood, stopping for a bottle of wine for the room. The knowledge that we were only a mile or two from home didn’t displace the feeling of otherness we had at being happily out of our element. Back at the Pod we did something we rarely do in Brooklyn, watched the local news on the wall mounted flat screen – because that’s what you do when you’re “out of town.”

The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast in the lobby’s Playroom Lounge before heading out to join the stream of workers making their way to the office. It may have been our imaginations, but we sensed a slight inkling of newfound ambition, and refinery, in ourselves – perhaps thanks to the ghosts of the ambitious young men who once occupied the Allerton…and certainly to the rejuvenating properties of a night in a strange but stylish bed.

 

Epicurean Nashville: Three Hotels, Two Restaurants, One Market

 

You may have heard, Nashville is hot these days – and not just because of its infamous and ubiquitous inferno hot chicken recipe.

To wit, cool new hotels have been popping up in historic buildings all over the city, with correspondingly cool restaurants. And the once ground level scene is rising up to the sky, as Music City at last catches on to the particular thrills of rooftop indulgences. The restaurants are mostly helmed by emerging chefs, whose goal it is to showcase the new wave of elevated southern fare, with a focus on local and seasonally driven produce and meats.

On our most recent visit, we hit three of the city’s most stylish boutique sleeps – and their not-just-good, but genuinely exceptional in-house dining options.

 

Holston House

A 1930’s Art Deco stunner, this is a new addition to the Unbound Collection by Hyatt. Infused with a hint of New York chic from the design team at Stonehill Taylor, it’s a bastion of elegance amidst the honky-tonk mayhem. And Executive Chef Andrew Rodriguez heads up its southern-infused restaurant TENN, which Eater included with its most recent list of essential Nashville dining hotspots.
Rodriguez incorporates ingredients from the likes of Peach Truck, Athena’s Harvest, Micro Pastures, Beaverdam Creek Farm, and 12 South Farmers Market – which is a collection of vendors – into TENN’s signature dishes and specialty cocktails. For instance, the shrimp and grits with pan sauce uses sustainable seafood and locally grown and milled corn. While an updated take on the classic seared skin on salmon paired with spring favas and pea shoots is not to be missed.

 

 

Noelle

The newest kid in a town with no shortage of new openings, Noelle – part of the Tribute Portfolio for Marriott – focuses on hyperlocal experiences for adventurous souls. And the location could not be better: on the same block as the infamous/historic Printer’s Alley in Downtown Nashville. The original building is an original 1929 Art Deco structure called Noel Place; and they’ve retained the grand spaces, adding some uniquely stylish design features. A curated collection of local art is on rotation.
Rare Bird, the rooftop bar, offers modern southern classics like mint juleps with locally made Dickel 12 whiskey – plus a spicy strawberry tequila version. A caramelized onion dip with paper thin housemade chips pairs perfectly as a light bite, and gives a new life to the picnic classic; or try the shaved ham plates made with locally  sourced pork. It all comes, of course, with show-stealing view of the rapidly changing Nashville skyline.

 

 

Bode Nashville

Bode Nashville isn’t just another designer hotel. With recent openings in Palm Springs and Chattanooga, the brand is setting out to revolutionize group travel. To wit, their concept focuses on communal traveling, with two, three and four room shared living spaces. Each has hand crafted artisan lights and fixtures from Southern Lights Electric, as well as fully outfitted chef’s kitchens – perfect for happy hour gatherings after a day of sights and culture.
The onsite café, The Hub, is a market stocked with locally made Tennessee whisky, wine and cheese, which can be enjoyed around the outdoor fire pits. They have rotating food specials like peanut butter & banana toasts for Elvis Presley’s birthday, and vegan granola and baked goods from local bakeries. With “friendscationing” on the rise, it would seem Bode is genuinely on to something.

 

 

 

Stopover in Copenhagen: Where to Shop, Stay, Eat + Play

Vesterbro

 

 

After an amazingly ideological time in Iceland recently, we took advantage of the wonderful Icelandair Stopover program, to spend a few days in Copenhagen, arguably the coolest city in Europe now.

The airline righty describes the program thusly: “When you fly Icelandair across the Atlantic, you can Stopover in Iceland at no extra airfare. That gives you the opportunity to explore Iceland, both country and culture, without adding to your ticket price.”

Flying Icelandair’s Saga class makes it also highly recommended, especially as Saga members receive a special wildlife themed toiletries kit (with puffin footprint pattern). Filled with the usual sleeping mask and socks, we really loved the 100% natural, cruelty-free beauty products from Icelandic brand Hannesdottir (we’re still using the perfect lip balm). Lingering in the tastefully appointed, savories and sweets-filled Saga Lounge at both JFK (New York) and Reykjavik airports was also a particular pleasure.

Saga Lounge, Reykjavik

 

Once in Copenhagen we checked into the playfully stylish Andersen Boutique Hotel, located in the heart of hip hood Vesterbro. From the Andersen (and its sister property Absalon, just across the street), it was easy to get anywhere in Copenhagen – whether by foot, bicycle, taxi or train (the station is only a block away).

Our bellies full from the Andersen’s awesome breakfast buffet, we first made our way to the storied Tivoli Gardens. It is a must-do, since however touristy you’ve been told it is, it is in the best way possible. We strolled the park’s magnificent gardens, stopped by the Mallows kiosk to sample the local brand’s flavorful, taffy-like marshmallows, then hopped The Demon rollercoaster (there’s a VR experience for an additional fee). For something uniquely spectacular, hit the famous Star Flyer – its swings carry riders 80 meters above the park for a stellar view.

 

We then hit the shops, starting with Langsamt, a beautifully stocked sustainable clothing shop in Vesterbro that carries cool brands like Fub, Armor Lux, and Portugal’s organic cotton t-shirt Colorful Standard, as well as dozens of other like-minded designers. Owner Johanne Kjaerum, along with her mother, have curated a lovely selection of fashions, accessories and modern ceramics (made by mom, by the way).

HAY House was another fave for modern furniture and design. Founded in 2002, this exceptional shop occupies the second and third floors of the most gorgeous building along Stogen (Copenhagen’s main shopping street). Where sophisticated industrial manufacturing meets good design, you’ll find irresistible objects and functional pieces for the home. We tried to figure out how to get their seriously good matte olive green outdoor furniture – designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for HAY – back to the New York…and were told they ship to the States. Joy!

HAY House

 

We then spent an afternoon and evening in the Meatpacking District, one of the city’s most happening neighborhoods, with cool restaurants, galleries and nightlife aplenty. We loved Butchers and Bicycles, even though we weren’t actually in the market new wheels. And dinner at Bob Bistro, an edgier organic restaurant housed in a former appliance store (look for the neon Bosch sign out front), followed by the boisterous Jolene, for a very Copenhagen take on the DJ-and-dive-bar thing.

We started another day with the plentiful smorgasbord-style breakfast at the cool, curiously named Mad & Kaffe, on Sonder Boulevard in Vesterbro (you can do the same at their other locations in Amagerbro and Frederiksberg).

 

We got our Copenhagen culture fix at Design Museum Denmark. The Danish know and love design, certainly, and this is their place of exultation – all very intelligently curated. The Hall of Danish Chairs was a highlight. Currently on view, an impressive Bauhaus survey, coinciding with the movement’s 100 year anniversary.

Then we toured the canals, an experience which allows you to really comprehend the singular beauty of this city, offering a whole new perspective, after we’d spent all our time walking. We just jumped on one of many passenger boats taking off every 15 minutes. Though we specifically recommend Hey Captain.

If it’s too cold or rainy to be on the canals, we would definitely suggest catching a movie at Grand Teatret, featuring a smartly curated selection of European and American films, in a gorgeously maintained historic space – and with a full bar to boot.

Design Museum Denmark 

 

Craving an afternoon snack, we popped in to Cafe Norden for the city’s best ‘hindbaersnitte”. Translation: raspberry slice, and that’s exactly what it is. We enjoyed some serious people watching as we bit into two layers of sweet shortcrust pastry sandwiched with raspberry jam, topped with a simple pink icing and real sugared raspberry bits.

Of course, Copenhagen is now the universe’s most exalted culinary destination. And 108, affectionately called NOMA’s little brother, dazzled our taste buds with it’s awesome foraged and farm-to-table fare. Reasonably priced and unpretentious, we loved the whole lacquered quail, for its presentation and crunchy goodness, the soft leeks with salted plums and aged cheese (like savory little pillows), followed by the “hot dough not” – you guessed it, tiny donuts filled with caramel and seaweed ice cream.

For the adventurous, there is an excellent tasting menu to experience the full flavor of the cooking at 108. We were most intrigued by the ‘livretter’ offerings, asparagus with smoke Osietre sturgeon, raw lamb with last year’s pickles, and steamed egg yolk with 10g of Royal Belgian Caviar. If you’re feeling decadent, we suggest a dessert of Rausu Konbu ice cream, again accompanied by 8g of Royal Belgian Caviar.

Yum.

108

Andersen Boutique Hotel

A chic and charming Vesterbro boutique hotel, ee stayed in the “Amazing” suite, which was, yes, actually pretty amazing. All 69 rooms and suites feature wallpaper, cushions and curtains by Designers Guild, while the interiors are bold and bright, yet super comfy. Little touches like Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom, Jasper Morrison garbage containers, Philippe Starck toilets, and Muuto hangers by Lars Tornoe meant we were surrounded by good design during our entire stay. Photographs by German-Iranian photographer Patricia Parinejad adorn all of the rooms.

Heading back to the hotel at the end of each sightseeing day, we were warmly greeted by a communal happy hour. Guests are invited to the hotel’s version of “hygge,” where drinks are served from a makeshift bar in the lobby, and all are encouraged to socialize. One evening we sat next to two gigantic stuffed bears, who appeared already to have imbibed. But their silence was welcome after our brisk touring of one of the best cities in the world.

Belfast Rising: Has Good Design – and ‘Game of Thrones’ – Ushered in a New Era For Northern Ireland’s Capital?

Titanic Quarter

 

Belfast had a problem. For more than three decades stretching from the 1960s into the late ’90s, its international image was almost entirely informed by “The Troubles,” a guerrilla war of sorts, which on the surface seemed to be a quasi-religious clash between Catholics and Protestants – but was actually much more about allegiance to Ireland on one side, loyalty to Britain on another.

The conflict was immortalized, for better or worse, in mainstream films like In The Name of the Father and Patriot Games. But surely the lyrics to the Stiff Little Fingers punk classic “Alternative Ulster” most viscerally and decisively captured the reality of life in Belfast during those times.

“Take a look where you’re livin’
You got the army on the street
And the R-U-C dog of repression
Is barking at your feet
Is this the kind of place you want to live?”

It was the right question to ask, of course – and after all, punk did tend to ask the right questions.

Fast forward, and certainly the problems didn’t just magically vanish with the signing of the landmark Good Friday Agreement in 1998; but that stifling, often terrifying sense of everyday division and fear was at last very much on its way out. Now Belfast, today, is a very different place.

 

 

Two decades on from the peace accord, we checked into the sleek and shiny new AC Hotel by Marriott Belfast on a sunny Saturday morning – and just beyond its generously proportioned windows was, indeed, a new alternative. There rising up along the once derelict docklands was the visually awe-inspiring new Titanic Quarter – with its corresponding, namesake museum. Yet shipbuilding, as with Liverpool, was always very much of part of the Belfast DNA; and the same Harland and Wolff shipyard that birthed that famous trio of cruise liners – the Titanic, the Olympic and the Britannic – remains to this day.

Local firm Todd Architects was primarily responsible for the revitalization – and what they built was all very much to human scale…unlike the so many high-rise monstrosities of contemporary London and New York. Nothing along the new waterfront skyline showily attempts to make a statement of itself, something which is arguably imperative in a cityscape so bereft of skyscrapers.

And the Titanic Museum is its true point of pride (it was recently ranked with the UK’s top cultural institutions), intelligently but entertainingly telling the story of the infamously doomed ship, which was built here in 1920 and, as the history books – and James Cameron – have it, fatally made impact with a massive iceberg on its maiden voyage. It is memorialized in a way that is part melancholy, part historic pride, the presentation showing its more serious side with an exhibit on the very real perils of shipbuilding life in the early 20th Century.

 

 

Yet it is the museum’s place in the overall visual tableau of the Titanic Quarter that resonates most poignantly and proudly within Northern Ireland’s still relatively humble capital. Comprised of four epic, polished steel structures meant to mimic the hull of a ship, it rises above the River Lagan as a constant reminder that the city is evolving towards a new, more hopeful future. Titanic, indeed.

But if the museum is a window into Belfast’s history, the nearby Titanic Studios have spent the last several years decisively positioning the city within the contemporary cultural zeitgeist. Indeed, this is where much of Game of Thrones was filmed (surely one of the half dozen or so greatest television shows ever), and so here, one can rightly say that a new generation of stars was born: Sophie Turner, Kit Harington and the rest of their considerable like.

Now that it’s all done, we’re not quite sure if locals are sad to see the production go, or happy to know how much mileage they will continue to get out of it in the coming years. To wit, a Game of Thrones exhibition is currently on show at the TEC Belfast; and for the millions-strong worldwide GOT geekdom, there are all manner of entertaining tours to be booked seven days a week.

 

Usfolk gallery 

 

Back in the center of the city, the Cathedral Quarter is buzzing these days with indie/DIY shops, which, with their general egalitarian vibe (hipsters are kinda hippie, after all), feel very much like a positive way forward from the internecine strife that kept Belfast so isolated from the Western tourism boom of the last few decades. Usfolk is an excellent example of this, making dual purpose as an agency for illustrators, and a raw, airy gallery to exhibit their budding talents. And through their wraparound windows, the view across the surrounding rooftops is replete with just the sort of patchwork charm you’d expect of this city.

Street art – not the trendy, mercenary sort, but the genuinely ideological kind – made for a powerful voice during those years of uncertainty. Belfast, it should be said, actually boasts a tradition of murals dating back more than a century; no surprise, they were generally of the political disposition. Today, one of the most striking is Connor Harrington‘s Dance by Candlelight, a biting commentary on the decline of empires, and all the macho posturing that so obliviously carries on despite said decline. It is castigation and elegy at once, especially considering the West’s recent worrying slide into right-wing nationalism.

Artists still come from all over Europe to tag in Belfast – it’s seen as a genuine of a badge of honor.

 

Connor Harrington, Dance by Candlelight

 

One of the most vivid outgrowths of this new creative spirit is the Belfast Design Week. Launched in 2015, rather than unnecessarily rushing to evolve it into an international event, it genuinely focuses on Northern Ireland’s plentiful design talent – though it takes on issues that are certainly global in scale. This year’s edition will take place November 4 – 10 at venues around the city.

Perhaps no venture embodies Belfast’s new spirit of design innovation more than Koto, whose Theo Dales we had the chance to meet. Along with partners Johnathon and Zoe Little, they are building modular “cabins” that are inspired by the Scandinavian connection to nature – and as has become increasingly obvious, clues to a more progressive future can mostly be found in Scandinavia.

On a more sybaritic note, and surely much to the delight of many, even food has gotten a makeover in Belfast. To be sure, a traditional culture of pub food and pies is now giving way to restaurants like Hadskis, which crosses European classics with Northern Irish influence in a stylish but inviting atmosphere. Coppi, Coco and The Muddlers Club are also not to be missed by visiting epicures.

Of course, there are never good times without the bad – and Brexit, specifically the Irish Border Backstop, currently looms ominously over contemporary Northern Ireland. But still and all, if you today posed the question to the citizens of Belfast, “Is this the kind of place you want to live?,” one imagines you’d get a very different answer than when Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns first so despairingly asked it.

 

 

AC Hotel by Marriott Belfast

Belfast’s hospitality development had, let’s face it, been virtually non-existent for decades. But there’s something about a great new hotel that conveys a genuine sense of optimism – if you’re building it, it’s with the expectation that people will come from all over the world to stay in it. And the AC Hotel by Marriott Belfast isn’t just a slick new property – it is veritably a window into the future of the city. Indeed, perched dramatically as it is along the River Lagan, it looks across to the gleaming new Titanic Quarter – and such are the views that on a clear day, you may find yourself unable to tear yourself away from the window.

Rooms, as is the AC signature, are warmly contemporary, with elegantly muted color schemes, handsome wood floors, luxurious kingsize beds, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Downstairs there’s an AC Fitness Room, a stylish lounge and a glorious riverside terrace. The Cathedral Quarter is just ten minutes walk away.

But perhaps most notably, the hotel has decisively joined in the local culinary revolution, with its world class eatery Novelli at City Quays. The sort of effortless-chic restaurant one might find in Marylebone or West Hollywood, it boasts massive windows, generously spaced tables, retro-modern furnishings, and a buzzy bar area.

The food, however, by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Baptiste Novelli, is nothing short of a revelation. An unpretentious, very Irish take on contemporary Mediterranean cuisine, one can start with sourie ham hock terrine or porcini crepes, and move on to a local aged beef, Belfast black and brisket pie, or duck confit with braised lentils – like dining in some mythical culinary world between Ulster County and Marseilles. A dedicated vegetarian/vegan menu proves just how far Belfast has come.

 

 

Bridgehampton Chic: ‘A Room at the Beach’ is the Hamptons’ Most Stylish New Inn

 

As the weather heats up (and it always does), the NYC cognoscenti make haste every year for the white-sand beaches and bucolic country roads of those rarefied Hamptons. But what we really love is that there is a town or village to handle our every mood.

Of course, sometimes that mood demands a quintessentially glitzy Easthampton experience. But with the particular stresses of these times, we’ve been preferring to escape to somewhere quiet, to recharge and unwind. And now there’s no place more perfect to accomplish just that than A Room at the Beach, a chic luxury boutique motel, opened last month in the picturesque hamlet of Bridgehampton (stomping grounds of the likes of Beyoncé, Kelly Ripa and Bethenny Frankel).

With only ten rooms, A Room at the Beach is an intimate destination that epitomizes the relaxed Hamptons vibes we generally tend to seek out. On our recent visit there, co-owners Lucy Swift Weber and Charles Lemonides (brother of Eric, owner of French bistro Almond in the same town) made us feel truly at home in their chic country retreat.

 

 

 

The focal point of the 1.5-acre property is a towering alley of California redwoods, planted by none other than Martha Stewart herself (daughter Alexis formerly owned the property), which instantly helped us to commune with nature and decompress. We particularly loved having breakfast at the picnic tables underneath those same trees, and then curling up in the cozy lounge chairs at night, basking in the intimate starlight glow from the string lights above.

And though the beach was only two miles away, we found it hard to leave this cosseting property – after all, what more do you really need than an outdoor pool and wicker coolers stocked with complimentary rosé?

We wouldn’t hesitate to say that this will be the place to stay this summer season out East. Here’s what you can expect.

Design & Rooms

A Room at the Beach seamlessly blends unfussy rustic chic with a keen eye for contemporary style. The ten rooms are housed in a single-story building with a cedar wood façade, and there’s a long wood patio that keeps the space fluid and communal. Guests can relax on the cozy sectionals located outside of each room, or if they prefer more privacy, can escape to their own personal backyard garden. The design-savvy spaces are distinctively curated, filled with hand-sourced antiques, flea market finds, and quirky artwork – as well as distinctly local mini-bar items sourced from L&W Market. The bathrooms feature tile from Ann Sachs and come with bluestone slab rainfall showers or spa tubs.

 

 

Amenities

For those who would consider checking in and barely leaving the property, A Room at the Beach has a sauna, massages, aromatherapy, and on-site yoga – as well as a beautiful outdoor pool, with giant rainbow floats, rosé stocked coolers, and a mini-poolside beach. But they also have traffic-beating Serena & Lily bicycles to borrow, for quick trips into town or to the actual beach.

 

 

Location

Situated between Southampton and Easthampton, one can enjoy a more laidback atmosphere while still being close to all the action. And while Bridgehampton may be small, a five-minute walk into town and we found ourselves dining at some of the best restaurants, including Jean Georges at the Topping Rose House (in our opinion, the best farm-to-table experience), and Estia’s Little Kitchen, a Hamptons mainstay known for their decadent breakfast burritos. During the day, we spent plenty of time soaking up the sun at two great beaches– Sagg Main and Mecox – only two miles from the property.

 

Stunning New Hotel Alert: Chapter Roma

 

 

In keeping with Rome’s general glacial pace of change (even in a globalized world, don’t really expect to eat anything but Italian food there), the city’s adaptation to the contemporary boutique hotel culture has been, well…slow.

Still, we were genuinely excited by the arrival in 2018 of the elegantly cool Elizabeth Unique Hotel nearby to the Tridente. And this spring has just seen the opening of the gorgeous new Chapter Roma, (a member of Design Hotels), located in the historic Regola district – a quick zip to the glorious flower market at Campo dei Fiori.

Fitted into a late 19th Century Neo-Classical building, it is the veritable aesthetic antithesis of Elizabeth Unique’s minimalist understatement. Indeed, Chapter Roma is dark, enigmatic, and palpably sensual, its dramatically brick-walled, vaulted-ceilinged interior accented with copper, brass and raw steel elements (courtesy of Tristan Du Plessis of South Africa’s Studio A), giving it the sort of industrial-chic intensity you might expect to find in Hamburg or Rotterdam.

 

 

And in a city of cramped accommodation, the generously proportioned rooms feature refined but muted orange and green color schemes, with cascading pendant lamps, dramatic drapery and handsome parquet flooring. Some also boast brick walls – and most offer captivatingly intimate views of the surrounding historic architecture.

Downstairs, the seductive, moodily-lit bar is dotted with plush couches and provocative illustrations. For summer people watching, it also opens onto the cobblestoned Via di S. Maria de’ Calderari. And who doesn’t love a good Roma street scene with their Negroni?

Sitting as it is just across the Tiber from the hip nightlife of Trastevere, it’s surely the ideal hotel for nocturnal sorts. Though the area’s plentiful art galleries make for no small amount of daytime cultural diversion. Either way, we very much expect this to be our new go-to hotel in the Eternal City.

 

Statement Architecture, Frida Kahlo & Yayoi Kusama: Is Lille France’s Next Great Cultural Destination?

 

 

With music festivals now coming in at a dime for probably three dozen, contemporary art fairs and festivals have arguably become the new way for cities to show off their impeccable cultural cred. Yet Lille3000 actually started all the way back in 2004, when its namesake city was chosen as that year’s prestigious European Capital of Culture.

Now occurring as a regular triennial, 2019 was thus timed for the sixth edition – so we hopped an Air France flight to see what all the fuss was about. Especially as this year’s “themes” particularly intrigued. First, Mexico was the partner country – so many of its top artists were invited over for that spark of cross-continental vitality. Secondly, the mythical Spanish kingdom of Eldorado was employed as muse…and, well, we do love a bit of mythological inspiration.

 

 

The city itself (just an hour by TGV from the capital) had been through some tough postwar years – and as is so often the story, eventually employed cultural strategies as a method of revivification. Needless to say it worked very well, and Lille has since emerged as a galvanizing creative force (to wit, Yayoi Kusama is not only a participant in Lille3000, but her 2003 The Tulips of Shangri-La has sat proudly outside the Gare de Lille since 2004). Still and all, just strolling around the city, you wonder how such a visually beautiful place could have ever been down.

It’s important to note that it is also far enough north to be almost more Belgian than French – and its captivating mix of Flemish and Beaux Arts architecture strikingly bears that out. And like the Flemish, there is a palpable penchant for aestheticism (Lille is designated a World Design Capital for 2020), and, naturally, a tendency to drink more beer than wine.

During our visit we were admittedly very much swept up into the art happenings of Lille3000, which runs into November – though we left there adamant that at any given time, Lille can now confidently be counted amongst the A-list of French destination cities.

Here’s what we saw.

 

Euralille

The visually daring Euralille has been on the starchitect groupies’ “must lists” since opening in 1994. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, it sort of epitomizes the hope that shiny new contemporary business districts can bring to a city in search of a new way forward. It’s now a stylish mix of offices, dining options and retail – everything from Adidas to G-Star Raw – as well as housing a pair of railway stations. The complex also includes the sleek Crowne Plaza hotel, from whose windows one can admire a vista that epitomizes the juxtaposition of old and new.
But most importantly, when arriving by train, there is an immediate sense when you look up that Lille is very much a “somewhere,” a place that is helping to shape the contemporary cultural conversation. Which is surely what everyone involved had hoped for when first envisioning Euralille.

 

 

Eldorado 

The Lille3000 flagship exhibition is impressively fitted into Le Tripostal, a cavernous old post office facility now used for just such happenings. The show itself is breathtaking in its scope, and yet still very much aesthetically and intellectually cohesive. From the get, one of Yayoi Kusama’s Mirror Rooms offers a bit of the fantastical and celestial (one genuinely does get the feeling of floating in space), before the exhibit crashes back to Earth. Indeed, in Chen Zhen’s ominous Precipitous Parturition 1999 – which was once precariously suspended at the Guggenheim – a dragon gives birth to newly produced automobiles, a biting commentary on capitalism and the perpetual supply-demand-consumption cycle that holds the Western world so decisively in its grip. It’s followed by Marnie Weber’s sardonically titled Happy Go Lucky, a Boschian fantasy of demonic creatures on some unexplained metaphysical journey.

 

Marnie Weber

 

No surprise, it being France, politics and resistance are front and center. For example, Stefan Bruggemann’s Headlines + Last Lines in the Movies 2019 is a massive graffiti-on-glass installation which makes its feelings well known regarding President 45; while Lucy & Jorge Orta’s United Assemblage 2016 uses the 1977 Argentine social unrest as a metaphor for our current socio-political zeitgeist. Most striking is Anne & Patric Poirier’s Danger Zone 2001, a makeshift dwelling in a protective glass dome, representing a future ruin – poignant, to put it mildly.

 

Yayoi Kusama

 

Intenso / Mexicano

One of the key Lille3000 events, this exhibit at Le Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse boasts 48 works from the permanent collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno de Mexico. Included are notable pieces by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Francisco Toledo, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, Germán Venegas and Daniel Lezama. Yet hardly just some “best of” museum assemblage on loan, the show has a rather vivid common thread, keenly playing with the concepts of identity and nationalism – especially relevant in these days of rising right wing nationalism.
Particularly affecting are Las Soldaderas, 1926 by Orozco; The Revolution Gives Back Culture by David Alfaro Siqueiros; and a self portrait by Rosa Rolanda.

 

 

The Green Goddess

The old Saint Sauveur station building is an awe-inspiring space for just such an exhibition, which explores how the natural world can be superimposed onto the Eldorado myth – a poignant interaction between nature and culture. Especially captivating are David Gumbs’ Echo-Natures 2019, a wildly colorful, nature-referencing “tunnel” which offers a curiously calming, contemplative immersive experience; and several works by Renaud Jerez, which depict fantastical creatures with strangely ominous, robotic features. In another particularly engaging installation, several artists were asked to each design a space for an imaginary hotel, seemingly hidden in the jungle – and yes, you can “sleep” in the bed.

 

 

Additional Art Highlights

Other works that captured our imagination at Tripostal: Christopher Kullendren Thomas’ New Eelam, 2019, which presents a sort of system for life, leaving it to the viewer to decide if it is possibly real or just imagined; Qiu Zhijie’s sprawling One Has to Wander Through All the Worlds to Reach the Innermost Shrine at the End, 2015, a stupendous work of cartography, with handblown glass figures relating to different regions of the world; and several paintings by French-American artist Jules de Balencourt, which were exceptionally aesthetically captivating.
Another can’t-miss at Tripostal, New York photographer-provocateur Ryan McGinley and French painter Claire Tabouret’s group show will be on exhibit through September 8.
And at the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art, we caught a brilliantly and very intelligently executed exhibition on the exalted Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, which reminded us of his significant influence on later artists like H.R. Giger.

 

 

Epicurean Lille

With all that art so decisively stimulating our intellect, we made sure to make the occasional stop for epicurean restoration. Meert, founded in 1761, is an absolute must, one of the few most famous pastry/chocolate shops in France (they now also have three locations in Paris and one in Brussels). We cheerfully waited in line for the obligatory and very famous waffles, the city’s rightly famous take away pleasure…and as elegant a street food as you will ever enjoy. We later fell in love with Le Lion Bossu, a second floor charmer of a restaurant, hidden exquisitely away in a 17th Century building – where we dined on poelee de Saint Jacques, ris de veau and joue de boeuf braisée in a gorgeous brick-walled setting.

 

Meert

 

La Piscine Museum of Art & Industry

In the neighboring town of Roubaix, La Piscine literally began life as a very fancy indoor swimming pool in 1932 – a function which lasted all the way into the 1980s. It became a museum in 2000, and a further nine-million-Euro restoration was just unveiled in 2018.
Amazingly, the pool remains the museum’s centerpiece, dramatically lined as it is with classical statuary – and just begging for multiple Instagram opportunities. But this is very much a serious musee, counting amongst its permanent collection paintings by Ingres, Mondrian and Robert De Niro Sr., sculptures by Rodin and Camille Claudel, as well as design pieces, textiles, and even ceramics by Picasso and Chagall, amongst others.
Meert also happens to run a restaurant on site, where we lunched on French classics in original Art Deco surrounds – and with particularly lively people watching.

 

 

Villa Cavrois

Just a short drive from the center of Lille, for devout modernistas this is the new and almost imperative religious pilgrimage. Completed in 1932 by French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, this modernist masterpiece – consider it the anthesis of all the showy gaudiness of Hearst Castle – was built for Paul Cavrois, a local textile industrialist. Opened to the public in 2015, it is now starkly furnished as close to the original period as was possible. And there’s a functionalist yet also visceral beauty to the style that seems to take Adolf Loos’ famous proclamation “ornament is crime” as an unbendable manifesto.
And walking from room to room, what is astonishing is just how true it is to the principals of anti-ornamentation, as laid down by Corbusier and the Bauhaus School. And everywhere – we mean everywhere – there are terraces from which to survey the exquisitely beautiful grounds, including a tranquil reflecting pool. Perfect for moments of contemplation amidst such a universe-altering aesthetic accomplishment.

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Savory Summer Recipes From Santa Monica’s FIG Restaurant

 

Image by Christian Horan 

 

 

Summer has almost sprung in the east but, of course, it’s perpetually sunny and bright on the California Coast. And soaking up as much of that sun as possible is FIG, in the plush Fairmont Miramar hotel in Santa Monica. Known by those in the know for their locally sourced farm-to-table fare and seasonally rotating menus, their approach to food is as personal as it gets.

Helmed by Exec Chef Jason Prendergast, he was trained in the classic French tradition, but his presentation is pure SoCal. According to the chef himself, what makes FIG so special is the years he has personally spent “cultivating relationships with local farmers, ranchers and fishermen.”

 

 

And it’s true. Much like the the infamous Portlandia episode, where Fred and Carrie are escorted to a local farm, chef Prendergast can, “tell you where livestock was raised and what their diet consisted of, name the fisherman, and tell you where his catch was.”

There are even specialty foragers who comb the forest and coastline for those especially hard to track down items like seasonal morels or edible flowers. And fromager extraordinaire Eric Brazel is so knowledgable as to be known as “The Cheese Guru”; he leads tastings at FIG, when he’s not stocking the menu.

We especially recommend popping out for a breezy, seasonal summer brunch. Until then, chef Prendergast has been kind enough to share these special recipes with BlackBook, so that you might try them at home.

 

Organic Eggs on Toast

Ingredients

4 Slices of Best Quality Rustic Country Loaf Bread8 Organic Farmers’ Market Eggs4 Ounces Normandie Butter or Best Available2 Ounces Crème Fraiche1 Ounce Finely Chopped ChivesCoarse Sea SaltBlack Pepper

Method

1. Crack eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk well. 2. In a medium deep sided pot over low to medium heat, add butter and allow to foam. 3. While butter is foaming, toast country bread to a deep golden brown, still leaving a chewy crumb in the center.
4. Add eggs to the pot and continue whisking the entire time until eggs begin to cook and start forming scrambled eggs, about 6-8 minutes. Once the eggs begin to scramble, add in crème fraiche and place back over heat. Continue cooking until soft scrambled egg stage is reached. 5. Remove from heat, season with sea salt and black pepper. 6. Place country bread on individual plates, top with soft scrambled egg mixture and finish with a generous pinch of chives. Enjoy immediately

 

 

Diver Scallops

Ingredients

12 Jumbo Dry Packed Diver Scallops
½ Pound Best Quality Salted
Butter
1 Pound Morel Mushrooms
2 
Sprigs Fresh Thyme
4 
Ounces
Canola oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Smashed
5 Pound
s
Whole Fava Beans
5 
Ounces Wild Ramps, washed, cut into 1 inch pieces
5 
Quarts Chicken Stock 
Reduced by half
5 
Ounces 
Finely 
Chopped 
Chives
Sea Salt as needed

Method: Fava Bean Preparation 

1.
 Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add enough salt to 
create a flavor of the ocean
 2.
 Remove fava beans from first rough outer pod and place into a bowl. Once water comes up to a boil, add 
fava beans and blanch for 30 seconds.
 3.
 Remove fava beans from boiling water and place into a bowl of ice water, shock for 3
 t
o 
4 minutes. 
4.
 Once beans are cool, drain and carefully remove from second shell using the tiny “tab” at the top of the 
bean. Store fava beans in a container until ready to assemble final dish.

Method: Morel Mushroom

1. 
Split morels directly in half and wash morels 
in cold water. Once washed, place on a cookie sheet lined 
with paper towels.
 2.
 In a large sauté pan over medium heat add 1 ounce of canola oil and ¾ of the salted butter. Swirl the 
butter in the pan until foaming, add garlic and thyme, swirl until fragrant.
 3.
 Add morel mushrooms and allow to braise for 12
to 
15 minutes until very tender. If morels seem to be 
cooking too quickly, 
lower the heat
. Once morels have been glazed with butter, remove from the heat and 
place in a container until ready to assemble final 
dish.

Method: Scallops & Finishing the Dish

1.
 Place a cast iron pan or heavy bottomed pan over high heat, add remaining oil and get hot enough to see 
ripples of the oil in the pan.
 2.
 While pan is heating, season scallops with a small amount of sea salt and add to t
he pan. Allow the 
scallops to get a nice crust on the first side, approximately 1 to 1
½ 
minutes. 3.
 Once scallops have formed a nice crust flip over and cook other side for 30 seconds. Remove scallops from 
the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate.
4.
 R
emove all but a tablespoon of the oil from the pan, return to heat, add the ramps and sauté just until 
ramps are wilted. 
5.
 Add reduced chicken stock, bring to a simmer and add the morels until just warmed. Once morels are 
warmed add remaining butter along 
with fava beans, swirl to combine. 
6.
 Remove pan from heat and add in chopped chives. 
7.
 Divide ragout amongst four warmed bowls, top with 3 scallops and a pinch of sea salt on each scallop

 

 

Stunning New Hotel Alert: The August Opens in Antwerp

 

 

Okay, we’re used to the confused stares when we state that Antwerp is our favorite European city – even many of our fellow cognoscenti seem to have missed that train. But even if we made it just about the fashion…one should know that the Flemish capital has produced some of the most exalted design talent across the last couple of generations: Anne Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee, Raf Simons – the list goes on. Never mind that in the MoMu, it also boasts what is arguably the most intellectually engaging fashion museum in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s also a world class culture capital (the M HKA is one of Europe’s most challenging contemporary art museums), with decadent, over-the-top nightlife. And then there’s the citizenry, who are steadfastly aesthetically inclined – something which never fails to fill our hearts with joy.

And from those same aesthetic inclinations comes the breathtaking new August hotel (a member of Design Hotels), from chef Nick Bril of the equally spectacular and Michelin-starred Jane Antwerp restaurant nearby in the city’s Green Quarter.

 

 

Set in a former Augustinian cloister, the 44 rooms have retained the original convent dimensions – though we’re pretty sure the nuns weren’t pampered with a luxury spa and outdoor pool set amidst the private gardens. Similarly, the bar and lounge areas are fitted into what was once the sisters’ private chapel, so you can practically pray away your sins as you’re committing them.

It’s the first ever hotel project from exalted Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen, who insists that, “When you restore a building, you have to do it with respect. We have to consider the past as being a beautiful gift.” And so the dramatic wooden ceilings, original arched windows and patterned floor tiles restored their original splendor are all retained to striking effect. But now they come with custom Flos lighting and Molteni&C furnishings.

With Bril’s involvement, the eponymous seasonal restaurant can be expected to maintain the highest quality. But let’s face it, you’re really booking into the August for the complete immersive experience in this once sacred and still awesomely beautiful space. Prayers optional.